Author Interview – Joan Embola

Author Joan Embola’s debut novel, The One Who Knows Me, released this past week!

Author Joan Embola, I’m so honored to have you for my first author interview on this blog! Joan is the author of The One Who Knows Me, her debut college-age contemporary fiction novel focusing on faith and mental health. You can find her book here on Amazon!

Q: Joan, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: Yes, of course 🙂 My name is Joan Embola. I was born and raised in Cameroon in west central Africa but I’m now based in the U.K. I’m the oldest of three children and the only girl. I work as a physician associate and spend most days of the week diagnosing, treating and managing patients. I love writing, I have a YouTube channel and I do a little bit of podcasting as well. I love to journal, sing, crochet, and play the ukulele.

Q: You work in the medical field for your “day job”. What drew you to that, and what drew you to writing?

A: I was never one of those people who “knew” they were going to work in the medical field from a young age. My interest in the medical field grew when I fell in love with science subjects at school, but I never knew what job I wanted to do specifically. From 2014 to 2018, God led me on a roller coaster ride which required a lot of trust, and I finally realised the role of a physician associate is what suits me best.

In regards to writing, I’m also not one of those people who have “always wanted to be a writer.” If someone told me five years ago that I would be a published author of two books this year, I would have laughed in their face. My writing journey began when I was a teenager. I used  to write poems to God as a way of helping me deal with my emotions. I initially wrote these poems for myself, but years later, God encouraged me to compile them  into a poetry devotional which I published in 2018. The idea for my debut novel came as a surprise because I never thought I would ever write fiction. But as soon as the inspiration hit me, I couldn’t help myself. God helped me navigate a few initial doubts and fears, but once I was in, I didn’t look back.

Q: The One Who Knows Me focuses on mental health. Traditionally, this is a subject that was taboo in so many societies. It is still, sadly, taboo in many societies and in many churches today. What drew you to focus on this topic for your debut novel, and to specifically tie it into a journey of faith?

A: When I wrote the first draft of this novel, it was all in Teeyana’s POV and Jayden didn’t even have a POV. But with each draft I realised that there was more to Jayden’s story. So when I wrote drafts 2, 3 and 4, I gave Jayden his own scenes but they only existed to support Teeyana’s character arc. After the fourth draft, I gave the book to my first round of beta readers and one of them was an editor who really helped me understand how to map out a character arc and give more depth to Jayden’s perspective. As I outlined the whole book again, Jayden’s story started to become clearer to me. That was when I realised that I couldn’t tell the full story and show the light of Christ without tapping into the characters’ mental health journeys. I had always known the book was going to be about a journey of faith, so including the mental health elements added more depth to it. I was scared to tackle these topics at first and I tried to talk myself out of exploring them many times, but God kept nudging me in that direction until the full story was written. Getting God’s approval was the only thing that mattered to me and I pray that all those who read this book will understand that they are not alone and that God is with them as they go through deep waters.

Q: Both of your main characters, Teeyana and Jayden, each have their own journeys of faith and mental health in this story. Who do you relate to more?

A: I definitely relate more to Jayden. He is the character after my heart but he also was challenging to write. I relate to the fact that Jayden’s past experiences prompted him to encourage others, and help them see God’s goodness again. I also relate to the fact that Jayden was seen as the “strong friend” and he struggled to be vulnerable with others. The problem with being the “strong friend” is that people can find it hard to believe that you too can have your own struggles. But it was very refreshing for me to write about Jayden learning how to depend on God for strength to deal with his daily struggles.

Q: The line that resonated with me the most as I read The One Who Knows Me was a thought that runs through Teeyana’s head late in the novel – “I always try to keep everything under control, because that is where my confidence comes from ”. As a Type A perfectionist, myself, I felt that deeply. I lived in that headspace for many years, and I still fight it, sometimes. Can you speak to the origin of or the thought process behind this line?

A: Yes, so I think this line specifically came from the fact that at the beginning of the book, Teeyana struggled to see God’s sovereignty as a good thing. She kept trying to ‘run away’ and wanted nothing to do with God because things weren’t going according to her plan. I think a lot of us can relate to that because we want to control everything and when we can’t do that, it becomes really hard for us to accept it and that’s when anxiety kicks in. Over the last few years, I have learnt that the secret to truly experiencing perfect peace in Christ is total surrender. The Bible says in Isaiah 26:3 that God will keep in perfect peace those who trust in Him, and those whose minds are stayed on Him. God has ultimate control, He holds the whole world in His hands, He sustains the universe and He will always win. We will fail and continue to fail when we try to rely on our strength and hold on to things we can’t control. But when we surrender our burdens and our cares to God, He takes them and in exchange, He gives us peace and comfort.

