Monday, 28 September 2015

Readers Are Like Pickled Onions by Paula Vince

A 'Blast from the Past' Post

That's us, everyone. Pickled onions. Writers and blog-visitors alike are also readers. I'm sure many of us have been avid readers since our childhood. The longer we've been reading, the more pickled we are. Let me explain the analogy in more detail.

You peel your raw onions and soak them in a delicious, briny solution that you've made up with yummy ingredients such as vinegar and brown sugar. Eventually, a chemical reaction takes place. The onions you take out are nothing like the hard onions you put in. They are soft enough to bite chunks straight out of in a way you'd never manage with the original raw onions. Some people think they are a delicious treat. Whether you like them or not, one thing is clear. They can never go back to being the same hard, raw onion they started as. They've been changed to the core.

Books are like the delicious brine and readers are like the onions. We get to soak in stories, biographies, reflections, inspired thoughts and knowledge. These are the ingredients that make up the brine. We come out better and different. We're spicier people with softer hearts. We can have more interesting conversations. We're more creative than we would have been, more clued-up about the world, more empathetic, less inclined to be self-focused.

From the time we were young, the brine has been working its special chemical reaction on us. We get to wonder, 'Would I have succumbed to the White Witch's turkish delight if I had been Edmund?' We see Milly Molly Mandy living with all her relatives in that thatched roof cottage, loving their simple lifestyles even though they had hardly any money. Like Beauty, we grow to understand the Beast's many great qualities, fall for him too, and realise that judgment based on first impressions is limited. We follow the whole process of the work on Marilla Cuthbert's heart until she decides to keep Anne at Green Gables. And how could Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy end up together after the bad start they had?

We're pickled onions, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We have softer hearts. We've been given insight into human nature which makes us more understanding than we might otherwise have been. We're simply nicer people, based on our reading history. And those of us who are also writers have the fun of making up our own special brine recipes to help pickle more onions.

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, please visit her blog, It Just Occurred to Me. You may also like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review where she also interviews other authors.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

There are people trapped in a dark airless place, and only you can save them...

It's my turn to blog - Yah!
Now if only I could think of something witty and clever; innovative; ground-breaking...cue crickets

Writing a blog is my opportunity to share my thoughts, my heart to the world—but what if the world never reads it? Let's face it, in this new era of the 'information super-highway' there's only so much time and brain-space that an individual has, and one person can't read it all. It's an impossibility. So what if I spend the next half hour pouring out my deep thoughts and innovative ideas, upload it and share the link to all my Facebook connections, and not one person has the time or brain-space to read it? Then everything I have done becomes just a bunch of key-strokes converted to digital data that is floating out there—in the mysterious depths of cyberspace...dah ,dah, dah! (the music to indicate the plot has now darkened to a terrifying degree).

And so it is with anything we write, blog, article, deep and meaningful Face Book post that goes beyond posting a cat video, and horror of horrors, a novel.

The characters I have presented in my latest novel—their life dramas, their lows and highs, their smashed hopes and points of redemption, their love and promise—are trapped inside the pages (or the digital file), and mean nothing unless a reader reads it and connects with it. So Alex and Grace, their family and friends, are wedged tightly in a paperback (a bunch of paper), locked up on a shelf in a bookshop or packed in a box of paperbacks, or floating helplessly in a data file in cyberspace. Their lives and loves mean nothing. They are helpless and cannot be set free until someone reads the book (paperback or eBook). All those words, carefully put together to help you know Alex and Grace; crafted so that you feel the depths of despair, the hopelessness, the light at the end of the tunnel, that point of redemption—all those words are simply keystrokes and have no purpose, energy or power unless you, as a reader, let them free. Unless you, as the reader, engage with them emotionally.

Why would Alex do such a thing? Now there's a question that cannot be answered unless the book is read.
So if you've come this far, and transformed my keystrokes into meaning, you will understand that I am not only promoting that magical process (almost like a chemical reaction) that is the reader engaging with the writing, the characters and the plot, but I'm also promoting my new fiction title.

