Structuring A Novel: Chapters

Love this…wish I had read it two years ago : )

Writer to Writer

This post is for beginners who are just starting to develop their first ideas. Any authors who successfully wrote a book might have different methods – I’d be happy to hear about them.

When you get an idea for a novel it seems easy to develop it but once you start working on it, it turns into a jungle, a mess. You might find yourself trying to figure out how simple things work or trying to find explanations for some complex scenes you want to write but aren’t sure how they really fit in.

When plotting your novel you decide on where the hits are (emotional hits, twists, etc), but to make some order in all of it, you should spend some more time developing the structure, the plot and the story-lines.

I have a word-count method I use when writing stories and novels (helps more with novels) that is…

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The benefits of writer’s block: there really are none

Writer’s block: an inability to think, combined with a deep sense of guilt, that no amount of caffein seems to be able to take away.writers block

But, I’m trying to look on the positive side:

  • I’m learning patience, especially with myself.
  • Challenges produce perseverance and character.

Meanwhile, all I have to write is AHHHHHHHHH!

No – actually – here are some strategies I’m about to try out:

  1. Find coffee
  2. Pray
  3. Find more coffee
  4. Procrastinate with Netflix
  5. Go for a run
  6. Stop procrastinating
  7. Coffee, again
  8. Pray, again
  9. Just write something (even though you’e probably delete most of it tomorrow)

No, seriously though: this is what I’m going to do: find one detail or scene that I really like so far and write three more sentences about that. I just ant to be able to write three sentences today…is that too much to ask for????

Time to drink coffee, pray and write those three sentences.

On “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

I’m not going to write about The Hate U Give in terms of pros and cons: this book doesn’t fit into standard categories and is way beyond a simple review.

It took me a while to read The Hate U Give because it was so intense. Although I feel uncomfortable reading something with so much swearing in it (and other edgy material), the writing was beautiful. Angie Thomas knows how to use words – she is amazing. I cried and I don’t think I’ve ever cried reading a book before – so that says a ton. But I won’t let my kids read it until they are in high school (I’m pretty liberal about what I let them read, but this book was no walk in the park).

Angie Thomas used the characters to show me a world I had no clue about. I enjoyed her commentaries on faith, family, community, race, economics and relationship. Like I said, there is so much in this book. So much to process.

The part that I loved most, but that also left me most puzzled (because I’m trying to figure out how to relate it to my own life) was on friendship – starting at Momma’s advice to Starr when they are eating pancakes and how that all unfolds: the story left me wrestling with the concepts of forgiveness versus reconciliation versus breaking ties (not that they are always mutually exclusive, but from the book there is definitely a clear message about breaking ties). Hard questions.

That’s what I’m left thinking about. Weird probably, but that’s what it is. I think it comes down to relationship and figuring out how to handle destructive and hurtful ones. When do you draw the line and how? What happens when you get hurt over and over again? Hard questions, especially if you are trying to follow Jesus.

Okay – that’s all I feel like sharing about the book for now.

It’s a beautiful, but heart breaking book.



Love Lives Here, by Maria Goff

maria goff

If you are looking for a good mother’s day gift, consider Love Lives Here, by Maria GoffLove Lives Here is a sweet and encouraging read – sort of like a portable retreat. Throughout the crazy busy of the last few weeks, the book has helped keep me at least partially sane.

What appealed to me:

  • I love the vulnerability with which she shares her many different stories.
  • She doesn’t try to tell you what to do: she shares her experiences and then lets you draw your own conclusions.
  • You can tell, she has a beautiful heart and she loves her family fiercely.
  • She has a super extrovert husband, just like me, so I could really relate to that.
  • She is inspiring.

What was less appealing:

  • The stories definitely come from a place of huge privilege, social and economic, so sometimes it feels a bit ….can’t find the right word…she just lives in a different world than I think many of us do. But still relatable.
  • She twists together a few stories in each section which sometimes works, but sometimes if feels a bit much/awkward.

Overall, there are so many beautiful nuggets of wisdom in this book. Well worth the read. Here are a few quotes:

“I’ve worked hard to make our home a place of rest not only for me, but also for the people I love […] resting places are safe places. When people walk through the door, I don’t hit them with a list of problems or issues or suggestions or complaints. I welcome them with the ambiance of a warm home embroidered with peace.”

