Bad Novel Ideas for New/Young Christian Authors


Can you spot the kitten sleeping in this boot?

When you are young and/or new to writing, you may go through a phase where you are not sure what kind of writing ideas to have. Some of the early ideas are sure to be bad ones.

If you are also some sort of Christian, you may feel you need to write ‘Christian fiction,’ whether you have ever read ‘Christian fiction’ or not. One problem with that is that most of us think of Evangelical Christian fiction when we hear the words ‘Christian fiction.’ If you are Catholic or LDS or even a non-evangelical Protestant, Evangelical-style fiction likely won’t be right for you.

The common bad writing ideas will trip writers up no matter their denomination. They are ideas lots of Christian writers have that few Christian readers will buy. Since many naive Christian writers self-publish these novels anyway, you will have much competition for a tiny share of readers.

Retold Bible Stories – Have you ever met someone who was just dying to read the story of King David from his favorite goat’s perspective? Or the life history of Hosea’s wife? Maybe if you are a noted Biblical scholar whose Bible commentaries are traditionally published and well-known, you could do this without boring or offending all potential readers. For the rest of us, we need a better idea.

Allegories – The famous book ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a Protestant allegory about the Christian life. I read it when I was a Protestant, and liked it. But that didn’t mean I was raiding the bookstores for more allegories to read! The Narnia series contains allegory, but also has a lot of content that isn’t direct allegory. But even this less-allegorical type isn’t an easy sell to Christian publishers or readers. If your planned story has a Jesus-character in it, like Aslan, perhaps you should think again.

Conflict-free Historicals – Prairie romance and Amish romance are popular escapist forms of Christian fiction. Many Christian readers want to escape from their current woes where they get mocked at work for being a Christian. But Amish and prairie stories have to be realistic enough to show real conflicts. Conflict is the life blood of fiction. Even escapist fiction.

The best thing the would-be Christian novelist can do is read within the genre. Find out what books are selling well, and read them. If you are not Evangelical, look for authors from your own faith background and read their books. If you can’t find any sort of Christian fiction that you like and that inspires you with writing ideas, maybe you should consider secular fiction. There ARE Christians who write for the secular market, like Dean Koontz. That might be what you are called to do.






My Star Trek fantasies

Being a writer starts out with having fantasies— making up stories in your head. At first, we do it for our own amusement. It’s only later that we decide to write down some of our fantasies and become Real Writers.
The biggest influence on my early making-up-stories was the original Star Trek series. As a kid, I often went on long walks through my neighborhood or a nearby woods, making up a Star Trek story all the time. Of course, these stories were silly. If I had written any down, they would be embarrassing. Kids’ fantasies are like that.
Since I was a big Star Trek fan, I watched the episodes over and over, and internalized the rules of that particular science fiction universe. I loyally ignored the weird, contradictory stuff- like the fact that the Enterprise had an actual chapel but no chaplain or even visiting priests, pastors or rabbis. Over the years of making up stories, my Star Trek stories became better. Though they also became less like the Official Star Trek canon and more like what I wished Star Trek was like.
At a certain point in my later childhood, I decided I was a general science fiction fan and tried to read other science fiction. Didn’t always have luck finding stuff I liked. I remember one story where a space traveller discovered that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that destroyed an inhabited planetary system. And then there was The Cold Equations, where the stowaway girl-character I thought of as the main character has to be killed to save other lives.
I eventually discovered stories I did like. Some, like the Darkover series by She Who Must Not Be Named, I can no longer bear to read when I discovered unpleasant realities about the author in a book written by her daughter, Moira Greyland. So I had to find other authors. Like Declan Finn, Karina Fabian, Daniella Bova and Jill Williamson.
But my mental Star Trek stories have persisted all these years. I used to have plans to write one of those Star Trek novels from Pocket Books. I used to read and collect them compulsively. But for a few years I didn’t buy new ones due to a bookstore shortage in my area. I recently bought a new Star Trek novel and saw that the series had been utterly ruined. The novel showed what should have been an exciting action sequence. But a character was wasting time worrying about what pronoun she should use while THINKING about unisexual aliens— she chose a newly invented ‘alternative’ pronoun. I chose not to waste my money on such drivel again. Real action heroes don’t waste time worrying about THINKING the wrong thing.
Since I’ve been aware for years that my mental stories now contain a lot of original content— persistent characters who never appear in Star Trek, an interplanetary system that’s nothing like the United Federation of Planets, a space fleet that is not taxpayer supported but has to support itself by hauling trade goods from planet to planet….. I’ve been working for some years on creating an original setting and character group that I can use as a replacement for my unoriginal Star Trek stuff so I can write an original space opera novel or series.
I think that many of use writers are working through something similar. We have long connections to other people’s fiction that stimulates our own creative side. And then we must cut the cord and create something original to take its place, We have to think about what it is about those other people’s fiction that inspires us, and what parts we don’t like so much or that we could replace with something we like better. And then we have to take that flood of ideas we have and make them consistent. For example, if Christians are widely persecuted in your universe, you can’t have Christian leaders wielding great power without explanation. Perhaps you can have persecution in most places and Christians-with-power in others.
The thing to remember is that your writing is first about YOU. What you like, what stimulates your imagination to produce ever-more ideas. You have to shape your ideas so that there are at least some groups of readers who can enjoy your work, but you shouldn’t be writing stuff you can’t stand. You probably can’t do that over the long term, and even if you can, you won’t enjoy it.
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Science-fictional languages & Esperanto