Q: Without giving away spoilers, can you tell us a bit about your favorite part of the book to write, and the part that was the most challenging?

A: I really loved writing about the romance between the main characters and I also loved writing the scenes where the main characters had their “aha moments” and when they finally learned the lesson they needed to learn.

The most challenging was certainly navigating through Jayden’s mental health journey and particularly the backstory with his older brother. It was hard to write those scenes without feeling for the characters.

Q: It’s been so great to have you, Joan! Before we go, can you tell us a little bit about the sequel and your inspirations for it?

A: Oooh I’m so excited to share book 2 in the Sovereign Love series. This book is set to release next year  (by God’s grace)  and more details will come over the next few months. Book 2 follows Teeyana’s best friend–Amara and this book was actually inspired by a book I read last summer. I was so annoyed by how certain topics and issues were treated in that book that I was inspired to write a book which tackled similar issues but from a Biblical perspective. That’s all I can say for now but I will reveal more information in the next few months. Subscribe to my free author newsletter to get the news first.


Joan Embola is a UK-based Cameroonian-Nigerian Christian author who aims to share God’s love one word at a time. She writes books about diverse characters whose hope-filled stories point to the sovereign love and goodness of God in our broken world. She is a qualified physician associate and also the founder of Love Qualified, a ministry dedicated to encouraging others to experience the sovereign love of the one true God who has qualified us to be His beloved ones. She is a passionate lover and teacher of God’s Word, and she shares this passion on her YouTube channel, blog, and podcast. When she’s not writing or curled up with a book, you’ll find her watching movies, YouTube videos, or making memories with her family and friends.

You can connect with her at www.joanembola.co.uk and on instagram, YouTube, her blog, and her podcast. Join her newsletter to stay up to date with new releases and more book news.

Coming Soon – Author Interviews!

It’s been a while! I am hard at work prepping for the release of Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph, but in the meantime, I’m exited to share that a new category is coming to The Writers’ Room portion of my website – Author Interviews! These interviews will be with published authors of all genres, so there will be something for everyone.

The first interview releases next weekend. Stay tuned!

I’m Getting Published!

I’m SO thrilled to announce that my novel, Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph, has been picked up by WordCrafts Press for publication!

Not by Sight is a retelling of the story of Joseph, his brothers, and his coat, from the Biblical book of Genesis. Focusing on both historical and Biblical accuracy, the novel examines his extraordinary journey of faith.

Really, what could make a man turn to God when every event in his life screams that God has turned His back on him?

If you want to learn a bit about my book before it comes out, take a look at my blog series on The Joseph Story. I cover topics like faith, storytelling decisions (no big spoilers), and historical research.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who has followed me so far and supported me. I am so excited for the year ahead and cannot wait to share my novel with the world in 2022! And of course, sincerest thanks to WordCrafts Press for their belief in my novel!

All glory to God!

Keys to An Effective Book Launch

By Tim Riordan

We’ve all heard before, “All’s well that ends well.” If you want something to end well, it helps to start well. As you create a strategy to release your book, you must figure out a way to start the daunting marketing journey well. But what do you do to give your book a good start? 

It’s possible you could stumble into book sales without much forethought, but developing a good launch strategy will create a greater probability of success. I’d like to share with you a few keys that will unlock sales success through the launch of your new book.

Start Early

Most of us are not wired to automatically think about marketing. We tend not to focus on marketing until we’re holding a finished book in our hands. An effective launch should start months before your book is published. Of course, you can start any time, but the earlier the better. From my research and experience, I’ve learned the value of creating a strategy that includes prepublication, publication, and post-publication.

Prepublication can start anywhere between one and twelve months before your book is released. Some advertising services, blog tours, podcasts, speaking engagements, or writing opportunities will require several months advance notice. 

Build a Team

There are no Lone Rangers in authoring and marketing books. Of course, even Lone Ranger had Tanto. God made us for community for a reason. We are better together in every area of life, including writing and marketing our books. Your team will consist of some people who will help make sure your book is ready for publishing. It will also include additional people who will be sharing reviews and broadcasting the pre-release and release of your book. Enlist as many people as possible to read your book before release who will prepare to share a review. Your book launch team, or street team, will then follow your strategy to share graphics and release information to as many people as possible through social media and other forms of public communication.

In order to build an effective team, consider doing the following: 

·      Create a job description.

·      Make your expectations clear.

·      Offer a reward or gift as people follow through.

