One writer famously said, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
While this is not terribly practical advice, it is right in one respect: when you write a book – I mean, when you truly write a book, not when you're typing out escapist fiction – you are writing with your own blood.
In the Old Testament, blood is regarded as something sacred. Blood is, in some ways, the essence of who somebody is. Thus, when sin is paid for, it is paid for in blood; first by the sacrifice of a perfect lamb, and finally by the sacrifice of a perfect God.
And when we write novels, we pour ourselves into these characters. We pour our essence into them; we give our blood. Our blood is written on paper in the form of words. It is only when this happens that our stories really and truly come to life.
Before I started the Prophecies – or even after – I had the vague idea that I would write “something awesome”. Even as late as NaNo 2010 the goal of my writing was, in some ways, to glorify God; but my other objectives was just to make the story as cool as it could be.
It wasn't until I revised The War Horn and started work on Tornado C that I solidified my “writer's creed”: that my first and primary objective was to glorify God, and second to create something that would nourish the reader. In The War Horn, I glimpsed something of what a novel would be like when I had that “creed” as my primary purpose. The story was, and still is, the strongest of my tales in terms of theme. (Tornado C will challenge that position once I get to the climax, but that's a long way off.)
When I started outlining Tornado C, I was at a period of growth. I was learning how to further live with God at the center of my life, and how this plays out in another culture – and in my writing.
I discovered something incredible at that time: that all of my work was as straw if I didn't pour myself (and my beliefs) into them. “Writing what you know” doesn't just mean doing lots of research. It also means that the characters themselves won't have life unless you truly know them. And how will you know them?
I found out that if I put parts of myself into my characters, they took to the page in a way that none of my characters have ever done before.
Into the main character of Tornado C I poured the guilt I had before I had become a Christian, before I had discovered the wondrous theme of justification; into his companion, I put bitterness (which everyone knows to some extent), and the struggle with sin we all have; in another character, I put loneliness and, in some ways, embodied my adaption to a new culture and the differences I have with my own; in all of these, the frustration we have when God doesn't seem to hear when we speak to Him; in The Prophecy of Einarr, I have a character who realizes how dangerous surrender to God may be and the pride that holds them back, which I have taken from my own conversion; and in The Voice of God my main character will struggle with the ever-present question of why God does what He does, and why innocents often suffer more than the wicked.
As a result of this, my writing has come alive in new ways. I have often taken something that I wrestle with in my own life and embody it in the written word. If I write about struggles I have never had, will I help those who have them? Yet if I write about the things of life I know, won't the reader understand it better?
If I read a book about a missionary kid adapting in a new culture, I would deeply emphasize with them and their story. In America, I read about missionaries and their trials; now I understand them so much better. In the same way, if the characters of a novel have the same struggles that other people do, they will come alive to your reader.
Thus, writing what you know becomes pouring yourself into your novel. Bits and pieces of myself are found in all of my characters. Why? Because that is the only way I will truly know them, and know how to write them. My stories become my way of articulating my life and my faith.
So my advice to you is this: don't shirk back from becoming your characters and their stories. Pour yourself into them: your struggles, your faith, your experiences, your life, and your blood. Once your readers see your blood on paper, they'll recognize that the same blood flows in their own veins. And regardless of the number of sales you have or the amount of people that read your book, your readers will connect with your story in a way that they can't with the average penny-dreadful.