Echoes in the Valley is now available as an eBook or a paperback WORLD WIDE. Alex and Grace are there, trapped in a dark airless place, and I beg you, set them free...cue 'The Hills are Alive' music.

Are you too busy? Probably. Do you have too much information to read? Well, I'm guessing, if you've got this far in the post, you've either been distracted from your real work, or you have time, so go ahead, click the link. Echoes in the Valley . Here it is again, in case you missed it the first time.

Meredith Resce

Author of 'The Heart of Green Valley' series, Mellington Hall and Cora Villa

So many links to click on...the dramas we have to negotiate in life!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Let's Twist Again by Nola Passmore

Photo credit: beautyfromashes / FoterCC BY-NC-ND

Picture this. Businessman, adult son, and work colleague go into closed room while businessman’s wife waits outside. A shot rings out. Wife enters room to discover husband dead and son grappling with work colleague. Work colleague runs from room with gun, and the rest of the novel is spent hunting the murderer.

When I read that scenario, I thought to myself, ‘Oh I bet the son turns out to be the killer’. And guess what? He was. Although the novel was well-written, with lots of suspense, the fact that I picked the twist in the first 20 pages did dampen my enthusiasm.

When I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I had a totally different experience. While there are some aspects of the book I didn’t enjoy, the twist is the best I’ve ever read. It turned the whole novel on its head.

So what makes a good twist?

Avoid the Obvious

There are some really well-worn plot twists that invariably let down the reader. Here are some examples.

  • You follow your protagonist through an incredible series of events, only to find it was all a dream.
  • The strange man you saw kissing the married woman turns out to be her brother.
  • The protagonist is behaving out of character and you discover he has an identical twin.
The more original you are, the more likely you’ll create that ‘ah ha’ moment for your readers.

Work on the ‘Set Up’

While it’s important for a twist to surprise, it shouldn’t come ‘out of the blue’ or trick your readers. There needs to be some foreshadowing so that when your readers get to the big reveal, they think ‘Wow, that all makes sense now’. Kate Morton does a brilliant job of this in The Secret Keeper. The twist in itself isn’t the most unique I’ve ever come across. In fact, I read another novel recently that used a similar device. However, her plotting and foreshadowing is brilliant. While I didn’t see the twist coming, it explained everything and I felt like I wanted to go back and read the book again in light of the twist.

It Advances the Story

As K.M. Wieland notes, a plot twist shouldn’t be an end in itself. It has to contribute to the plot in a meaningful way so that readers will be excited about the ensuing developments. The twist should actually make the story better.

All of that is easier said than done of course, but if you can develop original twists that avoid gimmicks, are set up well and raise your story to the next level, you’ll have thousands of happy readers.

Which novels have you read that have great twists? I’d love to hear your suggestions (without the spoilers of course).

More Reading

Scheller, R. (2014). 4 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist. Retrieved from:
N.B. Most of this article is an excerpt from Story Trumps Structure by Steven James.

Wieland, K. M. (2013). 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist. Retrieved from

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her writing tips blog at their website:

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

TM & copyright © by Dr Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1960, copyright renewed 1988.

Ninety-eight and three-quarter percent guaranteed? That’s pretty good odds, and this is how I approach author visits. With great anticipation. In the past few weeks I’ve had a string of events, many for CBCA Book Week, 2015.

For Book Week, I went touring in the Western Downs to libraries and schools: always fun. Workshops, author visits and signings were squeezed around work days, and then there was another event in Brisbane. Good travel week, that! Last week I also got to visit a group of students who’ve been reading my YA novel Integrate as part of their English studies. All in all, I’ve been privileged to meet some amazing young people through these opportunities.

But as you’d know, not every event goes swimmingly. One must not overlook that one-and-a-quarter percent exception.