“For many of us, we’re insecure enough or cautious enough or have been wounded deeply enough to think we don’t deserve to find love. I think God understands this and so what He sometimes does is to send love to find us.”

“The truth is, if you know who you are, to whom you belong, and what you want, your time is now.”


Good writing, like a favorite pair of jeans

blue jeans
I think that a person’s favorite kind writing is like a favorite pair of jeans. Everyone has a different style. Anyway, I’ve been trying to determine what I think makes for awesome writing so that I can mimic it.

{BTW, do you have book recommendations? I’m especially looking for 3rd person POV. Probably YA. Probably fantasy. Thanks in advance for suggestions!}

Here goes on what sort of writing I like:

  • Something that rings true and authentic.
  • Who likes to listen to people monologue? Same thing with writing…I only need to know so much: get to the point.
  • Humor – even if sprinkled on lightly.
  • No swearing or excessive lusty elements – it keeps me from enjoying the story – also, not too much melodrama.
  • Towards the end, I love a great, unexpected plot twist or something that makes me think “that was cool.”
  • I want a character in the story to help me see my own life, or an issue I wrestle with, through a fresh lens.
  • Why are you using such big words? Keep it simple; I’m trying to relax.
  • Some people like to sound so smart – I like it when writing feels humble.
  • Fast paced (I realize that sounds shallow, but I’m just being honest).

My greatest writing challenges:

  • My brain hops all over the place and it’s super hard for me to focus on one thought all the way through.
  • I rush. Three steps forward, five steps backwards.
  • It’s so easy to fall into stereotypes/cliches.
  • To “be there” – what are appropriate responses and interactions for characters?
  • I’m not a good storyteller, but I’d like to write stories. Frustrating.
  • Finding books I really want to read.
  • Description: my brain seems to have low inventory on cool ways to explain/describe things.
  • Creativity takes SO much energy: I need more fuel.

Thanks for reading! Again, I’d love book recommendations…and do tell me, what sort of things do you like to see in what you read?


Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo

Today, I accomplished my goal of writing 50,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo!

Things didn’t go as planned:

  • I’d started Camp NaNoWriMo with a fresh new outline of Mirror of Sparrows, and I envisioned myself writing a complete first draft based on that outline. What a convenient vision!
  • About half way through, I realized that my outline had some major flaws. Oh well.
  • I started deleting and rewriting major chunks; I thought there was no way I was going to make my goal. I was very sad : (

Unexpected friendships and support:

  • I discovered a wonderful writing community.
  • On days when I really didn’t know if I could write #nanowordsprints made all the difference in the world.
  • Thank you @_voxveritasvita for encouraging me to stop deleting and just keep writing. Your time management skills, productivity and thoughtfulness inspired me.
  • I now love Twitter.

POV experiments:

  • NaNoWriMo was a great opportunity to experiment with point-of view.
  • I tried writing chunks in first person, and had so much fun doing it: I discovered that words flow fast for me when I write in 1st POV and its much easier to go really deep with the characters.
  • In the end, I decided to stick with third person. Though many YA novels are in first, I enjoy reading the third perspective more. Go figure.

New ideas:

  • Now, I have lots of fresh material and ideas for a new outline! Back to where I started!
  • I realize that some of you, especially those of you who care deeply for me, are concerned about the amount of rewriting I’m doing. Please don’t worry about me; I love it!


Starbucks, Kam Shopping Center, on a Saturday morning


6:15 am: An old man walks through the parking lot absentmindedly. A young man almost runs him over while backing up his white, shiny BMW.  Nobody is hurt.

6:38 am: Don’t know if she’s his girlfriend or his wife, but she yells at him for a long time. He listens, maybe? He hardly says a word. They head out. He acts like she doesn’t matter – checking his phone, he walks on ahead of her. They get into a big, fat, shiny, white truck with fancy rims.

6:42 am: A young guy stands outside, eating apples. His headphones are all tangled up with his keys.

6:44 am: A shadow runs passed my window. A security guard comes chasing after the shadow; there is no way he’s catching up with him. The security guard walks around fast, talking on his walkie.

6:47 am: Apple guy puts sunglasses on. I guess it’s never too early for sunglasses.