In older science fiction, it was assumed that future people of different cultures would speak to one another in Esperanto, or in a fictionalized version of it. Esperanto is a real-world invented language created by L. L. Zamenhof in 1887, which is highly simplified, and can be learned by an English-speaker in about 1/10th the time it would take an English-speaker to learn French. It is also a language which largely lacks idioms which cannot be literally translated, such as saying ‘I am blue’ in English to mean ‘I am sad.’ (The English translation of the German sci-fi series, Perry Rhodan, has future slang terms with Esperanto roots, even though that’s not in the original German text.)
In early science fiction, Esperanto was new linguistic technology which seemed to scream ‘futuristic.’ That impression has changed, in large part because so many people on the planet don’t want to have to learn the international language Esperanto when they have already learned Chinese, Arabic, Spanish or English as their international language. It is commonly said that Esperanto has ‘failed.’ But since it has gone from just-an-idea with one speaker, Dr. Zamenhof, in 1887 to a language estimated to have 2-4 million speakers and maybe more who could recognize the language and communicate in it on a basic level if they had to.
A later idea of how future people would solve the interplanetary language problem was a ‘universal translator’ device like used on Star Trek. The Star Trek device could start translating without hearing a word of a new alien tongue, as far as we could see on the show. But in the real world, translation by computer is hard. There are always mistakes. Would YOU like to create a treaty with the Klingons using only a ‘universal translator,’ or would you opt for using bilingual beings as translators so they could catch the mistakes and ambiguities?
There has also been the idea that in the future, English or a version of English will be the interplanetary universal language. On Earth, our experience has been that a country with great military and economic power can induce foreign peoples of less power to learn their language, as the British Empire spread English and English-learning around the world. But our experience on Earth has also been that the most popular international language doesn’t stay so popular forever. Greek was an international language in the ancient world, and was learned by educated persons in many nations from Egypt to Israel to Rome. As Greek national power waned and Roman power grew, Latin became an international language. It continued to be an international language for a long time because the Church was centered in Rome, and the Catholic Church still uses Latin for international communications purposes. (There used to be an ATM machine in the Vatican with Latin instructions!) Later French became the language of diplomacy, and only later did English start being used for international purposes. In the future with the growing power of China and of the Muslim world, perhaps Mandarin Chinese or Arabic may have a turn at being the most popular international language.
Adopting a created language like Esperanto is a different sort of thing. It does not belong to any one nation on Earth, and it is highly unlikely that if Esperanto moves out into the interplanetary world that any Esperanto-speakers will claim it belongs particularly to Earth. Like other created international languages, it belongs to the people who have taken the trouble to learn it in order to communicate better with others. It may seem that Esperanto or other similar languages moving into common use would require loads of people (and space aliens) to become more idealistic. But actually, it is pragmatic. I learned Esperanto well enough to read it by spending 2 month studying a book on it in my spare time while I was in college. This is a short investment in time as language-learning goes. Imagine how an international or interplanetary project would be enhanced by asking (or ordering) the participants to spend the small amount of time it would take to learn to communicate with others in Esperanto.
Esperanto is not the first created language ever made as an international language. There were many such projects before Esperanto, such as Universalglot or Volapuk. Volapuk actually had a following and language clubs at one time! After Esperanto, there were languages such as Ido (an Esperanto dialect) and Interlingua. There are also languages like Slovio, a pan-Slavic language.