Over the past year there have been signings and events where I’ve sold a reasonable number of books. Other times I’ve sold none. (Not much compensation for hours of travel and overnight accommodation ...) There have been events where the group has been wonderfully interactive and attentive. I have also had the experience where a portion of attendees simply weren’t interested in what I’ve had to say or sell. Frustrating, but thankfully, rare.

This is the roller-coaster of an ‘unknown’ author. And even for better known writers, it seems it can be hard to draw a crowd, which can be disappointing. Does this mean we authors are foolish to persist engaging in this way? It's a lot of hard work and certainly doesn’t pay a great deal.

Just remember the 98 and ¾ component.

For this reason it is all the more meaningful when people actually make the effort to come and, even more so, purchase one (or more) of your novels. And when the audience at a workshop or speaking engagement are leaning in, interactive and enthusiastic, it makes any preparation and travel time worthwhile. It’s also great motivation to ensure our social media efforts are strategic, and this is something we can only grow and develop over time. It's also a great reminder of just how important it is to support each other as writers and 'spread the word' as we each work towards building a solid author platform.

All in all, I believe author visits are a wonderful experience. Not only does it raise the profile of local writers and publishers, even when the event doesn't yield much in the way of sales, but I’ve engaged with some remarkable individuals through such opportunities. Further, I’ve been honoured to invest in the writing journey of future authors, and have been able to introduce my novel to attendees' TBR list.
So ...

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. She writes young adult and historical novels, poetry and short works. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript, with the sequel Replicate being released in October 2015. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit or email

Monday, 14 September 2015

Hearing Aids and Blog Pages by Pamela Heemskerk

I’ve been a member of CWD for a while now and regularly look at the FB page. I’ve thought quietly to myself – hmmm, this page doesn’t change much. Recently a friend explained that the FB page is not the blog page... My lack of computer knowledge prevented me from accessing the really useful information.

I found getting hearing aids rather like that – it’s a foreign country. And the explanation about use may be quite brief. Things sound quite different, and aids are not helpful in certain situations.
In the same way that I needed specific instructions to access the blog page, new users to hearing aids need some pointers as to what to look out for. I knew if I as a long-term wearer, was struggling with hearing aids, there must be many others struggling too.

And so, Rather a Small Chicken…a Guide to Hearing Loss for Family and Friends was born.

I am a non-fiction writer – usually from life experiences and lessons learned along the way. Writing about these things can be cathartic, and expressing my exasperations with hearing aids and hearing loss certainly was! I did many revisions.

Some of the things I learned about writing from life:

  • When writing on an emotional topic, put the writing aside for a time (months – or a year if you happen to be me) and go back over it with a careful ear as to the tone of the writing. Bitterness, unintended slurs or anger can come across to readers in describing highly charged life experiences.
  • Examine clarity of ideas - I wanted to write to people with widely varied backgrounds, and needed to keep sentences and information easily accessible.
  • Length of work – this was to be an information booklet, not a novel length piece. It changed size several times and I had to act on the decision of ‘booklet’, not book, or fact sheet.
  • Non-fiction from real life must reflect some facts - concise and accurate information was important.
  • A little humour can make even an emotionally loaded topic less intense. (Thanks Anne B)
  • A really good editor with an understanding of what appeals to readers is so important. I changed from structured third person to more conversational first and second person, on the advice of my editor. (Thanks Anne H)
  • A really good friend with a ‘ministry in nagging’ to keep you moving forward. (Thanks N…)

It has been a journey – a long one, as I have wandered around, wondering if I really am a writer and whether I really do have anything to say. But the end of this part of the journey is close – with the booklet converted to the final file for printing just this week. Soon I will be learning about print on demand, e-books, marketing and book launches. But that is for the next blog…

I would love to have on-line discussions with others with hearing loss, so please pass on the BlogSpot to those you know who have a hearing loss.

 (My deepest apologies to all who have taken time and trouble to post on CWD! I will be working my way back through many blogs…)

Pamela Heemskerk found writing took her by surprise when recuperating from an illness and it has become a major part of her life.  She has a passion for art, embroidery, children and telling people about hearing loss.  She works as a physiotherapist with young children with a disability.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Part Three: Reading Fantasy

by Jeanette O'Hagan

In the last post, we explored the fantasy genre from a writer’s perspective. Today, I want to think of it from a reader’s perspective.