·      Send a pdf of your book to your team a month or two before your book is released.

·      Let your team get in on some of the inside scoop of your book or your expertise.

·      Offer more than one tier of participation.

·      Send your team a finished copy of your paperback book when it’s released.

·      Create a communication method (Facebook group, email group, group me, etc.) and stay in touch with your team regularly.

·      Consider sending one or two personal emails to each team member. It’s very possible you may not know your team, but you can still try to personally connect.

·      Express your gratitude often.

·      Be willing to help some of your team members when it comes time for them to launch a book.

Remember that everyone who signs up for your team may not follow through with their commitments. If you want fifty reviews during your first week, you may need to enlist 100 people.

Your team may also include influencers in your genre. You may want to enlist some of these influencers to endorse your book or share your book with their email list. Some of them may write a review of your book for a publication or allow you to speak at their event.

Create a Buzz

Many authors have found it useful to create a prerelease strategy where people can preorder books. Some platforms will allow you to offer your book for preorder as early as twelve months before publication. You can use this period to build anticipation and to start your launch with a significant number of sales.

In order to capitalize on this strategy, you may want to offer a gift for people preordering your book. This creates a sense of scarcity because the gift will not be available once the book goes live.

Write about your book’s topic as often as possible. Get input on your book content and book cover through social media. Market your book idea and announce the prerelease of your book through ads on Facebook, Bookbub, Amazon, etc.

Utilize Video

Many people communicate on social media through video. Companies are discovering that a video element is essential for successful sales. How can you utilize video to sell your book? Create a book trailers, author interviews, video contests, and anything else you can think of to visually engage people around your book topic.

Although we want our videos to look as professional as possible, we now live in the world of the selfie. People will accept a personal video shot from your cell phone. Don’t hesitate to employ professionals to create a quality product as well.

Connect Through Email

Hopefully, you have an email database of raving (or at least quite interested) fans. Bring them along with you on your launch journey. You can also tap into email resources of other authors and promotional services (Ereader News Today, Bookbub, Faithful Reads, Gospel Ebooks, etc.).

As a rocket will never reach space without a successful launch, your book will not reach its potential without a thoughtful, strategic launch. Book sales and author influence usually happen in response to your careful, intentional marketing strategy that begins with a successful launch.

I once read, “When you’re getting ready to launch into space, you’re sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.” When you create a careful launch strategy and follow through with your launch plans, your explosion will catapult your book into years of productivity and possibly a lifetime of influence success.


Dr. Tim Riordan is the author of The Next Bestseller: Book Marketing for Success and a bestselling author of eleven books including Wisdom Speaks: Life Lessons from Proverbs, which received the 2019 Christian Indie Award. He is a pastor in Newnan, Georgia, and works with various authors through speaking at conferences, consulting, and publishing. You can learn more about Tim or follow his blogs on his website at timriordan.com. He has also created a free “Book Launch Kit” to help authors with this important facet of book marketing.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Plotting the Dreaded Middle

Bridging the Gap Between Beginning and End

By Claire Tucker

Reading a good novel is like taking a road trip. The road winds between hills and forests and anticipation for the end of the journey is palpable in the vehicle. Then all at once the hills and forests fall away as you drive onto a bridge spanning a chasm. You gasp, appreciating the splendor of the scenery around you, occasionally giving a nod to the design of the bridge itself. Then you’re across the bridge and your anticipation for the long-awaited end burns within you as the hills and forests close in once more.

That’s what reading a good novel is like. Writing one is much, much harder.

That’s because writing a novel is like trying to build the road.

And so we start. We have a great destination in mind, and we know where we are starting. We’ve selected who will journey with us—our characters—and construction begins. The lay of the land dictates the first part of the journey, and we wind through the hills, our anticipation for the end growing with each sentence we pen. And then …

Then the ground falls away before us and we find ourselves upon the edge of a chasm. The scenery is splendid and you pause a moment to appreciate it. Your gaze settles upon the far side of the chasm and you see your promised destination.

But how to get from where you are to where you want to go?

A lot of focus goes into writing the end of a story. In fact, googling the phrase “writing the end of a story” produces about 1’730’000’000 results. Googling a similar phrase for the beginning and middle of a story produces 1’240’000’000 and 1’180’000’000 results respectively. My point?

We, as writers, can get a lot more advice about writing the beginning or end of our story, when the middle is what gets us from one to the other. The middle is the bridge across the chasm.

This prompted me to set out on a journey. A journey to discover the structure underlying a good middle, that bridge between the beginning and end of every story.