7:09 am: A shiny, white Volkswagen wagon with cool “Marvin” plates pulls up. Apple guy’s friends are finally here.

Fidget Spinners

Figgy Spinner

While I realize that fidgeting is a big help for students with ADD/ADHD, fidget spinners are invading my classroom and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Are they helping students to focus, or causing a distraction? Initially I thought the former, but now, I’m not so sure. The main reason is this: fidget spinners are a distraction to other students.

The things are sort of like tops. Here’s a YouTube video, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about:

I’m hoping the fad will come and go quickly; otherwise, I’d rather my students find other fidget toys, such stress balls. Or, how about good old fashion doodling?

To teachers out there, what do you think?



After unsuccessfully trying to see Logan three times, at long last the fourth try worked out. The persistence was worth it. Besides the bloodiness and the swearing (a lot of it), I loved the movie.

Here are my thoughts on the story (from irritating to good):

Plot: the plot was pretty predictable, but met my expectations of a good and entertaining story. I wasn’t wild about the idea of the artificially created mutant kids, but the concept did the trick as a set up for the rest of the story, and it made for good tension and action scenes.

Pacing: The pacing bothered me with the 2nd pinch point, 2nd plot point and climax really close together – in contrast with a lengthy first half. This seems to be pretty normal for movies though – but it would be hard to get away with that in a book (I think).

Characters (besides the antagonists): This is what I loved. (SPOILER ALERT) People always say that you can’t change people, and while that’s true, this movie was a testament to how love can change and steady people – that was beautiful. I loved the emphasis on relationships and people sticking together despite terrible circumstances, especially family.

  • Caliban, the albino character: Though weak on the outside, he was so strong. He was the home maker with the favorite mug; he was the one who cared for Professor X and made sure their household functioned; he’s the one that gave Logan reality checks. And, when faced with pain and fear, he proved the steady, self-sacrificial person.
  • Professor X was beautiful: The loss of freedom. Dealing with condescension. The loss of control. Believing in people when they no longer believe themselves. The sweet, over-indulgent grandfather figure. Reminders of what matters.
  • Laura: I had such a hard time with her, the hysterical, weirdo kid whose been through a ton. The one who longs for a dad. The one who had to take care of her parent.
  • Logan: First off, his acting was awesome, but anyone who reads this blog already knows how I feel about Hugh Jackman (does anyone not love him?). But back to the story…I loved how Logan started as a drunk, bitter loner. The taking care of older family situation so relatable. Sacrificing everything for your kids. Totally failing your kids. Totally failing. Life found in love.

Other details I liked:

  • The Lord’s prayer, the prayer around the dinner table, the cross.
  • Helping the horses
  • The kindness of the farmer family, especially the older boy
  • The crazy corn syrup machines
  • The broken coffee cup
  • Logan’s limo
  • Eden – the wooden bunks and the camp fire
  • the resourcefulness of the kids
  • Professor X’s plants

Okay, I’m late so I have to go…but that was a good story – conclusion: characters made the plot.

BTW did you cry at the end?

When your goals are greater than your capacity

This is what scenes in a novel consist of: goals that are beyond the capacity of the character. The character wants something, a major obstacle stands in the way, the character attempts to overcome.

Life can be the same way: we want something, obstacles are in the way, we attempt to overcome obstacles.

But sometimes the obstacles are huge.

Sometimes the discouragement is paralyzing.

It’s like gridlock on the H1 after an accident: there’s nothing you can do about it, you ain’t going nowhere, no matter what you try and do.


Except it’s your life on gridlock mode.

What do you do then?

My tendency is to have fear and anger, and a lot of it. But God has been working something new in me.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7

In the midst of gridlock, power, love and a sound mind.

From God.

My circumstances stay the same.

But my fears become less.

Power, love, sound mind.

I’m sending out an Easter prayer, that if you read this and if you feel your life’s in gridlock mode, you might trade in your fear, and allow God to fill you with power, love and a sound mind.

I think that’s what Easter’s about: taking the worst of life’s gridlocks – injustice, death and evil – and overcoming, beyond all logic or natural capacity, with power, love and healing. That’s so beautiful. And I believe it, because I’ve experienced it.

So, when my goals are greater than my capacity, I go back to Easter.

Easter decoration