Of course, there is considerable overlap between the two, but I know I often read far more widely than I would be comfortable writing.

As a Christian, I want what I write to be consistent with my values, beliefs as well as drawing on my experience, research and imagination. While my faith may not always be explicit, it informs who I am, what I write about and how I write it. 

However, I don’t just read Christian fiction or Christian authors. Whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or some other genre, I read books by atheists, agnostics, people of other religions or of no stated religion.

Why read beyond a Christian ‘bubble’?

It’s possible to learn from non-Christians.

In the Old Testament Joseph, Moses and Daniel and his friends learn from the pagan wisdom even while they remain true to Yahweh, the one True God. In the New Testament, Paul was not only educated in the Torah, but also in Greco-Roman philosophers and poets. He sometimes drew on these sources to persuade Christians (e.g. Titus 1:12) or connect with those outside the faith (Acts 17:24-29). 

It helps in understanding the worldview of non-Christians.

Even the most innocent romance or formulaic detective novel has an implicit world view – concepts about what or who matters, good, evil, the nature of truth, authority etc. However, fantasy and science fiction often bring big world themes and perspectives to the fore. And just as reading a novel embedded in a particular culture is a great why of understanding the nuances and mores of that culture, so is reading general market fantasy a great way of understanding contemporary worldviews.

It helps us connect to people.

We not only develop a better understanding of beliefs, values and concerns of people in the wider society, we can talk intelligently about the shows, films and books they enjoy – as I attempt to here, here or here.

For instance, Ursula Le Guin’s EarthSea explores facing fears and being willing to acknowledge that we are deeply flawed. In the original book Ged awakes a destructive shadow, which he flees, but eventually realises is part of himself. Do I agree with everything Le Guin portrays? No. For one thing, I don’t accept her view that life after death is no more than a shadowy echo or nonexistence (The Farthest Shore). Yet, her books make me think and can provide a discussion point about the nature of humanity and life after death.

And after all, great literature is great literature and we can learn from it but we need our eyes ‘wide open.’ I think this is true of all the fiction (and non-fiction) we read (or watch).


But that doesn’t mean I would read anything and everything.

While it is fantasy of a different kind, I have held off reading the notorious 50 Shades of Grey – not just because, by all reports, it is atrociously written, but because of its glorification of a manipulative sexual relationship as romance, among other things.

The strong and the weak

Paul’s discussion of ‘food offered to idols’ (I Corinthians 8-10) is relevant here. In the ancient world, animals sacrificed at the temple could later be sold in the meat market. For some Christians (especially new converts from Paganism) – this caused a quandary. Was buying the sacrificed meat from the market equivalent to offering it to idols? Or, to put it another way, is reading about magic in fiction the same as practicing it?

Paul argues that all food comes from God, so the meat could be eaten with a clear conscience. However, he acknowledges that believers should certainly refrain from participating in a temple meal (or the actual sacrifice) because of the malign spiritual forces involved (see post 2).

Paul states that we shouldn’t ignore the inner warnings of the conscience – though some people have oversensitive consciences while others’ consciences can be seared or hardened. He also urges people with a ‘strong conscience’ (informed and trained by God’s Word, the Holy Spirit and faith) to respond graciously to others’ scruples (1 Corinthians 10:28). Yes, he says, all things are permissible to the believer (a touch of sarcasm there) but not all things are beneficial or constructive, and some things can control us (I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23-24).

I think it’s important to put hedges around what images or ideas we bring into our imagination.  However, where those boundaries are drawn might differ between different Christians, because we all have different areas of weakness.

For instance, in my late teens, I was profoundly disturbed by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights because of the way it romanticised Heathcliff and Cathy’s selfishness, cruelty and twisted love, rewarding them, it seemed, with their special brand of heaven. Yet I know many people love this book.