Three important points

To begin, let’s step back and look at the big picture of a bridge, then we’ll take what we learn there and apply it to fiction.

Notice that a bridge has three distinct points: The beginning, middle, and end. Each of these points along the bridge are vital to the structure and integrity of the bridge itself. Let’s look at each one in a little more detail:

  • The Beginning. This is the moment you first move onto the bridge. In a well-constructed road, you won’t realize that you’ve driven onto the bridge until you’re already on it. In other words, the transition from land to bridge is smooth but, upon looking back, clear.
  • The Middle. This point is very difficult to nail down precisely because there is no sign telling road users that they have crossed the middle of the bridge. Why then is it so important? Because at that point you are closer to the end than the beginning.
  • The End. This point is the clearest and most easily defined of the three, because you can see it coming. You are aware of the moment that you pass from bridge to land and your thoughts then shift to the destination you are journeying toward.

How do these three points apply to fiction?

  • The Beginning of the Middle. Like the road-trip described above, you don’t want your transition from the end of Act One to the beginning of Act Two to be jarring. The transition needs to be smooth, the natural outcome of what came before and where the story is going. At the same time, it needs to be clearly identifiable. We’ll talk about how to achieve this in a moment.
  • The Middle. You’ve probably already figured out that the middle of the middle is also the middle of your story. As we reach and cross this point, we are closer to the end of the story than the beginning, and there are specific clues that we as writers can plant in the story to indicate this.
  • The End of the Middle. This is one of the most easily identifiable points in a story. Once we have crossed this point, our attention is going to be on our story’s destination: the Climax.

Before looking at each of these points in detail, I need to point out something that became clear to me in my study of structure:

Every major point in a story is accompanied and dictated by character. In other words, you cannot study plot without considering character. Characters shape plot. Their actions, reactions, and decisions are the driving force of even the most action-orientated books and movies. At the same time, plot shapes character because plot is the events that force characters to react, make decisions, and take actions.

That means that we need to assess these points of the middle (the plot) with characters in mind.

The Beginning

This point is accompanied by a decisive action from the main character. This action differs from previous actions in that it directly involves them with the main conflict. At this point, they have committed themselves.

Example: DreamWorks Animation studio’s How to Train Your Dragon. This point in the story is when Hiccup takes a fish to Toothless. It differs from his previous actions (cutting Toothless free; going to find Toothless) in that it now involves him in the friendship that the story revolves around. He’s committed himself. This action was dictated by what came before and where the story is going.

The Middle

Remember: Once we cross this point we are closer to the end than we are to the beginning. This is shown, once again, by character. They are changing, the events of the story forcing them to release inhibiting beliefs and face their fears. At this point, a little bit of who they will be shines through.

What prompts this change, this glimpse of who they will become?

Action.

Something happens at the midpoint that forces the character to make a decision. Notice that, unlike the previous point, the decision is forced. It is a result of the action that directly preceded it.

Example: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. The middle of the story is Edmund’s journey to the Witch’s house. That’s the action. The resulting decision comes from Peter, Susan, and Lucy. They decide to go to Aslan and ask for his help. The decision shows a little of who they will become: Children who rely on Aslan for help.

The End

This is the most easily identifiable point of the middle, because it is accompanied by great action. I like to think about it as the “first climax”. Why? Because the action at this point involves the antagonistic force coming directly against the protagonist. Most often, the antagonistic force wins. This is because of one of two reasons: The protagonist hasn’t yet overcome the lie they believe or they are missing a key piece of information.

This is the point of the middle of the story, the moment you have been driving toward from when you first moved onto your story’s “bridge”. It leads to those “all-is-lost” moments: Hiccup overlooking the empty sea; Susan and Lucy grieving over Aslan’s body; Rapunzel returning to the tower with Mother Gothel. All of these moments were preceded by moments of great action involving the main character(s) and the antagonistic force.

The “first climax” differs from the main climax at the end of the story in that the protagonist hasn’t yet committed everything. In the final climax, they will be required to go “all-in”, risking everything for the chance of success.

In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup and Toothless fight the big dragon alone.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Peter and Edmund go to war against the White Witch without Aslan by their side.

In Tangled, Rapunzel begs to heal Flynn, offering her freedom in exchange.

Lastly, the best advice I can give you is to go and study the middle of stories for yourself. Now that you know what points to look out for, practice identifying them in other people’s work.

Then go and build your bridge.