In the future, a new international or interplanetary language could arise that is no relation to Esperanto, but has similarities in easy of learning. It’s possible that English speakers might meld English word roots with a simplified, Esperanto-like spelling system and grammar to create a new language easy for those who already speak English as a first or second language. Or Chinese speakers, or Arabic speakers. Now that Esperanto and other simplified languages have been created, the principles are available to anyone.
What about Klingon for an international language on real-world Earth? There used to be internet rumors of how an English-speaking Star Trek fan had communicated with a Japanese Star Trek fan in Klingon. As a massive fan of Star Trek, I looked into that. I wanted to translate a few simple sentences into Klingon. But I found that Klingon had no words for the key words in my sentences, like ‘cat’ and ‘rat.’ And no mechanism for creating new words, which Esperanto has. And since Klingon is the intellectual property of Paramount Pictures, who hired the man who made up the Klingon language, we really can’t use it for an international language without permission. So an Esperanto club in Poland can’t transfer its loyalty to Klingon as an international language, as Volapuk clubs transferred their loyalty to Esperanto once Esperanto was invented, because Klingon isn’t in the public domain!
As writers, if we like the interplanetary-language concept as a plot device, we are free to create our own interplanetary language— language inventing is a legit hobby now and there are web sites that may help you— or you can used Esperanto (or Volapuk or Universalglot) as a pre-fab language in your work. Since they are international languages meant for use, they were all ‘born’ in the public domain, and are old enough that they would be in the public domain now anyway.
Esperanto is the best developed international language. There are free Esperanto learning websites and cell phone apps like Duolingo, there are still a few Esperanto shortwave broadcasts, and even more broadcasts in Esperanto on internet radio— including one on Vatican radio. Also, the Bible has been available in Esperanto from early on. The language’s creator, Zamenhof, was a Polish Jew and spoke Hebrew as well as many other languages, and he translated the Old Testament. Here is a sample: ‘En la komenco Dio kreis la chielon kaj la teron.’ [Genesis 1:1]  The New Testament was translated by the British Bible society, and the Deuterocanonical books— the books in Catholic Bibles that modern Jewish and Protestant Bibles don’t have— are also now available. So the Esperanto Bible— especially the Zamenhof-translated Old Testament— is a treasure trove of grammatically proper Esperanto stuff to quote.
I might warn other language geeks: don’t give out long solid blocks of text in Esperanto or your own fictional language or any language other than English (or whatever other language you are writing in.) It will confuse or annoy many readers, while using a word or phrase or two may be able to be ignored by people who don’t like that sort of thing. Sometimes, less is more!
Story prompts:
  1. Imagine a futuristic story in which language diversity is a problem. How will your characters solve the problem? How will they get others to agree to their solution? What will be the drawbacks and benefits of the solution your characters choose?
  2. A major corporation builds a massive factory or mine or something, and has to get workers from many linguistic groups. The corporation hires linguists to create a simple language for the corporation workers to use with one another. Over time, children are born from ‘mixed marriages’ among the workers who use the (copyrighted) corporation-owned language as their primary or only language— and they can’t leave to work for other corporations because they cannot use their native language without corporate permission!
  3. Your characters believe that Esperanto (or another interplanetary language) is evil and threatens the survival of other languages and their related cultures. Languages like Chinese and English and German are dying out the way American Indian languages are dying today (many Indian languages in the US have only a handful of elderly speakers left alive right now— when they die, the language is dead, without any native speakers.)

