Doors to open | Guy L. PaceWhen one door opens …

We’ve all heard some version of that. Whether it is the doors closing or the doors opening, we see it as new opportunity or opportunity lost. From an observer’s perspective, though, the door is just a door and it is either open or closed. To the character it is a portal. The character can watch the door open or watch the door close. That can make a story pretty boring.

Or, the character can take control of their own destiny (especially in a story) and open or close the door. That’s what can bring a reader into the story. The reader can identify with the character and follow him or her into the portal to discover what is on the other side.

Waiting for a door to open or a door to close tends to make a story boring. Give the character the motivation and desire to open the door and pass through the portal.

You might want to make sure the character closes the door behind them. Or, maybe not. It depends on the kind of story you are writing.

The character opens a door and enters. He or she continues through and leaves the door open. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

Just a little food for thought this week.

Keep writing.


Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Well, can it?

Can Christian SF&F be Good? | Guy L. PaceI struggled with this for a long time. I tried to read some Christian science fiction and fantasy, and fiction, and some of it was … well … not so good. So, if you have an opinion that it isn’t good, you may have found some of the same work I did.

That is the reason I wrote Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers. I wrote something I wanted to read. Something different, fresh, exciting. As a result I also met a few other authors who are writing Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F). And, what they write is good! Here are some of my favorites:

Tabitha Caplinger

Joshua McHenry Miller

Nadine Brandes

What sets these (and–I hope–my own work) apart from the rest? Story, mostly, and character. Christian fiction, including SF&F, shouldn’t vary that much from mainstream fiction at all. The only thing that should differentiate Christian fiction from mainstream is the characters. The characters, or the main character, is Christian and the story should center on that character’s struggle with faith. But, that isn’t all the story should address. The real world throws all kinds of situations, problems, and hassles at people. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or otherwise. The whole point of the Christian part of science fiction and fantasy is how the characters deal with the same situations, problems, and hassles as their mainstream counterparts.


In Sudden Mission, the main character (Paul) gets a mission to correct reality. This is a straight up “hero’s journey” with Paul as the reluctant hero–right out of Joseph Campbell’s concept. The mission challenges his faith and his willingness to obey God. As a friend recently said about the book: “You throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. And then you add the kitchen sink.” But, that’s what good stories do. Characters  must work toward a goal in spite of their flaws or limitations, and meet challenges for which they are not prepared. None of this is the sole domain of mainstream fiction or SF&F, and I know of no rule that says Christian fiction can’t go there.

Tabitha Caplinger’s The Chronicle of the Three series (the first two are out and available) throws her main characters–Christians who have varying levels of faith–to the wolves, er, demons. Each character has their faith, or lack thereof, challenged as they face the situations Tabitha so creatively pushes them into.

Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series follows Parvin through both the life and death struggle to survive in a malevolent future dystopia, and her journey to understanding of Christian principles to help guide her life. Parvin faces characters who at first seem to be friends, but turn out otherwise, and makes mistakes that cost her much (I’m not going to spoil anything here).

Neither of these, or my books, hammer Holy Bible passages at the reader. That’s not what makes them Christian young adult or teen SF&F.

Joshua Miller’s book Tyrants and Traitors is a little different. The setting is ancient Israel. It is a retelling of the story of Saul and David (using different names) based on the Old Testament scripture in Samuel I and II. While this isn’t directly Christian, it is about faith, learning about God, and learning to serve God. The bonus in this one is Joshua gets you into the ancient culture, politics, and history, and it feels like you’re right in there. I understand more is coming. Soon, I hope.

Too Much

Some young adult or teen fiction you see in Christian book stores is a bit too sweet, not pushing the boundaries, no action, no adventure, and ends up with too much preaching. Some seem to have a Holy Bible verse on every page, or read like a long devotional. Teens and young adults want adventure, action, a little romance, and sometimes some scary, dangerous events.

