Christian Fiction Writer


Books On My Night Stand

I'm currently reading Beguiled, by DeeAnne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, and The Centurion's Wife, by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Both look great! I'll review both books after I read them.

 I'm also finishing up a great suspense novel by James Rollins, The Doomsday Key (Harper Books), which isn't Christian fiction, but I love suspense, and Rollins is really good. Lots of fast moving action, all the characters face extinction on just about every page--but they keep going. It's great!


ECPAs 2010 Christian Fiction Finalists

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's 2010 Fiction Book Awards Finalists

Blood Bayou
by Karen Young,
Howard Books Publishers

by Jill Eileen Smith
Revell/ Baker Publishing Group

The Centurion's Wife
by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Bethany House/ Baker Publishing Group

Veiled Freedom
by Jeanette Windle
Tyndale House Publishers

Healing Waters

by Stephen Arterburn and Nancy Rue
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Watch Over Me
by Christa Parrish
Bethany House/ Baker Publishing Group

June Bug
by Chris Fabry
Tyndale House Publishers

A Writer's Sense of Place

Published in The Ready Writer's E-Zine, by Vicki McCollum, 2009

We love to read stories by writers who stir our memories, stoke our passions, and draw us into their fictional world. We go gladly because we sense truth in their writing—we trust them because we see ourselves in their characters’ struggles, our values upheld in their themes, and sense that we may discover something more about ourselves in their writing. A writer’s sense of place comes from our past—our childhood, family, and faith, as well as from the location that rooted us. Our sense of place shapes setting, people, and themes that recur in our writing. One of my favorite teachers of descriptive writing, Rebecca McClanahan, writes, “Memory is an act of meaningmaking. It collects the disparate pieces of our lives and distills them. . . . We store up sights, smells, textures and sounds of our lives, and draw upon those experiences as we writer. This doesn’t mean merely transcribing the raw material of past experience, but transforming that raw material into a new shape.”

I interviewed two Christian writers about how the sense of place affects their writing: Sandra van den Bogerd, inspirational fiction, and Elece Hollis, moderator of FCW poetry critique group.

Sandra says place is evoked in the recurring themes in her novels. “Things are not always what they seem, and sometimes you just need to trust God and others, despite the way things look. . . . I think a large component for Christian fiction writers’ sense of place is formed by our faith and values and relationships as seen through God’s filters.”

Sandra lives in Canada. Her love for the outdoors can be seen in her lifestyle and her writing. Last August, she vacationed with her husband in Canada’s north woods. She packed her manuscript, Escape to Terror (along with other necessities for surviving three weeks in the woods in a tent: thick, warm socks and sleeping bags, boxes of chocolate, and gallons of bug spray for those bruising black flies) to revise for consideration by Steeple Hill. Escape to Terror is a romantic suspense about characters stranded in the middle of the Northern Ontario wilderness.

Describing her sense of place, she writes: “I like to use setting to convey my characters’ emotions more fully and to evoke a comparable emotion in the reader. For example, in Escape to Terror, the heroine feels abandoned by God. Lost in the woods, she reflects on this: ‘She’d been like one of these gangly pines trying to survive in a forest of trees, desperately reaching skyward for a glimpse of sunlight while her hope, like their lower branches, withered in the darkness. If God had given her a reason to believe He cared, maybe she wouldn’t have given up reaching for Him all those years ago.”

Elece Hollis’s love for the Lord and His creation are frequent subjects of her poetry. Life in rural, eastern Oklahoma where Elece lives and home schools her children is reflected in her writing. Elece says, “My writing tends to be about nature, specifically about the prairie. Whether I am writing fiction, poetry, devotionals, or science articles for home-school journals, I fill them with things I know and love: the grasses and wildflowers; the wind, water and the heat; the seasonal changes, and the birds and creatures. Our writing should be flavored by and colored with our places."

Elece’s poem, “Of a Summer Morning,” reflects the sights and sounds of the Oklahoma prairie:

Out in the field where the meadowlark goes / Red Paintbrushes stand on the tips of their toes / Butterflies—yellow ones, white, orange, and black / Weave melodies over the grasses and back / Out in the pasture where cows gentle graze / White egrets stalk silently through summer days / Grasshoppers balance—on hot grasses sway / To the melodies blackbirds and barbed wire play.