Teach Yourself Esperanto book

Esperanto-English dictionary

The Death Penalty in a Post-Zombie-Apocalypse World

On the season premiere of the television series, The Walking Dead, Maggie Rhee, leader of the Hilltop community, sentenced former Hilltop leader to death. He pretty well deserved it. He had betrayed Hilltop more than once, and his most recent crime was an attempt to use a bereaved father’s grief to cause him to assassinate Maggie. Gregory got hanged, and the Hilltop community was better off for his going.
Modern people often don’t care for the death penalty, because they don’t mind that their taxes are higher to pay for the lifelong support of convicted murderers, and because they don’t realize that weak penalties for murder make the crime seem more forgivable, and therefore more doable. I remember a case of a girl who had murdered her own mother, who managed to go to Harvard after she got out of jail. Very modern and humane, but I wonder if there was not some non-parent-murdering young person who might have been even more deserving of a chance to go to Harvard.
In a more primitive society, the cost of not executing a killer was higher. If the killer was not let off altogether, he would have to be supported for years in confinement. Let’s forget about the fact that earlier humans didn’t have the concept of prolonged imprisonment as a punishment. Early jails were just somewhere to hold accused criminals until they got their trial, and until they got executed or whipped or whatever their punishment was. After all, post-zombie-apocalypse people would know the concept. But how many people would have to be reassigned from survival chores such as growing crops, raising goats or chickens, or hunting for meat, and spend their working hours guarding a convict? Since having only one guard at a time makes escape more possible, and having no guards for night shift would also not help, we might see 6 men assigned to guard one prisoner during all the possible shifts. How much time would these men have, in their off hours, to contribute to their own survival, and to that of their prisoner?
Death penalty also has the effect of making death penalty crimes more serious, especially if it is applied regularly. Letting people off, however, makes murder seem not such a big deal.
In the Viking society, killing someone directly, without stealth and admitting to the killing afterward, was not considered a crime against the state. It was, however, a crime that could be avenged by the family of the murdered man. Even accidental killings could be avenged that way— as could revenge killings. It was custom that you did not have to kill the actual killer. Anyone from the killer’s clan would do. And so Viking society was plagued by never-ending blood-feuds which traced their origin to one act of murder or one accidental death.
I have heard of a Catholic priest who says that the process of going forward with the death penalty gives the condemned a chance to think about the state of his soul. A chance which is missing when a man is allowed to grow old and senile in prison. Christians are not supposed to want any man condemned to hell, even the murderer of our family members, so Christians should want killers to repent and turn to God before their death.
There is a lot of killing-of-humans in the post-zombie-apocalypse world as depicted in The Walking Dead. A failed strategy, since every person killed could have been a person who could have contributed to the building of a new society and a new economy. I remember how Rick Grimes, as leader of the community of Alexandria, decided to have his followers wipe out the community lead by the bad guy, Negan. Instead he only killed off one outpost, which lead to Negan killing Abraham and Glenn. Since Rick and his followers killed many more than 2 Neganites, one wonders in what sense Rick is a good guy and Negan a bad guy if both groups kill indiscriminately.
The death penalty, applied to one individual who has killed or committed other major crimes, has the virtue of being more fair than just killing random followers of a rival group. When people believe their society has a good, functional justice system, that they will be punished only if they commit a major crime and if there is evidence against them, they start to trust that obeying the laws is in their best interest. Some, of course, will obey only out of fear, and will do the bare minimum to get by in whatever society they are a part of. But others will feel freer to contribute to a new society, knowing that others in the society will be prevented from killing them or robbing them of their property.
The problem with not having a justice system is that killers and robbers can get caught, get let off, and be free to wander to another location to prey on fresh people who don’t know them. Some people are just too dangerous and violent to be trusted with the lives of others. It’s not that we wish them dead, it’s that we wish their future victims to have the chance to live.
Current haters of the death penalty can keep their attitude in large part because we live in a society in which it is quite rare for people to be murdered and robbed randomly. Most of us don’t know personally of anyone who has been murdered. It’s only in societies in which such breaches of the law are more common in which people can feel confident that eliminating all death penalty on humane grounds won’t lead to the sacrifice of many innocent victims. A fictional post-zombie-apocalypse world won’t have such an assurance.