Like the teens and young adults we write the stories and books for, the characters should have to deal with real issues from problems at school, problems with parents, bullies, growing up issues, sex and romance. If you don’t address these issues in Christian young adult and teen fiction and SF&F, those teens and young adults are going to read stories about those issues in other genres.

Granted, we, as Christian young adult/teen authors, use Bible references where appropriate. Of course we have to put a disclaimer in the front matter to provide attribution for the version and edition.

So, to answer the question: Yes. Christian SF&F can be good. Not just good, but great.

Keep writing.



It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win. — John Paul Jones.


risk and rewardYour main character in a story must risk something–or many things–to grow and resolve the core problem in the plot. In other words, to win. And, when you get right down to it, the reason for the plot, the story, the character, is to win in the end. Right?

Well, unless you are writing a story about losing in the end.

I think the little quote from John Paul Jones above is definitive. If you do not risk, you cannot win. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose, it just means you cannot win. There are no guarantees. That’s why plots with the main character risking something, risking much, can still end up in failure, at least after a first or second try. Of course, we always want the main character to win out in the end, so somehow, he or she learns from previous failure and puts together a winning final solution.

This is the character arc. The plot presents our character with a problem, who attempts a solution. Our character fails, stumbles, falls, but gets up and tries again until successful. Along the way, the character must risk something. Reputation, career, wealth, family, health, love, life, are some things we lay on the table and place our coins of risk on them.

What the character learns through risk and failure drives the character to new risk, new trials and eventually success.

But, most people are risk averse. They fear losing. That applies to businesses and corporations as well as people. During my career in information technology, the greatest roadblock to implementation of new technology or stronger security was the organization’s aversion to, or inability to accept risk. The old technology was something they knew and the security levels in place were comfortable, if not adequate. But, to grow and improve services and capabilities for customers, they had to accept a certain level of risk. This wasn’t always a recipe for success.


Characters–our people–are similar. They fear risk, change, disruption of their daily life. That disruption the plot puts in front of them shakes them up. Our character wants to continue with their day, meet their friends, do their work and not go gallivanting across the country on a God-sent mission. In Sudden Mission, the angel Gabriel brings the mission to Paul. Paul resists the mission, the message. He struggles with the risk, the size and scope of the mission, and doesn’t have faith in his ability to complete it. He finally accepts, and it boils down to his faith and obedience to God.

The struggle to accept risk doesn’t stop with that first challenge from the plot. A fully fleshed out plot will have challenges all down the road and the main character must continue to accept the challenge, accept the risk and fight on until the end.

Risk it the coinage we use to wager against fate. If we do not risk, we cannot win. If we win, only then can we expect reward. Success is not guaranteed. Anyone who ever played poker can tell you that.

Keep writing.


Opening Lines

Opening Lines

BugBear BooksThe first chapter and scene of a novel begin with powerful, strong opening lines. These should grab the reader, show some potential conflict, set scene, and introduce the character. And, they should entice the reader to keep reading.

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I should have been prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

I’m working on the opening lines of the third book. The above kind of meets the criteria. Something happens. It involves the main character. It sets the scene, a little. Let’s see. Can we make this better? There is a passive voice clause we need to fix. How’s this look?

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

But, I think the scene needs some work.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.


Ever notice when the power goes out, everything gets very quiet? Yeah. Hums quit humming, buzzes quit buzzing. And, it gets dark. That helps, I think. But, what was Amy doing when the power went out?

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Okay, she had a gear bag, so she’s getting ready to leave. She’s in her room, evidently, and there are candles on the dresser. But, she’s frustrated. She needs to do more than just “think” the internal dialog.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she chastised herself as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

So, with active voice and getting the character involved in an active way, I think I have a good start to the first chapter. Well, the first scene, anyway. There are twenty-four chapters to go through now, and here you get a little insight into my writing process. Not to mention getting a preview of the opening lines. Hope you are intrigued.

Keep writing.


Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.


That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.