While God created each of us as unique individuals, we were all made in His image. We may believe that we have nothing new to contribute. But our experiences shape our perspectives, producing in each of us a writer’s sense of place. Take time to think about the people, places, and events in your life and allow them to influence your writing.


Vicki McCollum:

McCollum Editorial Services

Sandra Orchard, (winner, Daphne DuMaurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and Colorado Romance Writers Heart of the Rockies contest, 2009) has two titles under consideration for publication, Shades of Gray and Escape to Terror. She is writing her third novel, Murder by Marigolds. Sandra’s website:

Elece Hollis is published in Humor for a Boomer's Heart, Howard Publishers, 2008; Follow Your Dreams, Graduates, Thomas Nelson, 2007; Blessed Among Women, Thomas Nelson, 2007; A Celebration of Family, Barbour ; and What’s Good About Home! A column for moms by email subscription:

Reprint from December 2009, Just Fiction Column, Ready Writer’s Newsletter

The Basics of Good Dialogue

Published in The Ready Writer E-Zine, by Vicki McCollum, © 2008
Quotation marks are used to punctuate a speaker’s actual dialogue in fiction or to punctuate a direct quote in nonfiction. Speech tags (also known as attribution tags in nonfiction) identify the speaker using speech verbs: he said, Janet yelled, Jack shouted.

Use speaker tags, also known as attribution tags in nonfiction, and separate the tag from the dialogue with a comma:
  • When asked directly, Janet replied, “No way, I’m not going there.” (direct quotation)
  • “No way, I’m not going there,” Janet said. (direct dialogue)
Don’t use quotation marks to punctuate recounted dialogue:

  • Janet said that there’s no way she’s going to go there. (recounting dialogue)
Notice that periods and commas are placed inside quotation marks:

  • “No way, I’m not going there.” (“.”)
  • “No way, I’m not going there,” Janet said. (“,” Janet said.)
Don't use commas with other punctuation:

  • "You aren’t going?,” Jack asked. ("?," Jack asked.) Incorrect.
  • Right: "You aren’t going?” Jack asked.  ("?" Jack asked.) Correct.
Speech or attribution tags may be placed before, in the middle, or after the quote or dialogue, depending on the writer’s desire to pace dialogue or stress sentences.

  • Janet’s husband said, “She never wants to go where I want to go.”
When a speech tag comes before the quote, the comma follows the tag and the speech is placed in quotation marks:

  • "Janet’s problem is that she lacks a sense of adventure,” her husband said.
When the speech tag follows quoted speech, the prounoun attribution isn't capitalized:
  • "Janet’s problem,” Jack said, “is that she lacks a proper sense of adventure.”
When the speech tag is placed in the middle of and interrupting the speech, the quoted speech continues without capitalization. (". . . problem,” Jack said, “is that she…”)

Paragraphs in direct dialogue

Give each speaker his or her own paragraph and indicate when the speaker changes by beginning a new paragraph. Example:

Janet stroked the cat behind its ears and sighed. “I’ve told you before, Jack. I hate ice-hockey. It’s too violent.”

“Since when has violence bothered you?” he asked. “It didn’t bother you when you played professional roller hockey.”

“That’s not fair.” She tossed an angry glare at him. “I played in order to pay your way through medical school, and this is the thanks I get?”

Action Tags

Use action tags to identify a speaker when you don’t want to use “said,” or other speech tags. Jack and Janet continue their conversation with each speaker receiving his or her separate paragraph. For variation, the third sentence uses an action tag; the tag shows Jack in meaningful action, which should move the plot forward, or characterize the speaker in some way.

"You never want to do what I want to do,” Jack said.

Janet said, “Don’t start with me, Jack.”

He opened the door. "Fine! I’ll go without you.”

Avoid adverbs

Adverbs are words that end with an “ly,” such as “angrily, softly, gently.” Instead of adding adverbs, allow the speaker’s words to express his feelings. Adverbs can make dialogue sound overwritten and cartoonish. Example:

"You never want to do what I want to do,” he whined pathetically.

Janet whispered angrily, “Don’t start with me, Jack.”

Opening the door he shouted furiously, "Fine! I’ll go without you.”

Readers can sense tone and emotion by the speaker’s word choice, and if the speaker's words expresses his or her feelings, then adverbs are repetitious.