Claire Tucker is a Christian fantasy writer and freelancing copy editor and proofreader. Stories are her passion, as is helping writers polish their work to the highest standard. She lives in South Africa and enjoys spending time outdoors, reading books of any genre, and doing a variety of crafts and needlework. You can find her on Instagram @clairetucker_writer and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/claire-tucker-editor


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

The Book Marketer’s Silver Bullet

By Tim Riordan

Wouldn’t it be great if you could discover the silver bullet of marketing success? When I say silver bullet, I’m talking about the cream of the crop, the book marketers’ Mecca, the mother lode for marketers…you get the point.

Let’s consider this from another perspective. What if I gave you an option of reaching six percent of your followers or twenty percent (or more)? Which would you choose? An amazing fact I’ve discovered is that many authors opt for the six percent. 

According to Campaign Monitor, your Facebook post will reach only six percent of your followers while an email sent to your followers will be opened by nearly twenty percent on average (my most recent email had an open rate of forty-nine percent). I believe it was statistics like this that led marketing expert Rob Eagar to say, “There is no better way to ensure future success than growing a large email list.”

If you want to use emails as an important part of your book marketing strategy, you’ll need several important ingredients. Here’s a summary:

·      Email Marketing Service – For starters, you’ll need to enlist the help of a service that will assist you in gathering the email addresses from potential readers and distributing your emails to them in a useful strategy. I’ve used TrafficwaveConstant Contact, and Mailerlite. At this point, I favor Mailerlite.

·      A Lead Magnet – This “magnet” is a gift you offer to readers that requires them to give you their names and email addresses. Don’t be cheap. I deal with this issue in a chapter of my newest book on marketing, and Rob Eagar also offers great help with the process in his books. Even before you make the decision of which marketing service or create a funnel of correspondence for those who accept your offer, you need to work hard on something worthwhile to give away. My gift is a whole book on how to study Psalms. As authors, this is usually a free book or another resource you can share as a pdf. It will cost you time and money spent on editing, and graphics, but that’s all.

·      A Process – A process begins with letters that your new subscribers receive automatically. One could be a welcome letter, and another could be a letter to introduce yourself. Once your series of four or five letters are delivered over a period of a month or two, your subscribers will only hear from you through regular meaningful and useful emails. Some people refer to them as newsletters, but I don’t think many people want to sign up for just a newsletter. Be creative. Call it something that will capture your readers’ attention and interest. Make sure that your weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly correspondence is worth opening. The best way to kill your open rates is to send people stuff that is a waste of their time.

·      A Request Strategy – People don’t want to open your emails only to be hounded to buy a book or write a review. Look for creative ways to mention your book without saying, “Buy my book.” Share helpful material that your readers will appreciate getting. You want them to look forward to hearing from you. At the same time, you will periodically have a request for them. It could be to purchase your newest book or to write a review. If you offer fun, meaningful material most of the time and occasionally promote your book or resource, your readers will be okay with that. If you ask too much, your readers will opt out. Develop a strategy and follow it. I suggest a five to one ratio (or higher) where you develop a strategy that gives material away or points readers to useful information or fun activities five or more times to the one time you promote something or ask for something. Be strategic and intentional.

Email marketing can be a useful and essential tool. For one thing, you own your email list. Facebook or Twitter doesn’t. They can’t shut you down. You also have better overall success with your followers when you connect by email. Your readers want a relationship with you, and email offers them that regular contact.

Maybe calling email marketing a silver bullet sounds a little too aggressive. Let’s call it the ace in the hole—now that sounds like gambling. You could consider it the oil that keeps the marketing machine running along bringing about positive sales and helping you to continually influence your readers. Whatever you call it, you can call it success.


Dr. Tim Riordan is the author of The Next Bestseller: Book Marketing for Success and a bestselling author of eleven books including Wisdom Speaks: Life Lessons from Proverbs, which received the 2019 Christian Indie Award. He is a pastor in Newnan, Georgia and works with various authors through speaking at conferences, consulting, and publishing. You can learn more about Tim or follow his blogs on his website at timriordan.com.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Read Like a Writer

By Claire Tucker

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, then doubtless you’ve come across Stephen King’s advice:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

This is perfect! you think. All I have to do is read a lot, and then write! How wonderful!

Well, not exactly. Yes, you need to read. And yes, you need to write. But just doing these two things does not a successful writer make.

It’s how you approach reading and how you approach writing that matter.

Allow me to illustrate using art (pun intended). Now, I’m not an artist. So when I look at a picture, I see the picture. A painting of a Renaissance-era woman with a pretty smile. A ship with tattered sails upon a storm-tossed sea. A landscape depicting a valley cast in golden light.

