Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Developing the What? of Your Story

What is your story? - Comic book style phrase on abstract background.The “What?” of your story is the plot.  What happens to your characters? What do they do? What adventures do they have?  What is the action of the story? The Three Little Pigs provides some pretty funny characters, but there is no plot until the Big Bad Wolf comes calling. A hike through the woods can be beautiful, but it’s not much of a story unless . . . one of the teens in the party steps off the trail and gets lost . . . a late/early winter storm strands your characters in the wilderness . . . a mamma bear takes exception to your characters getting between her and her cubs . . . a dead body riddled with bullets is found at the base of a cliff. Setting and characters are important, of course, but they are not the thing that prompts your readers to keep turning the page.

 It is the plot—the action—that drives the story. Whether it’s a romance, a mystery, an adventure, a comedy of errors, a space epic, or a western—whatever the genre—the plot is the story.

To Outline or Not to Outline, That Is the Question.

Using an outline to write a story is an age-old trick to help writers get started and stay on track, but an outline it not an absolute necessity. Some writers can’t write without an outline, and some never use one. This is another one of those “it depends” topics. For me, an outline is a useful tool when (1) I have an assignment to write about a certain topic, and I don’t want to miss something I was supposed to include; or (2) I have a specific and firm number of words and/or pages to write.

(1) When you don’t want to leave anything out:

When I was in school, I almost always used an outline to make sure I covered the material I was researching thoroughly. From my first college paper back in the dark ages, when I was pounding out papers on a typewriter, to my twenty-first century master’s thesis composed on a computer—and all those essay exams I wrote long-hand in between—I used this writing technique. I still will use an outline when I’m writing nonfiction for the same reason. I generally don’t actually use a formal outline, but I do make a list of points I wanted to cover, move them around until I feel they are in a logical, linear order, and then sort my research into the appropriate sections. It is a way for me to check off each subtopic and make certain I use all the resources I want to use in the proper place.

(2) When you have a firm page/word count:

Today, I’ll use outlines when I ghost write short stories, because if I am assigned to write a complete story in 4,000 or 6,000, or 10,000 words, I need to figure out ahead of time what scenes I’ll need in order to tell the entire story. Again, I don’t do a formal outline, but I will do a list of needed scenes, note what has to happen in each, who needs to appear when, and through whose point of view the scene should be told. Then once I have the number of scenes, I can get a general idea of how long each scene needs to be to reach the final word count.

I don’t, however, use any kind of outline for a novel. For me, that’s the joy of writing book-length fiction. I start with a general idea of a plot, create the characters, set them up, and then just let them go. For me, part of the adventure of writing book-length fiction is that I can create the scene, place the characters, then sit back and watch what happens as I write. Sometimes, I end up with a 60-page novella and sometimes a 400-page epic. It just depends on how the story unfolds—and how long my characters want to play in my story.

Plays and screenplays—the ultimate outline:

 Drama—whether a full-length stage play, a one-act, a television script, or a screenplay—is particularly wedded to a certain number of pages, making a loose outline imperative for me as a writer.  The general rule for script writing is, on average, one page of a script equals one minute on stage. This is, of course, a very general rule, because how long a page takes depends entirely upon how much action is required. A page of straight dialogue will generally take about a minute to run, but other issues, such as conflict, choreography, laughter, romance, etc., can change everything.

 Again, when I’m writing plays or screenplays, I don’t do a formal outline but rather think in terms of the acts and scenes needed to tell the story in an effective way. Come to think of it, what I’m really doing is what in the movie business is called creating a storyboard. I am certain my background in theater—my first fiction writing was a full-length play script—is what has me always thinking about story in terms of scenes and dialogue. This has always made it pretty easy for me to write effective dialogue in my fiction, but it did make moving from brief “stage directions” to narrative prose a challenge when I first started writing novels.

Focusing on the Plot

 I am currently in the middle of turning one of my novels into a screenplay, and boy has this exercise given me a new appreciation for those screenwriters who take on book adaptations! The decisions about which scenes must be included and which can be cut are sometimes agonizing—after all, they were all necessary to the original story when I wrote it!—but this exercise has also given me incredible insight into what makes a scene truly essential to the plot of a story, and how clearly narration should be kept to a minimum. “Show, don’t tell” is a lot easier in a play, because unless you create a narrator as a character (think of musicals like Once Upon a Mattress or Into the Woods), the plot is completely defined by dialogue and action, leaving all descriptive narration up to the scenic designer and costumer.