Now it's your turn:

Read passages of your favorite author's dialogue. Compare how the author handles different character's dialogue. I'll bet they don't sound the same, do they? Just as people don't sound exactly like each other, neither do characters. Their way of speaking is shaped by education, work and social circles, family background, and much more. Absorb good dialogue by reading, or even re-typing, long passages of several authors' dialogue. Then apply what you've learned to your own characters' dialogue.


Creating Life-Like Characters

Published in The Ready Writer E-Zine, July 2010 By Vicki McCollum (c) 2010

We know that research yields vivid, concrete details that bring our characters and their settings to life and enrich our plots. However, the editorial task of sorting through the piles of objects, images, and textures arrives where we select only the most meaningful and significant details for our characters. This process deepens our writing and hints at our character’s moral complexities, hopes and dreams, and even fears. By selecting the right details, we create rounder, life-like characters, instead of flat stereotypes.

If we neglect this step, the overflow of information will confuse readers rather than present vivid, life-like characters. The result is that nothing stands out as particularly meaningful to the character. For example, I developed this list of details while researching my novel’s setting: the Upper French Louisiana in the late 1700s. I chose details for my character that I hoped would reveal not only her socio-economic status, but also her hopes, dreams, and fears:

Two pair of ladies slippers lay on the plank flooring under her bed. One pair with hard leather soles, made in New Orleans, and the other, soft-soled, intricately beaded moccasins. Opposite her bed stood a large chest filled with woolen bedding, linens, a silk purse, a pair of gloves, and a small, silver-framed portrait. A gilt-handle mirror hung from the rough plastered wall behind the chest.

As you can see, these details add nothing to either character or plot. Instead, I’ve unloaded my details in what’s called an “information dump.” However, if I allow my character to interact with her possessions, then perhaps the items will add meaning and complexity to her life. The next example shows the Celeste and her nurse-midwife interacting with details selected for their significance to my character’s life:

Celeste awoke. She motioned to an old chest in the far corner of the room, the chest where she stored her finery. It held her silk purse, white leather gloves, and the silver- framed portrait of herself that Philippe had commissioned in New Orleans, only two years earlier—his wedding present to her. “Find the valise and hide it from Madame, please.” The woman, her midwife, rummaged through Celeste’s clothing—a crimson dressing gown, a taffeta petticoat, all that was left of Celeste’s beauty and youth. “Quickly,” Celeste whispered, “I hear Madame’s footsteps outside the door.”

Later in the story, the valise increases in significance when the antagonist, Madame Marie-Louise, attempts to take it, and thereby increases conflict and develops the plot:

Marie-Louise stood in the shadows by the cot, observing the slave-woman’s body sway in her expression of grief. Alert for the most opportune time, she knew that Cymbee’s outlandish moans would eventually bring Philippe and the others. She would have to act fast. She dropped to her knees and searched the floor under the cot. Her stretched fingertips touched a leather pull with brass clasps. The old woman had pushed it deep against the back wall. Marie-Louise inched her way underneath the cot, leveraging against the iron bedstead to tug the bag forward, but it caught against a raised plank. Footsteps brushed past her toward Celeste and her baby. She heard Philippe’s muffled cry and glanced toward the commotion.

Through the detail of objects, setting, and character interactions, we learn something about the morality, hopes, dreams, and fears of the characters. We see Marie-Louise groveling under her slave’s cot (while her daughter-in-law is dying in childbirth) searching for the valise explicitly hidden from her. We also have some insight into Philippe through his demeanor and actions: his muffled cry and footsteps brushing past his mother towards his wife and child. Perhaps we have learned enough to judge their characters, as well as the plot, and decide if we’ll keep reading.

Now, it’s your turn. Imagine a room where your character spends a lot of time. Perhaps your character spends time in the kitchen where her family gathers during meal preparation or the family room with the large, stone fireplace where she cozy’s up to read her favorite novel. Imagine, for a moment, joining her in that space. Look around and ask yourself (and your character) questions. How does the room make you feel? Do you feel peaceful, excited, or fearful? How does the room and furnishings contribute to your feelings, and why? How does your character feel about this place? Why does she come here? Does she want to be here? Brainstorm to come up with a list of specific items you see in the room, and jot down any emotions these items stir in you. Does your character share your feelings? What emotional or life-attachment does your character have with these objects, with this place? Now, write freely, without restraint, about the strongest, most vivid impression you’ve gained from your character’s environment.