Now, I’m blessed to have many friends who are talented artists. When they look at the picture, they see both the picture and the structural elements behind it. So when they look at Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, they see the skill that went into painting a lifelike portrait. They see the composition and color and shading and proportions. They look at the painting of the ship and start studying the waves, looking for how the artist created the effect he wanted. They look at the landscape and see perspective and use of color to create depth.

They see both the picture and how it was created. And then they go home and try to recreate or capture a portion of those paintings in their own work.

This, my friends, is how we as writers should approach our craft. When we read, we shouldn’t just read, seeing the story only for what it is. No, we have to be intentional in our reading, looking past the witty dialog to see the characters behind it. When we come across a well-executed plot twist, we have to look past the twist and see the foreshadowing and setup that preceded it. When we encounter descriptions that bring a scene to life and lift the action off the page, we have to see how the writer did this.

And then we have to go and try our hands at recreating the believable dialog, unexpected plot twists, and lifelike descriptions.

But it all starts with reading. If we want to be writers, then we have got to read like writers.

How do we go about this? Here are a few tips:

  • Read in your genre. Just as an artist who wants to paint portraits will spend time studying other portraits, so we as writers need to read the work of other writers in our genre. We need to study these books, looking for what is similar through them all so that we can fulfill our readers’ expectations. Also, look out for how an author might twist the normal to produce the unexpected. Then study your work and see if you have all the expected elements in your story and if there is some way you can twist the norm.
  • Read outside of your genre. Especially if you’re new to writing. Like an art student studies multiple styles of art and then tries each one, so too must writers. How do you know you don’t like horror? How do you know you don’t like romance? Or action? Or something that’s more similar to Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park? How do you know if you don’t read and don’t try? And if you already know your preferred genre? Then read outside your genre anyway. You’ll naturally be more analytical because you won’t be swept away by passionate love for the story you’re reading. You’ll be more aware of the construction of the story. You’ll see the plot twists being set up. You’ll notice how the themes are brought into the tale. You’ll appreciate the character development and arcs.
  • Read good books and bad books. Good books because they show you how to craft an amazing story; bad books because they show you how not to do it. But when you read bad books, try and work out what made them bad. How did they not fulfill your expectations? Where could they have been improved?
  • Reread books. The first time you read a book, you’re discovering the story. Often, you will miss the little details that the writer sprinkled through the story, the ones setting up the plot twist or revealing a character’s true intentions. But when you reread the book, you’ll spot the details because you’ll be looking for them.
  • If you know what your Achilles heel as a writer is, then pay particular attention to that element in the stories you read. Maybe you struggle to bring your settings to life. Maybe your characters feel one-dimensional. Maybe your villains aren’t believable or your plots are as flat as the paper your stories are printed on. You know what you need to improve in your stories; when you read, pay attention to that element.

Being a writer should change how you approach reading. Like an artist who sees beyond the picture to the elements that created it, you need to see beyond the story to how it was created.

Remember: reading is not a pasttime for writers.

It’s part of the job description.


Claire Tucker is a Christian fantasy writer and freelancing copy editor and proofreader. Stories are her passion, as is helping writers polish their work to the highest standard. She lives in South Africa and enjoys spending time outdoors, reading books of any genre, and doing a variety of crafts and needlework. You can find her on Instagram @clairetucker_writer and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/claire-tucker-editor.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

How to Pick Character Names

Photo by Nighthawk Shoots on Unsplash

By Lana Christian

I get such a kick out of picking character names for my novels!

It’s like going on a treasure hunt. And when you find a name with a hidden meaning to it, you get to decide whether you’ll ever reveal that tidbit to your readership. It’s much like an easter egg in a book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

How do you pick character names? Does some formula or secret sauce exist?

Perhaps. It depends on what you need. So, to cover as many bases as possible, here are nine suggestions, including my personal favorite.

Friends and relatives?

Some people want to name a character after a relative or close friend. While that sounds endearing, the person may be offended if you use their name for a character they find unflattering. If they overidentify with your character in a way you don’t intend, that could seriously tax a friendship. Or ruin a family Christmas dinner. Personally, I steer clear of such potential potholes.

Try these suggestions instead.

1. Noodle with anagrams

Making a character’s name an anagram can be fun. In the 2013 movie Doonby, John Schneider is a mysterious drifter by that name. You don’t realize until the end of the movie that “Doonby” equals “Nobody.”

Another example: “Addely” looks like a variant of Adley, a girl’s name. But “Addely” unscrambled spells “Deadly.” Oooh.

2. Create a play on words

An example: “Kinder” is German for “children.” “Karen Kinder” can be a fictitious preschool teacher.