 This move from prose to play script is an exercise you might want to explore, if you have, for example, a long story you need to cut for a contest or magazine submission. Try rewriting it as a play script, cutting your page count in half as you do so. The scene analysis required by this exercise will help you to really focus on the plot—the core of your story—allowing you to see which scenes really are essential in order to tell the story, and which might actually prove superfluous.

Next time, we’ll look at the “When” of a story and the details that put it in its place.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

storytelling · writing tips


More “Who”: Secondary Characters

"WHO?" Vector Overlapping Letters IconWhile you have to pay special attention to your primary characters, secondary characters are equally important to a story. If you’re not certain of what I mean, pull out a DVD of a movie you think is particularly good, watch the movie, then study the credits at the end of the film. (For this exercise, you will probably need to watch something produced since the mid-1970s, because earlier films did not include every Tom, Dick, and Sally in the credits.) As you watch the credits run, note the characters identified only by the role they played: “Boy on the Bus,” “Checkout Girl,” “Dog Groomer,” “Man on the Corner.” Think about these characters for a moment and try to picture what they contributed to the story. Did an interaction with this “extra” character tell you anything about the main characters? Did their actions contribute to the plot? Was it important that your high-paid lawyer put some money into that scruffy guy’s cup, or did he just brush the beggar off? How did this interaction contribute to your understanding of this major character and the story?

I once edited a story about a princess, and one of the things that struck me while reading it was how empty the castle was. The princess had only one lady-in-waiting; no one brought her bath water, no one laid her fire, the halls were empty as she moved from her rooms to the front door and stepped into a waiting carriage. No one accompanied her into the city on her errand—not a lady-in-waiting or a groom. The story felt empty because while the writer had done well in developing her main characters, she’d skipped the “extras”—those characters that add reality to a story, not necessarily by something they say or do but rather by just being there, helping to define the time, the place, the action, and the behavior of your main characters.

 How Many, and How to Keep Track of All of Them?

There is no set number of characters or “extras” required for a story, of course. The entire story might contain only one little boy in a sand box. It might be a cast of thousands in a space opera. The number that is “right” is the number it takes to tell your story—not one more or one less. And every one of them, like every object or action, must contribute to the story, even if only to point out a main character’s personality or set the mood for a scene.

The trick, if you’re like me, is keeping track of all those characters you write about, what they look like, and how they are related to one another. For this, I always create a “cast list” for my stories. I probably started doing this because my writing began in theater, but for me, keeping a separate file open as I write that contains a cast list is critical to keeping the characters in my stories straight in my head. It also works as a time-saving reference as I write.

Here’s an excerpt from my Cat & Mac Mysteries cast of characters:

Catherine (“Cat”) O’Sullivan (28): (pure and clean; descendant of the black/hawk-eyed one); a shapeshifter (black cat); an artist/gallery manager; born on the Queen Charlotte Islands to a Haida mother and white father; her aunt, cousin, grandmother, and great-grandmother are all shapeshifters. [green eyes; black hair]

Cahal (Mac) MacAlastair (33): (from “Cathal,” meaning “a great warrior”; son of Alastair, meaning “defender of the people”) homicide detective who’s burning out fast [hazel/brown eyes; dark brown hair]

Charlie Chang’s China Buffet

Aunt Charlotte (Trimble) Owens (shapeshifter – owl), Uncle Jack Owens (non-shifter, white): Owners of Dreamscape Gallery; Cat moved in with them as a child so Charlotte could help her to live with her shape-shifting nature; lived with them throughout her university years before going to work for them at Dreamscape.

Lucy: Cat’s cousin (also a shapeshifter – black bird); lives with husband in Nanaimo

Tommy: Lucy’s brother (not a shapeshifter); brilliant computer geek who created Dreamscape Gallery’s extensive security system

Náan: Cat’s grandmother; shapeshifter (cougar or lynx)

Tina (Trimble) O’Sullivan: Cat’s mom; Haida; an art teacher (doesn’t shift)

Mike O’Sullivan: Cat’s dad; a white teacher who, like Cat’s Uncle Jack, paid back his student loans by teaching in a Haida village school in the Queen Charlotte Islands, fell in love, and stayed

Mike, Jr., Carl, Matt: Cat’s older brothers; none are shapeshifters

Notice that I give more information for my main characters, including eye and hair color, so when I get to Episode 6 or 7, my green-eyed heroine won’t suddenly have brown eyes. I also threw in Charlie Chang’s China Buffet, a fictional restaurant I put in Seattle’s International District because I knew my characters would eat from there often, and I didn’t want the restaurant changing names along the way.

