Friday, May 30, 2008

Writing Tips: Speak to the Senses

Previously, I wrote about the first rule of good narrative: show, don't tell (read that post here). This week, we'll look at one aspect of effective showing.

Imagine for a moment that you enter a room. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you smell? Can you taste or hear anything? The five senses are our gateway to the world. Without them, we couldn't interact with anything around us.

In writing, you want to speak to your readers' senses so they can interact with YOUR world. If you don't include details that speak to your readers' sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, you leave them essentially blind, deaf, and crippled. They're not likely to enjoy your writing much!

When you write a scene, think about the five senses and how you can speak to them. However, be careful--don't fall into the "fuzzy trap." Vague words are fuzzy. Specific words are sharp. Let's look at this example paragraph:

"The man walked into the room. He could smell food cooking. A picture hung over the fireplace. He made a sound before he took off his coat and hung it up."

The wording in that paragraph is vague. It gives us an idea of the setting, but it doesn't REALLY engage our senses. Let's see what happens if we use specific wording:

"The man walked into his study. From the kitchen, he could smell bacon and eggs frying. A painting of a meadow in early morning hung over the fireplace, its figures of sheep and shepherd lit by the flickering flame below. With a deep sigh, he took off his heavy wool coat and hung it up."

In this new paragraph, our senses are fully engaged. We can imagine the smell of bacon and eggs and perhaps even hear it sizzling. We can see the painting and the firelight, and we can feel the heavy, scratchy wool. We hear the man as he sighs and wonder what inspires him to do so.

When you write, speak to the senses. By doing so, you'll give your readers everything they need to enter your world!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

bad handwriting (or how to panic your patients in two words or less)

Medical professionals are famous for their bad handwriting. Last time I was in for a filling, my dentist handed me a photocopied article on amalgam fillings vs. the tooth-coloured kind, so I was just perusing it. He shouldn't have written notes on it! I could swear he's scrawled "Marginal Carnage" next to a bit on operating technique. I may never go to the dentist again ...


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

published: A Big Dream

"A Big Dream," a short piece I wrote for the youth magazine DevoZine, is the featured "devo of the week" over at

(I wouldn't have known that had I not Googled my name yesterday. Stalking oneself has never been easier, nor more interesting!)

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Monday, May 26, 2008

more about Prince Caspian

As previously mentioned, I didn't like the new movie version of C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian. I felt that it missed the spirit of Lewis's book. My musings on the subject have helped me realize how much seemingly little things can affect a story.

Prince Caspian's age, for example. It was obvious from the movie posters that this had been changed. In the books Caspian is a little boy, maybe about 11. In the movie he is a young man, maybe about 19. When I first heard about this change, I shrugged it off as no big deal--how much difference could that actually make?

As it turns out, a lot! After our varying levels of disappointment with the new Prince Caspian, my friends and I gathered to watch the old BBC version we'd grown up on--a version which, while it lacks CGI or any budget to speak of, stays very close to the books. And there was Caspian again, the Caspian I remembered: fresh-faced, starry-eyed, and clinging to faith.

In Lewis's story, Caspian is a child. He thinks like a child. He's bold like a child. He's black and white as children are, resilient, and willing to believe in the impossible. He doesn't know for sure that Aslan, the kings and queens of ancient times, and all the mythical creatures of Narnia exist--but he hopes against hope that they do. Once he discovers two dwarves and a talking badger in the woods, nothing can shake him from his faith. We know Caspian will make a good king, even if he doesn't, because he glories more than anything in Aslan.

The Caspian of the movies is far more adult. He's caught up in political machinations, desires for revenge, deep doubt, and competition for the throne. His story isn't a bad one--but it's not the story C.S. Lewis told.

As I've thought on it, I've come to believe that C.S. Lewis was painting the idea that "a little child shall lead them." He wrote about child-heroes not only because he wrote for children, but because for all of us, the way to the kingdom is by becoming--and believing--like a child.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

published: 20-Something Reasons to Live At Home

My latest article is up at (with a much cooler title than I originally gave it--good job, Boundless). Check out 20-Something Reasons to Live At Home here.

I am 25 and I still live with my parents, and this is not an accident or a regret. I love living here, and I think more young adults should seriously consider foregoing "independence" for things of much greater importance.

I'm impressed by the number of people who've already emailed me (or left blog comments ... thanks, Mark!) to express their appreciation for the article and the counter-cultural ideas therein. Apparently I'm not the only one who's noticed that our culture's ways of doing things can be empty and counterproductive.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

where are you, Prince Caspian?