How far can you take a play on words? It depends on whether you want to create a character or a caricature. Either can be effective in the right setting. Just make sure you don’t create a caricature when you intend to create a character.

What do I mean by that? Take the movie Brother White. A blond, Caucasian assistant pastor from a California megachurch accidentally gets assigned to an impoverished black church in urban Atlanta. Pastor White is the only white person in his new parish. Character or caricature? Hmm …

3. Evoke an emotion

Some characters evoke emotions by the way their name sounds. Severus Snape’s sibilant name epitomized the cold, calculating way he sized up Harry Potter. If that wasn’t enough, the earliest version of the word “snape” meant “to nip, bite, pinch.” Snape constantly nipped at Harry with biting remarks, right?

Similarly, movies and books have so wired us to perceive rich people as snooty that we almost expect upper-class characters to have pretentious-sounding names like Ashton, Bentley, Elliston, or Sterling. (Reality: Forbes’ roll call of the richest people in America is rife with decidedly unpretentious names: Mark, Larry, Steve, Bill, Jim. But we’re talking about writing fiction, not reality.)

4. Walk a graveyard

Dwayne Smither, an author colleague on Twitter, strolls through cemeteries to score interesting names. Finding tombstones from the era you’re writing about ensures those names were in use during that time frame.

5. Dig through documents

Virtually any document can be a potential source for names.

  • Travel manifests
  • Immigration records
  • Family trees
  • Newspaper articles
  • Old yearbooks

6. Use a fake name generator.

Several websites exist for this, but the most comprehensive one I’ve found, Masterpiece Generator, goes beyond basics like gender/age/nationality to also ask for details including your character’s religious background, parents’ nationalities, whether the character is evil, good, or otherwise. (Sidebar: Other software apps exist for creating superhero, sci fi, or fantasy names.) All such sites have significant limitations, but they can be a starting point in character naming.

7. Combine names

Combining names is a way to ensure uniqueness and avert the potential problem of wrongly naming a real person. Jerry Jenkins used name-combining in Dead Sea Rising, which follows dual story lines of Abraham’s parents/his birth and a modern-day archaeologist trying to get permits for a dig in Saudi Arabia. One problem: the Bible lists Terah as Abraham’s father but is silent about his mother. (Midrashic legend says her name was Amathlai.) Jenkins blended two names that were in use around 2000 BC to create the name Belessunu for Abraham’s mother.

8. Mirror a person’s quality

You can name your character after a fictional or real person you admire for certain qualities. Say your character is adventurous and fearless, or her character arc leads her to become that way. You could name her Amelia—because Amelia Earhart embodies those traits.

9. Find character traits in word origins

This is my personal favorite way to pick character names. I find words’ original meanings that reflect a key attribute of my character. In my book about the Wise Men, each of their names means “wise” in their first language (Persian, Arabic, and Egyptian). To me, that’s more meaningful than their traditional names, which hark back to 8th-century suppositions. Another character in my Wise Men book is Nakal, which means “swindler” in Hebrew. When the Wise Men stop in Sussita for saddle repairs, their dealings with Nakal ultimately cost them much more than they could have imagined.

In all my books, every character name I choose carries a special meaning.

So where can you find these word origins?

My favorite places are

  • babynames.com
  • babynamespedia.com
  • babynameguide.com
  • behindthename.com

You can sort names by gender and nationality. Variant spellings and word origins are included. Both help trace names backward through time so you can find their meaning, first usage, and country of origin.

If you can’t find what you need on those sites, try typing a culture or country’s name into your search bar, followed by dot org. I found some ancient Turkish names this way. I typed “turkishculture.org” then clicked on “Lifestyles.” A subtopic within that menu selection included a list of Turkish names for people. NOTE: This doesn’t work for every nationality, but it’s worth a try if you come up empty-handed otherwise.

A similar strategy is to find a country’s equivalent to our Encyclopedia Britannica. For my book about the Wise Men, I spent many hours poring over the Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

Conclusion

You don’t have to make your character names reflect one of their key traits—but it’s so much fun to do! And you can parlay that as “insider information” to share with your mailing list or readership at large during your book launch!

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You turn! Where do you find inspiration for your character names? Share your thoughts!


Lana Christian writes biblical and historical fiction. The first book in her biblical fiction series has garnered several ACFW awards. She in the throes of querying books in both genres. She’s convinced that hiking or chai tea can solve most problems—but she knows God can solve every problem. Find her on Chistianwriters.com; follow her on Twitter (@LanaCwrites) and at lanachristian.com/blog.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Writing From Life’s Lessons

By Stephanie Jaye

We’ve all heard the phrase “write what you know”. And while some debate the legitimacy of that idea, I’ve found in writing that reaching beyond that simple concept into something a bit more heartfelt can make for a passionate work of fiction.