Science Fiction: Space Colonization stories

When we watch science-fiction series like Star Trek and Star Wars, it is assumed that somewhere in the universe there are Terran space colonies. There are Earth-type worlds were Earth human people grow crops and manufacture goods. These worlds support the larger culture of the series.

But where do these colonies come from? How were they formed? What kind of people went to the colonies? Did they go voluntarily, or were they required to? These are the kind of questions you must answer when writing a space colonization story.

One of the first questions is that of government involvement. Are the first colonists on the new world subject to an all-ruling government? Or are they, once they arrive, able to form their own government? We can look at examples of colonization from our own world and, in the United States, from our own history.

The Pilgrims that came on the Mayflower took it for granted that they could make some of their own governmental rules. They did not believe that they had to enforce the primacy of the Anglican Church. They were of course dissenters from the Anglican Church, and they built dissenting church communities, feeling they had the freedom to do so.

Some space colonies might be heavily supported by the home planet. Goods from the home planet might be brought to make the colonists’ lives easier. On other colonies, the colonists might be dumped with a handful of primitive tools, and allowed to survive or not by their own efforts period

Medical support is one thing that colonists may need to live without. On our own world and in our own culture, hospitals are available both for emergencies, and for routine events like childbirth. Women tend to expect high levels of medical care during pregnancy. They expect advanced interventions in cases where something goes wrong. In some cases, they expect genetic screening, followed by the termination of the lives of imperfect unborn infants. On a space colony world, women may not be given much medical support at all. Pregnancy terminations may be considered taboo, especially if done for the limitation of family size. Colonies must have an expanding population to survive. Routine abortions might make this impossible.

A big question is whether the colonists are volunteers, exiles, or draftees. Volunteer colonists may seen as the ideal, but very many people might wish to avoid giving up their whole lives to come to a primitive world. If life is made hard for certain minority groups, such as practicing Christians or Jews, these groups maybe willing to leave Earth to gain the right to practice their religion in peace. If colonists are drafted and taken against their will, they will be very disaffected, but will not choose two fail to survive just to spite those who ordered them there.

A big part of any space colonization story is the surprises. A planet is a very large place. There may be lifeforms or other dangers which have not been detected prior to the arrival of the colonists. The colonists will have to cope with these dangers on their own, whether they like it or not.

Many space colonization stories start with the very first days of colonization. Others may start years or generations after the beginning of the colony. It all depends on what the authors’ interests are. And the readers. What kind of colonization might you like to read or write?

This blog post has been written using the Enhanced Dictation available on a Mac computer. It is considered a good practice to use the dictation software on blog posts, emails and note taking, to make it easier to dictate the novel. Dictating is a skill that must be practiced.

Why do zombies want to bite us? Nutrition or Reproduction?

Why, exactly, are zombies so darn eager to take a bite out of humans? On the Walking Dead, zombies have it good. They survive all sorts of injuries except direct shots to the head, some zombies have been locked in rooms for years before Our Guys find them and the zombies are still doing good without food for all that time.

We assume they want to bite us because they are ravenously hungry and want to consume our flesh for food. But zombies don’t seem to need food to keep going. How hungry can they be?

Plus, zombies don’t have a beating heart or working lungs. They don’t need air to survive. They don’t even need their bodies to survive— remember Herschel’s head? So we are supposed to believe they have functional digestive systems without functioning hearts and lungs to support them?