On May 16, opening night, I curled up in a theatre chair in a row of friends and prepared to take in Prince Caspian, the movie adaptation of a children's classic.

I am not one to insist that a movie exactly mirror a book. I studied screenwriting for a little while and even tried penning a couple of screenplays, so I realize that these two radically different art forms take an entirely different approach to storytelling. I wouldn't have complained if the movie had simply approached the story differently.

I am complaining, however, because the movie wrote a whole new story! True, it features the same characters and (sort of) follows the same events. But the heart of Prince Caspian, as C.S. Lewis wrote it, was gone. I realized this but couldn't quite put my finger on the problem. I knew it had to do with faith and the centrality of Aslan to the whole story, but beyond that, I was left trying to figure out why the story I loved had disappeared.

My friend (and author of TorahBytes) Alan Gilman hit the nail on the head in his blog post, "Prince Caspian the Movie Misses the Mark":

"One of the things that make C.S. Lewis' writings as poignant as they are is that they effectively communicate God's truth within a society that has lost its spiritual moorings. As intellectuals redefined reality for the modern world, pushing it away from a biblical understanding of God and life, Lewis calls us back to the old stories.

"The movie version of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe gave us hope that Lewis' legacy was being preserved for a new generation, that the biblical world view would at least be part of the contemporary discussion. The movie version of Prince Caspian, on the other hand, reminds us that Hollywood cannot be trusted with that legacy."

I encourage you to check out the entire post at

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Religion BookLine on Creating Culture

Religion BookLine, a division of Publishers Weekly, published this interview with Andy Crouch, author of Creating Culture, today.

Crouch says,

"As I read the work of academic sociologists like Peter Berger I became really convinced that the only way that cultures change is when people make more culture—which called into question a lot of the strategies that Christians think they ought to use to change culture, such as protest. There's lots that's worth protesting, in our culture and in every culture, but protest alone doesn't change culture, and analysis doesn't change culture, and withdrawal, which has been sometimes a strategy that Christians have adopted, doesn't change it. It only changes when you create something."

It definitely sounds like a book I'd like to read.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Boundless goes to print!

A few years back, I discovered, a Webzine for 20 and 30-somethings put out by Focus On the Family. I really liked it, so I queried them a few times and got turned down.

Last year, that changed dramatically--I got a yes to a query, and then regular contributor status.

Today, another milestone: for the first time, Boundless has gone to print instead of just the Web. And much to my delight, I'm in the inaugural issue.

You can pick up the first nine pages, including my article, in PDF form at Boundless Line.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

the civil rights issue of the 21st century

Below is the speech given by Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at this year's March for Life in Ottawa. I wasn't there to hear it, though some good friends were, and they were kind enough to pass this on to me.


Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus Press Conference

MAY 8, 2008

First, I would like to say that I'm honored to have been invited to participate today by the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus. Canada is a great and welcoming country and I want to thank everyone involved for the graciousness and love they've shown to someone from south of the border… way south of the border.

But while I love being in this great nation, the circumstances of my visit today deeply sadden me. We are here to talk about the scourge of abortion.

We've had abortion on demand in the United States for 35 years; here you've had it for 20. In this time, abortion has trampled upon tens of millions to become the civil rights issue of the 21st Century.

Even though I was born into a pro-life family, I and my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fell victim to the lies of the pro-abortion movement, specifically, the largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood told my uncle, Dr. King, that they wanted to help build strong and healthy Negro families. They didn't tell him of their racist past or what would later amount to their genocidal, eugenic agenda of abortion when they gave him the Margaret Sanger Award in 1966. When Planned Parenthood lied to my uncle, abortion was still illegal in every state in the United States.

When Planned Parenthood lied to me, it was seven years later and Roe v. Wade had torn to shreds any legal protection for unborn babies. Planned Parenthood told me that my baby was just a blob of tissue – a lie; and that abortion would solve my problems – another lie.

I can tell you as a woman who aborted two of her own children, that there is nothing good that comes from abortion. I can tell you as the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the daughter of his brother, Rev. A. D. King, and the granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., all three men who put God and family first in their lives, that there is no justice in denying the most basic civil right, the right to life itself, to any innocent person.

That's the reality of "choice." Abortion doesn't just destroy a baby's life, which is horrible enough, it traumatizes families and communities. I've seen the disastrous results abortion has brought to my own African American community.

In the US, black women are three times as likely to have abortions as white women. While African Americans are about 12% of the population, we suffer 36% of the abortions. With about 14 million aborted black babies in the last 35 years, it's as devastating as if a plague came into the land and killed one of every four African Americans.