No one likes trials (can I get an amen?). Yet, we all know that God uses these trials in our lives to produce character and further our walk with Him (James 1:2-4). He also teaches us lessons that we probably wouldn’t have learned any other way. While it’s so valuable to pass along these lessons to our family, children, and friends, I think putting them into fiction can also be valuable in a couple ways.

For example, the book I’m querying has a core lesson of pursuing God’s best for our life. In it, my main character is forced to choose between pleasing those around her and settling for what everyone else thinks is best, or leaning into what God has to say and choosing His way, even when it’s difficult. However, as she finds out, obeying God always leads to blessings–ones we couldn’t even imagine ourselves.

This part of the plot came out of my passion to see people choosing God’s best in relationships. It also came after a season where I myself had to choose to be obedient in a situation that was really hard. Because I hadn’t seen the fruit of that decision when I was writing the book, writing the happy ending made me emotional, knowing that God is faithful to keep His word, and that I would also get my happy ending because of that, too.

Putting the lessons we’ve learned into our books can be both encouraging and healing, for us and our readers. Of course, as Christian writers, most of all of us weave themes of redemption, forgiveness, and love in our stories. And those topics are needed! But sometimes what reaches to the hearts of our readers most is the grit and heartache that can only be told from personal experience, even if put into the context of a fictional character and setting.

Writing the words the end on a story that came out of your own heartache and trials, and seeing how God worked everything out in the story, can be reassuring and healing, and the passion you’ll have put into your work will make the story shine even brighter. It’s also just one more way God can use what He’s taught you to further His Kingdom for His glory. That in itself is pretty special, too. 


Stephanie Jaye is a Christian Romance writer and blogger who loves Jesus, sweet tea, and sunshine. You can find her on Instagram @stephjayewriter, and you can find her blogs at stephjaye.com.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

A Publisher’s Thoughts on Writing

Image courtesy of bigstock

By Ferrel D. Moore

I am often asked by writers, what is the one thing that they can do to improve their stories. 

Can they make more interesting plots?  Did their plots fail because they failed to exploit the character’s strengths and show their weaknesses?  Are their plots not intricate enough, should they be more complex and convoluted? 

Do the characters fail to evoke from the readers sufficient emotion?  Do I have sufficient chemistry between my main characters?  Have I made the right number of formulaic secondary characters?

Can I improve my characters by making them more interesting?  Can I make characters that are more identifiable?  Do their characters lack depth of emotion? 

Are my settings strong enough?  Do I fail at the art of description?

I have to scratch my heads at such questions, because when I get them, I have the distinct feeling that the people I am answering to will no doubt be failures at the art and craft of writing.  They will be self-published failures to boot.  They will litter the literary landscape with their self-publishing efforts, which will remain published forever in these days of the mighty Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Google Books, Kobo, and, well the never ending parade of outlets that make so many millions of books available that we scarcely have time to wade through them all.

There are only two things you can do to better your writing—read and write.  And you can do without all of those beta-readers, too.  They only make you weaker as a writer, not stronger.  If you can’t see your own mistakes by simply putting your manuscript in a drawer and coming back to it in six months, chances are you will never make it as a writer.  You have to concentrate on the two fundamentals of reading and simply writing.

Lost in the myriad books on character arcs, emotional description and so on, is the fact that simply reading is the single most powerful influence on your writing that you can have.  It is, in essence, the power of imitation at first and then, gradually, spreading your wings as a writer.  Going your own way with your own ideas.  Having those flashes of insight that only years of reading with introspection can yield.

You have to simply write, too.  Make all of the mistakes that you can make in your early years, so that you can hone your craft, so your prose will eventually soar above the rest, so that it will shine like the sun with your own brilliance.

You have to throw away all of those writing books—they won’t help you to be a good writer.  Read one or two at most, and then get down to the business of making your mistakes.  Believe me, the good will winnow them out, polish their words, make their craft sing.

Finally, get a good editor.  That will be the capstone of all your efforts, making up for all the beta readers that you ever knew—all the relatives that criticized your manuscripts, all the friends, and all the unknowns of every writing group you’ve ever joined and criticized a manuscript.

Being a good writer takes time, and being a great writer takes a lot of time and effort.  You might as well get used to it and embrace it early on, because there is no substitute for it.


Ferrel D. Moore may be reached on Linkedin.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.