Without a functioning digestive system, what zombies eat would just accumulate in the zombie gut until the undigested mass got so heavy that it would overtax the fragile zombie skin and tissue and the guts would fall clear out.

But there is another reason zombies might have an instinct to bite: zombies cannot reproduce sexually. You’ve never seen a pregnant zombie giving birth. If a male zombie tried to have sex with a lady zombie, could he even do it without breaking off vital bits?

The only way a zombie has of making more zombies is to bite a human. And he can’t bite off too much. If zombies ate a human right down to the bones it would not be able to reanimate as a functioning zombie.

So, when a zombie is coming at you with intent to bite, it’s not that he thinks of you as food. It’s just that the zombie really likes you a lot and wants you to join the herd. It’s flattering, really. But it’s best to blow the zombie’s head off anyway.

What’s new: I’m on Wattpad now. Wattpad is a social media for readers and writers, where writers share stories and other things for free. My profile on Wattpad: I’m currently putting up one of my poetry books for free there, but I’m working on a zombie story to put up there.


How to show Christian worldview in fiction, part 1

When asked what they like about Christian fiction, people often say ‘it has a Christian worldview.’ They don’t say ‘when I read the book it felt like getting a really nice sermon.’ But how exactly do you go about showing a Christian worldview? This series of posts will help show you. [Note: ‘Christian’ here includes all followers of Christ, including Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Moravians, and LDS.]

One essential is this: Christian fiction takes place in a certain type of world. In this world, God is real, discoverable, and loves you. What does that mean?

God is real. Not maybe real or might-be real, or real-for-me-not-for-you, but real, like a nuclear explosion and the science behind it. The secular world likes to divide the world like this: there are the hard-nosed, logical, scientific-method thinkers who are all secularists-like-me, and the airy-fairy ‘spirituality’ sort who make a ‘leap of faith’ into the land without logic. Don’t you believe it. For the hard-nosed logical, scientific-method Christian, becoming a Christian isn’t based on ‘blind faith’ but on a logical examination of the evidence.

God is discoverable. There are two ways God is discoverable by man. One, God has revealed Himself in certain events— such as the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The events of that delivery— the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea— are commemorated among the descendants of the Israelites, modern-day Jews, to this day. And there is the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There have been people who sought to debunk Christianity by examining the events of the crucifixion and resurrection as recorded in the Gospels, who have instead come to the conclusion that Christianity is true. There are also the words of prophets raised up by God, who in many cases have predicted events that have come to pass.

Another way that God is discoverable is through nature. St. Paul writes that even the Pagans have knowledge of God. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:19, 20

God loves you (& all mankind)

We believe that God is not a Creator who made us, lost interest, and moved on to other things ages ago. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16  God, for whatever reason, cares about us, not only as part of a collective like ‘the children of Israel’ or ‘the Church’ but loves each of us as individuals.

What this means for fiction

Christians, real or fictional, don’t have to be embarrassed about our belief in God when faced with the local atheist. Atheists are not better than us, smarter than us, or cooler than us. We should look on an atheist the way we look on a guy who hasn’t learned his multiplication table all the way through yet— as someone who does not yet know vital facts about the world.

Christian fiction writers should not perpetuate the old myth of the logical atheist/secularist and the emotional/illogical ‘person of faith.’ This trope needs to die, disappearing like a soap bubble in the light of the truth like a vampire in sunlight.

Part 2 is coming soon  — in two weeks, on April 9th. But if we have enough response with people sharing, Tweeting and otherwise spreading the word about this post, I may get on the ball and get it posted in one week.  Comments this post are, as always, welcome.

Wattpad: I am syndicating my poetry book, Where the Opium Cactus Grows, on Wattpad. My profile there is:

One of the books I’m reading on Wattpad is Unicorn Western by Sean Pratt and Johnny B. Truant. It’s kind of like Stephen King’s Dark Tower. And like High Noon. Not Christian fiction, but so far it is a fun story.