Abortionists in the US locate most of their clinics in minority neighborhoods. The largest abortion provider in the US, Planned Parenthood, was recently caught welcoming donations for the specific purpose of aborting only black babies.

Should we be surprised by any of this? Not when we realize that abortion and racism stem from the same flawed view of mankind – that some people are not fully human.

Many people once believed that the African American was a piece of property for his owner to abuse or discard however he saw fit. This lie cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives, nearly destroyed my nation and left scars that are still felt today.

My Uncle Martin and my father, Rev. A. D. King, died trying to heal those scars by fighting the battle for equal rights. I believe with all my heart that were they alive, they would be standing with me today because abortion is the civil rights issue of this generation.

We now treat unborn babies just like blacks were treated in the years of slavery and discrimination – like non-persons. Discrimination has become socially acceptable again because too many have convinced themselves again that certain people aren't people.

This convincing has taken some doing. We have to constantly tell ourselves that life doesn't begin at the beginning; that unborn babies aren't people, even though DNA and ultrasound tell us without a doubt that they are. Then we have to remind ourselves that the human being whose stem cells science so covets isn't really a human being. We have to believe these lies because the truth will make us uncomfortable and complicate our lives.

Discrimination is the tool we use to get comfortable by getting inconvenient people out of our lives.

Today, when we don't want an unborn baby around, we tell ourselves that it's OK to treat him as a sub-human because he's just a clump of cells. This is a particularly convenient attitude when we really want a boy child, but find out before she's born that we have a girl child. We can hide our discriminatory attitudes toward females behind our discriminatory attitudes toward the unborn. In fact, discrimination against the unborn can and has been used to justify discrimination against black babies, girl babies, and disabled babies.

Sex selection abortion, though, is something especially troubling right now. It gnaws at us. It's common practice in China and India, so much so that whole regions of those countries are experiencing shortages of girls. And it's becoming more and more common in North America.

Sex selection abortion's presence in our own backyards challenges the whole abortion mindset. Obviously, it's the killing of an unborn child on the basis of her gender. Because our societies so strongly believe that gender discrimination is wrong, this type of abortion immediately strikes us as unjust. Yet abortion itself is held by our judicial systems to be completely unobjectionable.

How can sex selection abortion be wrong, then, if all abortions are permissible and right?

The answer is that sex selection abortion is wrong because abortion itself is unjust. Our societies are suffering from a major disconnect in logic, a willful suspension of disbelief. If we thought about why sex selection abortion really bothers us, we'd have to face why abortion itself troubles us. And we don't want to do that because then we'd have to face the fact that we've been supporting a system that has brought death and destruction to a lot of innocent people. That's too painful, and so we maintain the discrimination and the pretense.

In short, we tell ourselves lies to try to justify what we know in our hearts is wrong. The problem is, when we lie about what abortion is, the physical and emotion reality remains. Babies die, mamas cry, and families struggle for ways to deal with grief for the people we're told didn't really exist. I know this and women all across Canada and the US know this.

What I want to say today is that the lies and the anguish have to stop. Our pasts are painful, and I know that the pain of abortion has swept across the Canadian nation for far too long. Now is the time for healing and reconciliation, a reconciliation born of love and respect for each other, especially those little ones we see only through ultrasound. Much wrong has happened, but we don't have to keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

My Uncle Martin said that the time is always ripe to do right. He also said that true peace is the presence of justice. I have a dream. My dream is for peace, in the womb, in our hearts, and in our halls of government. There is only one race, the human race, and we need to start living that reality if that peace is ever going to come.


Dr. Alveda C. King

Dr. Alveda C. King is the daughter of the late civil rights activist Rev. A. D. King and his wife Naomi Barber King and the niece of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is the grateful mother of six children and is a doting grandmother.

Alveda is a former college professor, holding a Masters of Arts degree in Business Management from Central Michigan University. Her undergraduate studies in journalism and sociology helped her to become a published author, the most popular works being her best selling books Sons of Thunder: The King Family Legacy, and I Don't Want Your Man, I want My Own.

Alveda's Doctorate of Laws was conferred by Saint Anslem College. She has served on the boards and committees of numerous organizations including Coalition of African American Pastors and the Judeo-Christian Coalition for Constitutional Restoration. She also served in the Georgia State House of Representatives and is an accomplished actress and songwriter. She is a voice for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, speaking about her regret for her abortions.

During the years of the Civil Rights Movement, led by her Uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alveda's family home was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama in the heat of the struggle. "Daddy's house was bombed, then in Louisville, Kentucky his church office was bombed. I was also jailed during the open housing movement," she recalls.

Alveda has continued her long-term work as a civil rights activist, speaking out on issues that face society today. "Perhaps the most compelling issue of all is the life of the unborn," Alveda says.


Monday, May 12, 2008

The epic begins. All over again.

With the teaching semester behind me, I am really and truly settling in for this summer's work. Chief on my list of projects? Seriously revise Burning Light, the sequel to Worlds Unseen. I want it ready for release in December.

A little history: I wrote Worlds Unseen in 2001. Almost immediately thereafter, I sat down and banged out Burning Light. It took maybe three months. It was a milestone for me: the best thing I'd written to date and my favourite.

I liked it so much that I never really wrote a proper second draft. So while Worlds went through four incarnations before it saw print, Burning Light has never really changed. The time has come.

Over the past few months I've outlined each chapter in Burning Light, summarizing every scene and marking places where changes should be made. I've flagged all the major plot lines that need work. I've made lists (and checked 'em twice).

And what am I doing now? Blogging, obviously. The adventure is about to begin, if only the author will quit procrastinating.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

subscriptions for whatever you can afford

Way back in ... 2001? was it? writing of mine appeared in print for the first time. It was an article on child training entitled "Save the Children," and it was published by the quarterly journal Home School Digest.

Since then, Wisdom's Gate, publisher of HSD and other magazines, has published my articles on a regular basis. Many of the now-chapters in Letters to a Samuel Generation reached a wide audience through them, and they continue to feature articles from Peculiar in Home School Digest and An Encouraging Word.

Early this week I received an email from Israel Wayne, the marketing director at Wisdom's Gate (and the son of the editor-in-chief ... Wisdom's Gate is a largely family-run ministry), about a bold new step they're taking in their subscription policy. I've pasted it below. I encourage you to follow the links and check out what they have to offer!

Dear Rachel,

We have been very concerned about the strain that the poor economy is placing on our readers. Many families are struggling just to make ends meet and have virtually nothing left at the end of the month. We have also experienced the effects of these inflationary costs in the rising expense of printing and shipping of our magazines. However, after much prayer and seeking the Lord, we are taking a step of faith. We do NOT want a lack of funds to keep ANYONE from receiving the spiritual and practical encouragement of our magazines.

If you have been wanting to receive:

An Encouraging Word Magazine (for Christian Women of all ages)
Home School Digest Journal (Family Discipleship magazine)
Brush Arbor Quarterly Magazine (on Revival and Deeper Life)

but have been hindered because of finances, please do not let that stand in your way. We are making these three magazines available to you for literally WHATEVER YOU CAN AFFORD!

Please help us get the word out about this offer to your friends and family members who would benefit from our publications. Prayerfully consider forwarding this email to your email list, posting it on your blog, printing it out for your church bulletin board, or giving it out at your next small group or homeschool meeting.

To subscribe for WHATEVER YOU CAN AFFORD, please visit or call 1-800-343-1943.

Please pray for us as we embrace this new act of obedience to God's direction for our ministry.

Your servant,

Israel Wayne
Marketing Director
(for all of us here at Wisdom's Gate)


Thursday, May 08, 2008

so endeth a worthy semester

Today, the WriteAtHome Spring Semester officially ends. With the exception of a few late papers, I finished marking, commenting, and scoring yesterday. I have said goodbye to my second batch of sixty students this school year. It's been a good one!

Nearly four months of summer now stretch ahead of me. I know that if I'm not disciplined, I will crumple into a heap of lazy unproductivity. Thankfully (?), there's too much to do to allow that. Sequels to revise, novels to market, ebooks to write, tours to tour, road trips to trip ... I love my ridiculously busy life!

Monday, May 05, 2008

more Boundless on writing

And the series continues. I would have been more on-the-date with these, but I just spent a weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee, far from home and my handy wireless connection!

"Writing Without Inspiration" shares one of the great secrets of productive writers, who can't exactly wait for the miraculous muse to hit before cranking out work on deadline: the practice of thinking through your fingers. I can attest that this works, because I do it all the time. (In fact, I'm doing it right now.) The author is Susie Shellenberger, the editor behind Brio, Focus on the Family's magazine for teen girls. The article is also an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a magazine.

In "A Moment to Write," Jenny Schroedel shares advice and anecdotes from professional writers who helped her reach her own dream of becoming a writer. Advice is given in four areas: Begin Where You Are, Set the Stage, Invest in Tools, and Find a Friend With Gentle Eyes. She closes with a lovely section on why we write, encouraging us to write in a "simpler, childlike way" through a story about Vincent Van Gogh.


Chattanooga was warm, green, and beautiful, thank you; although I can't believe it's muggy down there and it's only the first week of May!

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