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For a book to make an impression on me, I must be able to identify
with the protagonist. I think that is even more true with young adult readers. I remember reading a book by Randy Alcorn where the main
character was a black man. I wondered if I would be able to relate to the protagonist. Mr. Alcorn did such a great job, I found myself fighting in the
Vietnam War, being injured, and dealing with all the issues that the
protagonist brought into his life from that event.
I read the book for pure
enjoyment, not knowing one day I would go back to school to get my
Masters in Creative Writing. That book made an impression on me that never forgot. I realized that if a book is well-written, a reader should be able to identify with any kind of protagonist, and for me that
even included a black man who fought in the Vietnam War.
Another example of a memorable protagonist is Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I read the book when I was a young seventeen-year-old. I went to Margaret Mitchell School and grew up in Atlanta.I had frequently been to the area called Tara
and knew the historical setting well. But it takes more than that to create a
relationship between the protagonist and the reader. Why did I identity with
Scarlet O’Hara beyond the obvious?
The author, Margaret Mitchell, created a main character that was
believable, endearing, and unpredictable. Scarlett represented a strong woman
who was determined, smart, beautiful, passionate, and full of envy and jealousy.
When I read Gone with the Wind as a young adult, I wanted to believe I was like her. I
admired her, particularly her strong will, determination, and self-confidence that I lacked. I actually did possess many of her qualities; even the hard-headedness
and being too independent. It caused me many issues just as it was Scarlett’s
downfall. I could relate.
Young readers today, typically young ladies, are very much
like Scarlett O’Hara in many ways. The women’s movement has done much to propel
women in the direction of Scarlett. Plus, human nature doesn’t change. We might
live in different eras and face different problems, but the way a protagonist
tackles those problems is what makes the story marvelous and memorable. The
conflict, the twists and turns in the plot, the emotional turmoil, the
uncertainty, with sub-characters who bring out the best and the worst in the
protagonist, makes for a great story.
A classic is one that has staying power and can be enjoyed
by multiple generations. No matter how many times I read the book or watch the
movie, the final scene is etched in my memory when Scarlett asks Rhett, “Where
should I go, what should I do?” and Rhett replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t
give a damn.” What an awesome way to end
a six-hundred page book.
Above all, authors need to make the protagonist reader-friendly, especially in young adult books. I've read several negative reviews by readers on Amazon who simply didn't like the protagonist. Perhaps she was too self-centered, too immature, or too flawed. Young adults want to read about heroes and heroines. Give the reader a flawed main character whom he or she cares about, put the protagonist in a life or death situation, add a little bit of magic (young adults love that), and chances are you will hook your reader all the way to the last page. Of course, it's easier said than done, but someone will write that next best best-seller, and it might as well be you.
A great book to help with character development is: Creating Unforgettable Characters, by Linda Seger. You can purchase it on Amazon here.
Today I am featuring Robin Johns Grant as she talks about her new book "Jordan's Shadow." When I offer to feature authors on the John 3:16 blog, I never know what I will receive. When I read Robin's feature, I was hooked. What a compelling premise, especially as a mother. I can't wait to read "Jordan's Shadow." Here is Robin in her own words.
My second book, Jordan’s Shadow, just came out a few
days ago. Whenever people find out I’ve published a book, they generally ask
one of two questions: How long did it take you to write it? And…where do you
get your ideas?
So I’ll just assume that if we were face to face right now,
you might want to ask me those questions about Jordan’s Shadow—even though the answer to at least one of those
questions is a little embarrassing.
Where do I get my ideas? Usually I invent characters first,
get to know them gradually, put them in various situations until a plot
emerges. This involves the highly technical skills of make-believe and
daydreaming, skills only writers or young children can truly master.
was a little different. A thought struck me one day (while I was daydreaming),
that mothers don’t really know what their babies will be like or look like when
they grow up. Those babies gradually change over time as they settle into the
adults they become.
Well, I like a little spine-tingling creepiness in a story,
so I started to think…what if a mother saw her child growing and changing and gradually
turning into someone she used to know? And what if it was someone she didn’t
like? Someone she had shared a terrible experience with in the past?
Now for the embarrassing part: how long did it take me to
write this? Not years…decades! And I don’t mean just to get it right. It took
me decades to get a first draft.
I thought this premise was so intriguing I couldn’t let it
go, but I also had nothing but a premise. No characters, no plot, no spiritual
take-away. Who were the mother and daughter going through this? What was the
terrible experience in the mother’s past? And other than shock value, why did
this story matter?
Answering those questions took me many years. And even when
I had a skeleton plot and characters, the story was taking place in two
different time periods, which was a challenge to my writing skills.