And Children?

As adults we can make our own decisions guided by the Word and a Spirit-informed conscience. Yet, we have a duty of care with children because of their immaturity and vulnerability. Up to the age of seven or eight, children can have difficulty in separating the real world from the imaginary and older children and teens are developing their moral sense and the foundation for values and identity. Appropriate hedges will depend on the particular child and their age. The older the child, the more appropriate discussion rather than outright prohibition or careful supervision becomes.

While I’ve discussed appropriate hedges in more depth in the previous post, in summary, I think it’s appropriate to consider:

  1. How obvious is it that the fantasy world is different from or separate to the real world?
  2. What is the source of magic (God, natural or innate abilities or forces – or something else more illicit)?
  3. Is the magic metaphorical or allegorical in some way? What is the overall message — or themes of the story?
  4. Does the positive magic closely correspond with something a child (or adult) could become involved in the real world e.g. being able to fly as opposed to astrology or Satanic rituals?
  5. Are the magic users role models that children might chose to emulate (maybe even a ‘cool’ villain).

While some books are probably just not helpful or may open doors best kept shut, the appropriateness of many stories will depend on the sensitivities and age of the reader. Sometimes even the most innocuous book may be wrong for a particular reader because it triggers past experiences, weaknesses or harmful obsessions. But let's not forget the opportunities and possibilities as well.

What fantasy books (or movies) have you found helpful or have got you thinking? What stories have been less beneficial for you and why? What hedges would you suggest?

Previous Posts:
Part Three – Reading fantasy (That's this one)

Other posts:
Saints, Seekers and Sleepers
What is Christian Fiction?

Fantasy Image: Jeanette O'Hagan © 2015 
The Lady and the Bird Image: Jeanette O'Hagan  © 2013

Jeanette O'Hagan has a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Romance Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) in December 2014 and two poems in the Poetica Christi’s Inner Child anthology launched in July 2015. She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She cares for her school-aged children, has a Masters of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University and is writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or at or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

Monday, 7 September 2015

Part Two Writing Fantasy

by Jeanette O'Hagan

A few weeks ago, we discussed some reasons why Christians may be wary of Fantasy (What is Fantasy). Yet this genre also offers great opportunities to talk about God and faith. Fantasy can engage the reader, often highlights the ongoing struggle between good and evil on a cosmic scale, and provides opportunities for analogy and metaphor of important themes. 

So how might Christians include fantastical and supernatural elements in fiction? Before we answer that question, I think it's important to understand some basic concepts.

Different Types of Fantasy

Fantasy comes in a number of different forms—from high fantasy, low fantasy, sword and sorcery, fairy tales, secondary world, portal, allegorical, animal tales, historical, ghost stories, paranormal, urban, even horror—and may include magical realism or supernatural/spiritual tales. 

Each of these approaches includes fantastical and supernatural elements to different extents and with a different relationship to realism. 

To confuse the picture even more, there can be a cross-over between science-fiction and fantasy— for instance Anne Macaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series includes dragons but eventually gives a natural explanation for these creatures. Similarly popular origin stories of superheroes give a naturalistic explanations for their fantastic superpowers.

High Fantasy is usually about world shaking events, involves prophecies, wizards, magical creatures, quests, battle between good and evil, and high stakes while low fantasy may be on a smaller scale, grittier, less magical elements or more political. Much fantasy is secondary world (an alternative reality other than earth— like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the world of Eragon), portal (where there is a doorway to another world e.g. Narnia, the Wizard of Oz, or Alice in Wonderland) or alternative reality. Fantasy may be set in our world but still clearly meant to be imaginary— for instance fairy tales, animal anthropomorphism (animals acting like humans as in Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit or Watership Downs), historical (Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy) or verge on allegory (Anna Elizabeth Stengl’s Heartless or many of George MacDonald’s fairy tales). Paranormal and urban fantasy is about creatures of legend such as vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies or ghosts and are usually set in a modern, contemporary world (eg the Twilight series but also Mike Duran’s The Ghost Box – or even Dickins The Christmas Carol). Magical realism might include symbolic supernatural elements in otherwise realist story which are presented without comment (Life of Pi, Chocolat). And for some stories the supernatural is included as a higher rather than an imagined reality— stories of angles, prayer, miracles (eg Frank Peretti or Angelguard). Some writers of fantasy are naturalists and/or may use fantastical elements with a basic anti-supernatural message (eg Pullman’s The Golden Compass).