So try creating a cast list—and don’t forget to add every new character as they first appear in your story. You may be surprised by a seemingly incidental character from Chapter 1 who suddenly pops up again in Chapter 12—and how much time you’ll save when you can simply go to your cast list to find out what his name is.

Next time, we’ll look at developing plots and ask the age-old writer’s question, “To outline or not to outline?”



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · Uncategorized · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 2 continued

More on the “Who?”: Developing Characters

"WHO?" Vector Overlapping Letters IconCharacters are the heart of every story, and writing characters can be one of the joys—and headaches—of storytelling. For me, once the characters come to me, they stay in my head until their story is finished. They don’t always agree with me, either! Sometimes they will stop right in the middle of a scene I’m wrestling with, turn to me, and say, “I wouldn’t do that.” (And yes, thanks to my theater background, my characters do often stop to talk to me.)

The important thing for a writer to remember is that characters must evolve throughout a story. They can’t be wholly good or wholly bad all the time. Even really good people have flaws—doubts, uncertainties, petty complaints, anxiety, irritability—and even characters who are truly evil weren’t born that way and will have something from their past worth exploring. If we want our characters to be realistic for our readers, they must be fully-developed, three-dimensional personalities. Otherwise, they won’t be believable. And they must change from the first page to the last, or there won’t be any story.

Naming of Characters: Does It Matter?

I have been known to spend a lot of time looking for just the right name for a character, but sometimes it’s just a matter of what sounds right at the moment of creation. To me, the only really important things to think about are that each name should “fit” the character (is he an “Ed” or an “Edward”?), and each should be unique enough for the reader to easily keep the characters straight. For example, I personally don’t like reading a story in which Pam and Cam are best friends (unless, of course, mistaking them for one another is part of the story). It would be much easier to keep the characters straight if it were Pam and Cindy.

Sometimes a name’s meaning can also weigh in on my decision. I actually like to search the Internet for baby names, their meanings and origins. I’ll do the same for surnames, if I want a character to be of a specific nationality. For example, in my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I did both. Cat is Catherine O’Sullivan. She was born to a Haida mother and a white father in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. She also happens to be a shapeshifter who becomes a cat. The name Catherine means “pure and clean,” while O’Sullivan means “descendent of the black/hawk-eyed one.” These definitions helped me define her personality and character. I named Mac in the same way. He is a man who spends his life finding and protecting the innocent. His full name is Cahal (from Cathal, meaning “a great warrior”) MacAlastair (meaning “defender of the people”). Again, his name helps to define his character.

Do I go through this in-depth naming exercise with all my characters? No, because sometimes it doesn’t matter so much. For example, I used Samantha for my heroine in A Chance for Life, simply because she was supposed to have grown up a tomboy, and I thought “Sam” or “Sammie” would be a good nickname for her. Names, like story ideas, can literally come from anywhere.

When Describing Characters, Show . . . Don’t Tell!

Readers want to know what your characters look like, and we have all read books in which the narrator simply provides a physical description of the characters. But describing a character can be more than just giving their basic “five-two, brown, and black.” If that’s all you give your readers, then you are missing a great opportunity to flex your “show, don’t tell” muscles and really tell your readers about your character while describing his or her appearance. A character description can do more for the readers than simply tell them what a character looks like. For example . . .

You could simply tell your reader what your character looks like:

 Jane was short, with brown eyes and curly black hair.

Or you can show your reader what your character looks like—and a lot more…

 Jane gave up on getting the brush through her wildly curly black tangles and settled for pulling her hair back in a scrunchie. She had to stand on her toes so she could see her entire face in the bathroom mirror she shared with her older sisters, who had both been blessed with their Scandinavian mother’s tall, willowy build, striking blue eyes and silky, easily-tamed blond locks. Only Jane had inherited their father’s Mediterranean olive complexion, boring brown eyes, wild black hair, and short, skinny build. On a good day, she was thankful that, unlike the other women in her family, she didn’t have to trowel sunscreen on whenever she took a walk on the beach. On a bad day, she avoided going to the beach at all, since she didn’t have anything to fill out a bathing suit with, something her sisters wouldn’t hesitate to point out to their friends.