As for the spiritual component, that grew naturally as the
other parts came together. As I got to know the family I was subjecting to this
madness, I “discovered” that the family matriarch was a no-nonsense pragmatist
who didn’t believe in anything beyond the physical world, and wouldn’t let her
daughters be exposed to any such foolishness, including the church. Starving
her family for God and the spiritual led to tragic consequences.
Now that it’s finally done, I’m glad I stuck with Jordan’s Shadow. It has some important
take-aways not just about the God-shaped vacuum in all our lives, but about
mother-daughter relationships, about the importance of family, and that it’s
never too late to redeem the past.
Plus it’s as much fun as a spooky ghost story around a
Robin Johns Grant published her first novel, Summer’s Winter, in 2014, and her second suspense novel, Jordan’s Shadow, has just been released. Summer's
Winter won a bronze medal in the Romance - Suspense category of the
International Readers' Favorite Book Awards, and Robin was named 2014 Author of
the Year by the Georgia Association of College Stores.
Family and friends are happy that Robin’s imagination is
finally paying off. She’s always had way too much of it. She started making up
stories before she could write them down (dictating them to her mother) and
always had her head in the clouds. She was obsessed with books and movies like
Harry Potter and Star Wars and
did a lot of crazy fan stuff, which helped her dream up Jeanine and
Jamie’s story for Summer's Winter. It’s a romantic suspense novel,
but as John Granger (author of The
Deathly Hallows Lectures) said, it’s also “a romance-thriller about
fandoms…and explores the important intersection of literature,
spirituality, and imagination.”
As a Christian, Robin can’t help but explore spirituality in
her writing, but wants to do so in a way that reflects the awe and wonder of God
With a degree in English, several non-fulfilling jobs under
her belt, and a mid-life crisis coming on, Robin returned to school and earned
a master's degree in library and information science. She now has her best day
job ever as a college librarian, which keeps her young by allowing her to hang
out with students.
With her wonderful husband Dave and formerly feral felines
Mini Pearl and Luna, Robin lives in Georgia. She is also surprised
to find herself part owner of a pit bull named Pete, who showed up as a starving
stray puppy at her mother's house.
Three 6,000 year-old bodies are discovered
frozen in a glacier in Austria.
they going? What were their thoughts on that day so long ago? When Beth Leyton, a budding anthropologist,
discovers the answers, they have a surprising affect on her 21st century life.
Beth’s personal struggles parallel that of Jaen, a young woman from the ancient
past who is on a quest of her own. Jaen is traveling across the mountains,
leaving her dear family to join Baarak, the man she loves. What will her new
life be like?
and Beth live 6,000 years apart — yet the journeys they are each taking are not
really so different. Human nature and the needs of men and women over the
centuries have changed very little. The same Creator is active in both lives.
The ancient past comes alive, mingling with the present as Beth is led to a gripping
A note from Sandra on why she wrote the book:
“I’m fascinated by the fact that people have changed very little since the beginning in the Garden of Eden. In my story, Jaen from the ancient past, is actually wiser about life and more stable in her relationships than the present-day Beth, who struggles with both. I wanted to present a people that might be only a dozen or so generations removed from the great flood and have religious beliefs that would reflect that. I’m so pleased with the way this story turned out. It truly developed a life of its own as I wrote. All of my books seem to do that.”
About the Author:
Sandra Julian Barker is an award-winning short story and travel writer, and has
a story in the best selling, Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul. Her first
novel, Ivory & Ice, has been followed by four more e-books available on
Amazon, with two more books in the pipeline. Sandra's greatest desire, however, is to bring honor and glory to God
through the talents He has given her. You can contact her through her inspirational blog at www.sandra-ramblingrose.blogspot.com.
“Nothing worth doing right is easy.”
Mike Matheny was just forty-one, without professional
managerial experience and looking for a next step after a successful career as
a Major League catcher, when he succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa as
manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. While Matheny has enjoyed immediate
success, leading the Cards to the postseason three times in his first three
years, people have noticed something else about his life, something not
measured in day-to-day results. Instead, it’s based on a frankly worded letter
he wrote to the parents of a Little League team he coached, a cry for change
that became an Internet sensation and eventually a “manifesto.”
The tough-love philosophy Matheny expressed in the letter
contained his throwback beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline
and hard work rewarded, spiritual faith cultivated, family made a priority, and
humility considered a virtue. In The Matheny Manifesto, he builds on
his original letter by first diagnosing the problem at the heart of youth
sports−hint: it starts with parents and coaches−and then by offering a hopeful
path forward. Along the way, he uses stories from his small-town childhood as
well as his career as a player, coach, and manager to explore eight keys to
success: leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness,
From “The Coach Is Always Right, Even When He’s Wrong” to
“Let Your Catcher Call the Game,” Matheny’s old-school advice might not always
be popular or politically correct, but it works. His entertaining and deeply
inspirational book will not only resonate with parents, coaches, and athletes,
it will also be a powerful reminder, from one of the most successful new
managers in the game, of what sports can teach us all about winning on the
field and in life.
Jerry Jenkins has
done it again! What a helpful, well-written page turner. Not only does this
book provide excellent advice for coaching (whether sports, business, or
family), but it's encouraging to learn there are people of principle like Mike
Matheny still on the planet. Our world is starving for true leaders. In
politics, religion, sports, business, and just about every other human
endeavor, true leadership is a rare thing. How refreshing to see that Mike
Matheny gets it—he doesn't use his people to build his work; he uses his work
to build his people.
As an incurable baseball fan, I found Matheny's insight into his baseball life
fascinating. His comments about players and coaches, whose names were familiar
to me, made me feel like I knew them as people, not just as statistical
Every "coach," (and we all coach at some level), regardless of his
arena, should read this book to get his true north bearings before assuming
responsibility for others. Mike Matheny is the real deal. His leadership style
has been forged by the wisdom of the Scriptures and honed by living it out in
shoe leather—he walks the talk. Mike, may your tribe increase!
By Lorilyn Roberts When I was a young girl, a black lady named Helen used to
take care of me while my mother worked. Helen’s voice was soothing and loving; when
I heard her voice, I knew I was safe. Later, my mother remarried and we moved
away to another city. I used to think about her and wistfully wished I could
hear that voice call my name one more time: “Lori.”
One afternoon, quite by surprise, I arrived home from high
school and I heard a voice from the past in the basement of our home laughing
and talking to my mother. I stopped for a moment, thinking, could it be? But it
was too outlandish to even consider, I brushed it aside as impossible. Then I
heard my mom call me, “Lori, come see who came to visit you.”
I rushed down the stairs and there she was. Helen said,
“Lori, it’s so good to see you.” My first thought was that her voice sounded
exactly the way I remembered it from a decade earlier, a sweet sound,
distinctively hers no matter how long I went without hearing it. That made an
impression on me that I have never forgotten. All those years, I had longed to
hear her once more and thought I never would. If I heard her voice again today,
I would recognize it as Helen’s.
To me, that is an authentic voice – one which is identified
as belonging to one person and no one else. It translates into writing. We must
each have our own unique voice. My voice should identify me as Lorilyn Roberts.
While I think it’s good to read and examine others’ style of
writing, we should strive to develop our own. I am still playing around with my
own style because writing fiction is much harder for me than nonfiction. I have
come to realize, though, it’s what I feel comfortable with, what flows
naturally, and where my creative process takes me. It’s what I was born with.
God gave me a voice to talk; He has given me a voice with which to write.
Involved in that is a process of learning. Children have to
learn how to talk, and that’s much easier and more natural than learning to
write, but they still have to learn. In the same way, writers need to develop
their own authentic voice and not be afraid to claim it. They should not try to
write something intentionally or unintentionally that imitates someone else.
A great example of voice by a young adult is Anne in The Diary of a
Young Girl, by Anne Frank. Anne was writing to “kitty,” her best friend.
Her spunky personality shone without pretense or excuse for why she felt the
way she did. She was comfortable in her own skin. There is a term called
self-actualization, where one uses everything he or she is to become what he or
she was created to be. During Anne’s confinement, she was able to verbalize her
innermost fears, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and little triumphs as she learned
to rise above the horrific situation she was in and “cope.”
It’s a tribute to
her that such a young girl could come so far into understanding so much about
herself and who she was. The amazing thing, which was a God-given gift, was that
she had the capacity to write it down so that future generations could
empathize and understand what she went through. It’s a great achievement, I
believe, in the use of authentic voice, to come so close to knowing Anne Frank
and yet never having met her.
Her authenticity came out in the graphic descriptions of the
people in the attic; what it was like to live there for two years locked away
from society; their everyday struggles, from using the bathroom to what they
ate to what they did to occupy their time; the frequent references to the war
and who was winning; their fears of being discovered and their constant
squabbles among each other; and even Anne’s innermost thoughts about love and
In one way or another, I could relate from my own life
experience. I knew she was real and what she suffered was genuine. I wanted to
read more to learn what would happen. I was engaged and transported back to a
war fought before I lived. I wanted to save Anne and her family. It was hard
for me to believe she died before I was even born. This book is a masterpiece.
A third-person narrative can also have an authentic voice,
but it needs to be so close to the person’s feelings, thoughts, and actions
that you can’t tell the difference. If a book is well written, I won’t even
notice if it’s first person or third person unless I stop and think about it.
More than any other genre, young adult books need an authentic voice. YA readers need to be able to like the protagonist and identify with her feelings, thoughts, and goals. That makes writing for young adults challenging but very gratifying when well done.