Different Definitions of Magic

To further confuse the issue, 'magic' like 'love' is an amorphous word—it has a range of meanings from the illusionist’s tricks, the purely imaginary or unrealistic tropes of fiction (flying horses or carpets), to actual practices of traditional and tribal religions or neo-paganism (New Age, Wiccan, modern Shamanism etc). Miracles might also appear to be ‘magic’ to an outsider.

In fantasy, the fantastical and magical elements are not meant to correspond to the world as we know it. Fantasy is more than magic— imaginative visions of different worlds, fantastic or imaginary creatures or different realities.  These imaginative forays push the boundaries of our known reality, in part to entertain, but also as a way of thinking about the world.

As Neil Gaiman says in Coraline (paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton), ‘Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.’ 

However, with the resurgence of alternative spirituality and post-modernism, magical elements can begin to bleed into real-world beliefs and practices about a magic that draws from a polytheistic or animistic world-view. Prayers, rituals, divination either invoke or seek to control and manipulate spiritual beings (gods, spirits) or forces (mana, chi, life-force) or tap into an essential fatalism (implicit in omens, astrology etc). 

Fictional magical systems (overlap with ‘real’):
  1. True words— finding the true word or name gives you control over a person or thing.
  2. Gifts, talents or abilities— telepathy, prescience, telekinesis, superpowers, illusion or changing shape.
  3. Knowledge— of atomic structure, of the true nature of things, of natural or supernatural power source.
  4. Spiritual or religious— through prayer, ritual or relationship with God (or in polytheism–gods, spirits, ghosts).
  5. Communication, manipulation, control of spiritual entities or the dead.
  6. Possession by or channelling a supernatural being/s.
  7. Curse or failure to move on after death – e.g. werewolves, vampires, ghosts
  8. Magical nature – e.g. unicorns, fairies

So what is at stake here?

The Bible clearly prohibits real-world magical practices because:
  1. The Creator is the ultimate source of blessing and He determines our destiny.  He wants us to depend on Him, not to go through intermediaries.
  2. While the spiritual forces invoked have some power, they are both deceitful and hostile.
  3. So ‘magic’ (calling or using supernatural power through a supernatural intermediary other than God) is ultimately harmful and entangles us in malign spiritual forces.

However, the Bible doesn’t discourage the expression of the supernatural in the Christian’s life through the right channels such as faith, prayer, the working of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.  ‘Magic’ is a counterfeit of God’s (supernatural) work in the world.

And, I would add that the Bible also warns us against another extreme – a materialism that, if it doesn’t deny God’s existence, at the very least claims achievements and prosperity as the result of our own intelligence and effort. Pride and rebellion against God are just as destructive and soul destroying as sorcery and witchcraft (Deuteronomy 8:17,18; 9:4; 1 Samuel 15:23).

In both cases, we need to acknowledge God as the source of blessing and direction.

Different Approaches for Writing Christian Fantasy

Steven D. Greydanus suggests J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis put ‘hedges’ around the portrayal of magic in their fantasy fiction through a clear distinction between the imaginary fictional world and real-world practices and by confining the use of magic to supporting characters (the wise old wizard that helps the protagonist rather than the protagonist themselves).