Short, brown, and black, sure, but now we also know (1) she has a dark complexion; (2) she’s envious of her sisters’ contrasting appearance; (3) she resents her sisters’ teasing her about her own appearance; (4) she has a boyish figure (doesn’t like to wear a bathing suit in public); and (5) she thinks her life would be better—or least less stressful—if she looked more like her mother and sisters.

So be creative! What can you character’s appearance tell the audience about his or her personality and lifestyle? Character descriptions can really add a lot to the story, if you’re willing to take the time to go beyond just the facts.

Next time, we’ll look at secondary, or supporting, characters and what they can add to a story.



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email




Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips


 Finding the Who? . . . What? . . . When? . . . Where? . . . and Why? of your story.

Whether you write fact or fiction, the traditional “five Ws” of writing must be given to your readers so they can know what the story is all about. Some writers will also add the “How?”—some stories demand it—but the key is getting all that information to your readers in a timely fashion and without boring them, so they keep turning the pages.

questions_framedI used to think short story writers had the real challenge. After all, if I’m writing an 85,000- or 100,000-word novel, I have plenty of time to get everything into the story. I was wrong, of course, because the truth is, if you want your readers to keep turning the pages, you have to give them a reason to continue reading. So the who, what, when, where, and why need to appear somewhere in the first few pages, perhaps even on the first page, in order to let readers know what the story is about and give them a reason to keep turning the page. This doesn’t mean you have to give all the characters’ secrets away right at the beginning, but it does mean you have to at least introduce everyone and let your readers know your characters do, indeed, have secrets.

There is a good reason prospective agents and publishers want only the first five pages or the first +/-5,000 words—no matter how long your story is: They don’t have time to read more if the story isn’t worth their time. So if you want your stories to be read, you have to treat every potential reader as a potential buyer and ask yourself, “What can I give them up front to make them want to read beyond page one?”

Starting with the Who: Major, or Primary, Characters

You may or may not start writing your story with a character—you might think of a place or an event first—but as your story develops, you will eventually—and probably fairly early on—need to examine and evaluate the characters as they come along and ask that defining question: “Who is this story really about?”

This may seem a ridiculous question, but I learned early in my writing career that it is an important one. My first sci fi novel (not published) was about two women, both outcasts for different reasons, who meet at a space academy, become friends, and do well enough to both be assigned to the fleet’s flagship. One of the women disappears while on shore leave, and the other spends the rest of the book convincing her captain that her friend’s disappearance was due to foul play—not a dereliction of duty—and she needs rescuing.

One critique I had from an early reader was, “Whose story is this?” The thing is I had intended it to be a story about both women, but this reader didn’t see that. So if I ever do rewrite the book—and I do plan to rewrite it as one of my Commonwealth Chronicles—I will need to work on that one important point. If I want the story to belong to both characters, I can still write it that way to some extent, but I’m also going to have to decide, which is the primary character? Which character’s story is the one that will keep readers’ interest peaked to the end of the story?

The Challenge of Multiple Major Characters: Beware of “Head-Hopping”

One of the challenges of writing two or more major characters into a story is the danger of “head-hopping,” or switching point of view (POV) within scenes. I don’t know of a major best-selling author today who doesn’t do this—with varying degrees of success—but the writing instructors seem to be adamant: Do not change POV within scenes!  There are popular titles out there whose books I have difficulty reading because of this habit. There are times when I will need to reread a page or two to figure out who’s saying or thinking what. So keep that in mind as you write a multi-character scene. If the story requires a change in POV, give the reader some notice—for example, a double space between paragraphs—so they know you’re doing it intentionally. I mean, if the gal jumps overboard, then you might need to switch to the guy left standing on the deck, but put that extra space in, so your reader understands you’re now in his head. I do recommend against having multiple characters reacting to an action or dialogue within the same scene all the time. It can be very confusing to the reader.

One exercise you can use to break yourself of the habit, if it’s something you do regularly, is to step back for a time and try rewriting the same scene multiple times, each from the POV of a different character. It might surprise you to learn just how different each version reads. You can then go back to the original question, “Whose story is this?” You might be surprised by the answer, but it should help you to rewrite the scene where it belongs.

I personally try to stay in one character’s head throughout an entire chapter. This is particularly true for any romantic or heavy-action scenes, because when emotions run high, it can be difficult to distinguish who’s thinking what in the heat of the moment. In my Cat & Mac Mysteries, I try to give Cat and Mac alternate scenes, so the reader keeps seeing them both fully engaged in the story. Occasionally, I will switch heads within a scene, but I do it only rarely and only when a scene, because of the action, specifically calls for it. And when I do, I always use a space between paragraphs to signal the reader the POV switch is coming.

 The next time we’ll look at more on the Who?: Developing characters.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

Questions? Email


Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips


Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the process of writing a story, from conception to submission. Today, we’ll ask the question, “How does a writer begin a story?” This is, of course, much like asking an artist how he paints what he paints or how she sculpts what she sculpts. Where do songwriters begin—with the music or the lyric? Creativity comes from many sources, and for most writers I know, a story can come from any number of places, with most writers citing more than one, depending upon the story.

 Planning vs. Inspiration 

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.These two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to storytelling, and for many writers, they often overlap. Writers who write for publications, such as newspapers and magazines, will often be assigned stories, whether nonfiction or fiction. Some writers are particularly good at taking an assigned topic or theme and running with it. Even assigned academic writing can be inspired by personal interest in a related topic. Don’t let the “assignment” get in the way of your creativity!

For me, an assignment is a mixed blessing in both nonfiction and fiction writing. While it can be stifling if the topic really holds no interest for me, it can also open a window to a whole world of interesting research and writing. As a ghostwriter, I’ve often been assigned a topic or scenario. I have ghostwritten a romance series set in a contemporary Old Order Amish community, on the nineteenth century Oregon Trail, and in a fantastical world of shapeshifters—all assigned scenarios for short stories, yes, but I was able to create original characters and plots, letting my imagination free within each assignment.

5183gwhjx6l._sy346_If you are having trouble getting started writing a story, sometimes the best thing to do is to go ahead and assign yourself a general topic or scenario and see where it takes you. My Cat & Mac Mysteries came from a practical desire to write an e-book series I could quickly put up and sell in Kindle Direct Publishing. I’d never written mysteries before, but my research found the best-selling Kindle e-books were short mysteries written in a series, so that’s what I set out to do. From there I picked a city I knew fairly well and let my imagination run free, writing a single murder mystery which has led to four more episodes and counting. Each new story in the series has required an inspirational spark to get it going, but I’m happily continuing to play in my Cat & Mac universe.

 Places to Start

If you are having difficulty getting started writing stories, search the Internet on “writing prompts.” There are hundreds of them available at any number of Web sites for writers. Do some searching, and “assign” yourself a prompt, then let your imagination carry you to wherever it wants to go. Browse through a magazine and study the images. Ignore any captions, and see if you can find a story in any of the pictures you find. I, personally, have written the first 58,000+ words of a novel inspired by a single image I saw on television one evening almost two years ago. The story has a long way to go, but that image remains clear in my mind and continues to inspire the story whenever I sit down to work on it.

 Inspiration Is Everywhere

Pure inspiration can come from anything, so go for it! Either think of what you want to write, and keep your eyes open for inspiration, or start exploring the world around you with an eye for story ideas. You can literally start anywhere: a photo, a real-life news story, something you overhear on the bus, a personal experience, a movie, an odd dream . . . the possibilities are endless. The key is to think like a writer, that is to continuously consider the story potential of everyone and everything you encounter.

The next time we’ll look at the importance of identifying the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of your story.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email

Christian ghostwriter · storytelling


Now that I’ve talked about The Power of Story and how research can improve our writing, I’d like to spend some time on the original purpose of this blog: storytelling. But before you can start telling a story, the first question to ask is, “Okay, so what am I going to write?”

lightstock-social-graphic_96173bf1b4 (1)Whether a new writer or one with years of experience, it is always a good idea for us to sit down as the calendar changes over to a new year and ask ourselves, “What do I want to write?” or, more specifically, “What do I want to accomplish with my writing in the coming year?” One of my writing groups decided we were just too busy to have our usual Christmas party this year, so instead we’re planning a New Year’s party for our first meeting of 2019. And we decided at our last meeting that at the party, members will have the opportunity to share their 2019 Writing Resolutions.

Unfinished Business

If you’re like me, you have a whole bunch of writing projects just waiting for your attention. On the back burner, I, myself, have two unfinished novels, a screenplay, and a series of short stories.

The first unfinished novel is the sequel to one of my published books (currently out of print). The sequel now stands at 50 pages and 16,736 words. I stopped writing it back in May because the publisher of the first book went under, and the sequel can’t go anywhere until I figure out what to do with the first book.

I have another novel, which got as far as 168 pages and 58,200 words last February, before I had to abandon it in favor of a paid ghostwriting job that came in. I would dearly love to get back to this book, and completing it would make a terrific goal for 2019.

I also have an e-book mystery series which could really use some new episodes. I published Episodes 1 through 4 individually in Kindle Direct Publishing and then as Volume I in print this past summer. It would be really coo, if I manage to write 4 new episodes and publish Volume II in print by September 2019 in time for our local Writers’ Symposium. The only problem is I’ve only completed Episode #5, and I barely have an idea for Episode #6, so I really have my work cut out for me!

The first project on my to-do list, however, is a screenplay based on that out-of-print novel, since I’d like to sell it as a movie before I republish it as a book. This is my “dream” project, the one that could garner me an agent but also kind of scares me. Is it guaranteed to sell? Absolutely not. But I have learned over the years that if I don’t at least try, I’ll never know what might have been.

Making the Effort

This is a key step for a writer: forget the fear factor and make the effort. I have writing friends who want to write a novel but have never started one, simply because they’re afraid of it. They don’t think they could ever finish it, and even if they did finish the writing, they don’t think anyone would want to publish it. But truly, we won’t know until we try, and even if you never sell the first book you write (I certainly didn’t), even if you don’t self-publish the thing (I haven’t done that either), the experience of actually completing a book-length manuscript is a huge step toward learning and polishing your storytelling craft.

 Identifying Your Writing Goals

So what will your 2019 Writing Resolutions look like? Will you promise yourself you’ll write that first story or article and submit it to a magazine or newspaper or anthology? Is your goal one story? One story a quarter? One story a month? Do you have that novel inside you just waiting to come out? Will you start it? Will your goal be to finish it in 2019? Will you start a blog? An e-book series in Kindle? A regular article submission to your local newspaper? Will you learn new writing software? Learn how to format a book in an old one? Attend a writers’ conference? Join a writers’ group? Whatever you decide, do yourself a favor: write down your goals, and give yourself deadlines. You don’t have to necessarily stick with the list—or the deadlines—but trust me: you will be more likely to complete something if you give yourself a due date.

Here are my own Writing Resolutions for 2019:

1. Complete/submit A Chance for Life screenplay by March 1st;

2. Write and publish 3 more Cat & Mac Mysteries e-books by September 1st; publish Volume II in print by September 15th;

3. Finish the Chance sequel rough draft by December 31st and pursue publishing options for both books.

Big goals? You bet! Will I accomplish every one? Not likely—but then I haven’t lost that 20 pounds, yet, either, and that’s been a New Year’s resolution for the past six years!  Will I be satisfied if I don’t complete the list? Yes . . . as long as I have made some progress on all three projects.

 So what do you want to accomplish as a writer in 2019? You’d best start brainstorming—January 1, 2019, is only a few days away!

The next time we’ll start discussing the process of writing a story.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email

Christian editors · storytelling · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 10

Some Handy Print Resources I Still Use on Occasion.

researchI have spent the last several weeks blogging about doing research online, and while that is certainly where most of my research takes place these days, especially when I’m caught up in writing fictional stories, there remain a number of print resources on my shelf that I continue to use. A few of these I have purchased new over the years, but many of the better titles have been found in library book sales, particularly those following a major weeding of a college or university library collection. I won’t list them all here, but I wanted to give you some good examples, in no particular order of importance.

 Word Dictionaries

I still like to use a print dictionary, because I find browsing through such a resource always snags something I might miss if I simply look up a word in an e-dictionary.

The RandomHouse College Dictionary, Revised Edition (Random House, Inc., 1975): Okay, I’m dating myself, now, but this was the dictionary I used in college the first time around, and while it is over 40 years old, it still allows me to comfortably browse multiple word meanings.

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (Jeff Prucher, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2007): If you write science fiction, this is a book for you. When I first became serious about my sci-fi writing, I often found myself wondering if the language I was using was too strongly influenced by Star Trek. This dictionary told me, however, that it was okay to use the word “starship” to describe the interstellar ships in my stories, because the word was first used in a story published in Astounding Stories in December of 1934—in all likelihood, the same place Gene Roddenberry acquired it!

Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words (John Ayto. Arcade Publishing, Inc., 1990): There is actually a 2011 edition of this title available in today. As I’ve mentioned before, the history of word origins can be particularly important when writing historical fiction. Contemporary jargon does not belong in a historical story, and if you can’t find the history of a word in the free, online edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, you may want to have a copy of this book on the shelf.

Biographical Dictionaries

New biography reference sources rarely include complete lists of historical names you might need if you’re writing in the past, either fiction or nonfiction. The four biographical dictionaries I have were all found in library sales, and while I don’t use them often, I am still glad to keep room for them on my office shelf.

Webster’s American Biographies (1975) and Webster’s New Biographical Dictionary (1988): These books are my first stop when I can’t find someone any other way. The former has expanded articles on 3,000 notable Americans, and the latter provides the “essential information on more than 30,000 deceased men and women from all parts of the world, all eras, and all fields of endeavor.” Like most reference resources, these books provide a place to start if you have a name and nothing else.

The Dictionary of National Biography Founded in 1882 by George Smith: The Concise Dictionary From the Beginnings to 1921 (London: Oxford University Press,1930): This is a historical treasure, which I rarely use but enjoy browsing on occasion. It can also be a fascinating source of historical names. I find myself perusing this volume when I’m looking for interesting names for new characters in one of my books.

Dictionary of Saints (John J. Delaney. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980): Billed as “an up-to-date, easy-to-use compendium of factual information” on 5,000 saints, the entries range from basic facts to column-long articles. This is a very handy reference for those who write anything about Church history, especially if you want to research a less famous saint.

 Quotation Dictionaries

We all like to quote famous people, and while there are a plethora of online sources with quotations, this is one instance where you will want to use a print volume that (a) has some authority and (b) provides the actual source of the quotation. Far too many online writers wrongly quote famous individuals!

Familiar Quotations, Thirteenth Edition(John Bartlett. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1955): Bartlett is probably the best known collector and publisher of quotation books. This particular collection is organized by both person and topic.


These resources can put any person, place, thing, or event in historical context, making them extremely helpful to historical writers.

The New York Public Library Book of Chronologies (1990): Organized by topic from Explorers and Exploration to Sports, this reference gives limited timelines per heading under subheadings. The section on technology is particularly helpful.

The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events, 3rd Revised Ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975):  I find this volume more useful for my writing than the above, because this one is organized by year. For each year, significant people, places, and events are given under the headings of History, Politics; Literature, Theater; Religion, Philosophy, Learning; Visual Arts; Music; Science, Technology, and Growth; and Daily Life. So, if you have set your story in 1965, you can look up that year and see what was going on in the world around your story. A revised 2005 edition is available.

 Style Guides

“Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.” When writing for academia or publishing, you do, of course, need to use the writing style guide required by your discipline or a publisher. While I have years of experience writing in MLA Style (Modern Language Association) and APA Style (American Psychological Association) due to my eclectic academic background, these days I stick with the two style guides used and recommended by Christian Editing Services.

The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: University of Chicago Press): Used by writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers world-wide, unless someone specifically requires another writing style, I would recommend sticking with Chicago, which is up to its 17th edition now and is available online in both print and ebook format.

The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, 4th Edition (Zondervan, 2016): This manual fills in all the holes found in Chicago and other style manuals concerning Christian writing. There are simply terms, ideas, and other nuances used by Christians that need clarification for Christian writers.

 Biblical References

Though I value greatly what has to offer, sometimes keyword searching in a humongous database just doesn’t work. Simply searching in the wrong Bible translation may make it impossible for you to find a passage you need.

Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1949, 1966): Alexander Cruden (1701-1770) has been the standard in English language biblical studies for over 250 years. I found my edition, once again, at a college library used book sale, but this one is still in print and can be found in Amazon as well as Christian book stores everywhere.

The King James Study Bible, 2nd Edition (Thomas Nelson, 2013): Whichever translation you use, be sure to acquire a good study Bible. Thomas Nelson puts out a really good one that includes multiple topical indices, references (color maps; monies, weights, and measures; an illustrated Jewish Calendar; etc.), a brief concordance, and footnotes all through.

Whatever you do as a writer, you should never underestimate the usefulness of a print reference book. Looking up facts online might be the quickest way to find needed information, but there’s something to be said for browsing entries in a reference book and the occasional serendipitous encounter with information you didn’t know you needed. As writers, we can never know what we might stumble across along the way.

This completes our series on research. The next time, we’ll look at some New Year’s writing resolutions and how you might go about planning your 2019 at the keyboard.

by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email