Travis Perry suggests six positive ways to include magic in Christian fantasy:
  1. Only the villains use ‘magic’ – while the ‘good guys’ either use ordinary means or rely on God’s power.
  2. Rename miracles ‘magic’ and prophets ‘wizards’ (that is, have prophets and miracles dependent on God’s power— even though using the terms ‘magic’ and ‘wizards’).
  3. Treat magic as an allegory for the workings of God (deep magic in Lion, Witch and Wardrobe).
  4. Magic is a form of undiscovered science (just as our use of electricity and machines would appear magical to a medieval person).
  5. Blur the lines between the supernatural and the natural, by making the supernatural a fabric of everyday life (eg Alice in Wonderland – everything is fantastical).
  6. Have innate supernatural talents as an analogy for spiritual gifts.

I think it helps to consider the source of magic, how it is used, by whom and for what reasons. The nature of the magic within the world may be explicitly stated or implicit. I’d suggest that you:
  1. Have a clear distinction between good and evil (though there may be shades of grey, heroes and heroines are flawed & villains are never pure evil).
  2. Ask what is the source of 'magic' in your world – is it from a good God, from innate power or ability (which would be directly or indirectly a gift of God), or is there a natural explanation (e.g. telepathy as brainwaves)? Be cautious about magic drawing on a life force or power lines or some esoteric knowledge, while invoking, manipulating or controlling spiritual beings other than God might be confined to antagonists or presented as a false step by protagonists.
  3. Ask who can use ‘magic’ and how—is it something everyone can use or is it reserved to special people (superpowers or professionals), is it intuitive or does it require study and training, does it depend on one’s relationship with God (or other supernatural beings) or on natural abilities?
  4. Indicate the motivation for using magic— is it to manipulate other people, to harm (black magic) or to heal and help them (white magic). Yet even ‘white magic’ is harmful if it comes from the wrong source.
  5. Show how the villains’ use of ‘magic’ differs from the ‘good guys’? Do they use a different type of magic or do they wield it in a different (maybe illicit) ways or for different reasons?
  6. Consider how blurred the lines are between what is clearly imagination and reality. Could it be confused for contemporary dabbling in magic and thus encourage further involvement or exploration of such avenues?

Some examples:

Paul Gallico’s The Man Who Was Magic— A magician arrives in town of magicians or illusionists famous for their use props, sleights of hands and tricks. The difference is the stranger can do ‘real’ magic— producing a real rose out of thin air with the dew still on the petals. Jealous and afraid of losing their livelihoods and reputations, the false magicians wish to kill the stranger. This story is a powerful allegory of Jesus’ story (the true magician where the magic of the others is counterfeit).

C S Lewis Narnia series—the villains are often witches or magicians (Jardis, the White Witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, Uncle Andrew). Their magic is used for selfish reasons or to control and manipulate others, and is opposed to the powerful and true magic of Aslan the Lion (analogy for Christ-figure) and his father, the Emperor over the Seas. The children are given gifts (including Lucy’s magical cordial which heals) or signs (as with Jill in the Silver Chair) but it is their faith in Aslan that is most important. Narnia is a fantastical world in which animals talk and the stars have human form.

In Tolkien’s Middle Earth—the elves have innate magical abilities while men, dwarves and hobbits do not. The magicians like Gandalf are physical personifications of angels (Istari), sent by the creator God to guide elves and men back to him. Necromancy, sorcery are condemned and the great power of the One Ring will corrupt and subvert the good in even the best and must be destroyed rather than used.

This is a complex issue and I found it hard to cover all the issues succinctly—so I do apologise for a rather lengthy post. I hope I’ve given some direction and, more importantly, something to think about.  On Thursday, I want to approach this issue from the perspective of the reader, including young readers.

What about Fantasy?
Part One - Should we read/write Fantasy
Part Two - Writing Fantasy (that's this one)
Part Three - Reading Fantasy

Other posts:
Saints, Seekers and Sleepers
What is Christian Fiction?

Fantasy Image: Jeanette O'Hagan © 2015 

Jeanette O'Hagan has a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Romance Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) in December 2014 and two poems in the Poetica Christi’s Inner Child anthology launched in July 2015. She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She cares for her school-aged children, has just finished her Masters of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University and is writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  

You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on her websites or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .