When the Characters Call the Shots

Yesterday I did a really stupid thing

(I can say that. I’m talking about me – and trust me! It was stupid!)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been spending long hours working on an image using Affinity Photo (a similar program to Photoshop). Every time I made a significant change, I saved it under a new name. When I closed Affinity for the day, I was asked the same question. “This file has been changed. Do you want to save it?”

I didn’t want to save it. I wanted the original file to remain untouched.

Lesson learned? (I hope) Check which program you’re working on before saying yes or no!


Learning from your characters

I ventured into my first attempt at a novel about twenty years ago. That is when I discovered how real my characters were. If you’re a writer, you’ll understand what I’m about to say. If you’re not, you’ll be convinced I am delusional!

I learned that my characters had their own ideas of how the story should work out.

Really! I clearly remember the first time it happened. I had sent twins out on a walk, pushing their toddler baby brother in his pushchair. As they walked down the sidewalk (pavement in S.Africa), I saw the scene play out in my mind.

Suddenly, a playground materialized on their left. No! That wasn’t my plan. Butit was okay. I would get them to just keep walking. But no! That’s when I learned that not all characters are obedient to their author. The twins certainly weren’t. They couldn’t resist the park. They turned in the gate. I was literally speaking aloud, telling them to get back to their walk.

Well, they ignored me. They put the toddler in a chair-swing and started to push him. Typically, they became distracted watching someone walk past. “Watch the kid!” I shouted at them.

But no.

They didn’t.

And said ‘kid’ fell out of the chair.

That incident opened up a whole new section of my novel that I hadn’t anticipated. It also introduced a secondary character that I had planned on, but couldn’t decide how to bring him into the story. Amazing!

That’s when I learned a major problem with writing SOTP. (See Seat of the Pants explanation.)

Novelists soon learn that their characters have their own ideas. Click To Tweet

Characters with a clear plan

My current WIP (Work in Progress), Finding Amanda, I tackled from a different angle. As I’ve already described, I now have a timeline pasted to my wall, and I have a rough idea of what happens next, right up until the end of the book. So does that mean I can tell you the entire story? Oh no.

You see, I’ve learned another lesson. My characters have the final say. Already, I’ve had several of my plans changed.

This week, I experienced a fun incident.  I knew where Mandy was traveling to. And I knew who she was going to visit. I just didn’t know what the situation would be when she arrived. As she stepped into the arrivals section of the airport, a sweet, dumpy little lady I didn’t know existed, bounced forward and introduced herself to Mandy—and to me.  It turns out she’s quite a key person in the story. Who knew? (Not me! I’m just the author.)

So it that fun, or what?

Characters who bring new ideas to the author’s plans

So now I know. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s going. But ultimately, that depends on my characters. Scary? A bit. But it’s fun too.

A visitor to my blog last week referred to the book as Finding Mandy. But, as I pointed out to her, that’s not the title. It’s Finding Amanda! You thought they were the same person? Ah well, you see, that’s the problem.

Amanda is one person.

Mandy is another.

The question is, which is the real person? And how is the one going to find the other? (Hint: She’s not schizophrenic!)

Another eye-opener for me this week was the sneaky feeling this book is not going to be a solo book. Two other characters that are closely involved with Mandy (note the shift! Not Amanda this time!) are developing their own story-lines on the side. I have a feeling they’re going to demand a book all to themselves. When will I know for sure? I guess when they tell me.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about Finding Amanda developing into a series of three (or more…) books?


He has Plans for Our Good ~ and for My Main Character!


A Magazine Challenge:

On Thursday, we had a surprise visitor. She had come to ask us to take on the editorship of a local magazine. It is a beautiful magazine, usually 28 pages in full color. Although we have never tackled such an ambitious project, nor do either of us have any experience using the particular desktop publisher software they use, we are well-qualified in other ways. We have run countless church magazines down the years, but always black and white, and very straight-forward layouts. This magazine is beautifully put together and looks very professional.

We have both produced many brochures, leaflets, adverts, and of course, I make all my own book covers. We also have a fair knowledge of Word and I do a lot of editing in my daily writing responsibilities. So yes, it sounded good. It would be a learning curve for us both, but what’s new? Our lives seem to be seasoned with learning curves! We were fairly confident we would manage the task, and we would certainly enjoy the work.

However, we have learned things seldom turn out to be as simple as they first sound, especially when computers are concerned. There were a few things we needed to be sure of, and we agreed to pray about it. No commitment. We would pray, and I would find out more of what was involved from the person best equipped to tell me—the current editor.

The following day, I went to see the editor, and she gave me a quick run-through of what it involves. She assured me that she would give us both all the training we needed, and would be there for us if we needed help. Sounded good? Yes, it did. Until I saw how much work was involved.

God’s Plans for Our Lives

As you possibly know, I am currently working on two book-length projects. I have a completed draft of a non-fiction book: Reflections for Pastor’s Wives. That is currently on hold as I work on a novel, Finding Amanda, which you can read about here.

Both of these are projects I’m excited about, and I know God plans to have them published. I believe He will use both in different ways to build His Kingdom. In addition to this, I run about six Facebook groups and help my husband who is establishing a new and exciting online-ministry that is already reaching people with God’s Word across the world. (See more here.)  And of course, I blog weekly.

We know these are part of God’s plan for our lives. Would we be able to continue with all of these and give them as much time as we currently do? It soon became apparent we wouldn’t. Something would have to give.

I also have a hobby of card-making, which at the moment is on hold because the only time I have to do them is in the evening, and by then I am too tired to be bothered. Plus of course, thanks to the restricting pandemic that affects us all, I have no market to sell them.  (I don’t make them to make money, but I do need to cover my costs so I can keep myself in supplies.) I would have to give that up completely if we accepted the magazine task.

So we prayed.

What were God’s plans for us?

I also chatted to two friends who know me well and are aware of my ability to over-commit. They agreed to pray for our decision, but both were wary about whether we would be able to continue with the work we’re doing for the Lord if we were to take this on.

That night, we went to bed aware that we needed to make a decision the next day. If we were going to say, “No”, the organization needed time to look for another editorial team. We awoke the next morning, totally convinced we had to say,  “Thank you, but no. This isn’t part of the Lord’s plans for us.”

He has Plans for Our Good ~ and for My Main Character! Click To Tweet

And we knew this was not part of those plans.  We’d no sooner passed on the news than we had a sense of tremendous peace.

Now I faced the responsibility of getting on with my novel. I am committed to completing Finding Amanda during the month of April, during Camp NaNo for those of you who know about this global writing challenge. (You can read more about it here.)

Plans? Or No Plans?

Writers generally fall into one of two categories. You have the Planners and the Pansters. The Planners like to plan out every detail of their story before they start to write. Pansters write by the Seat of the Pants, hence their strange title. They may know their main characters, then they just start to write. In ways only writers can understand, the characters take over and the story unfolds. Recently, a third category has been identified: the Planster. As you can figure out, this is a combination of the other two.

I have always written Seat of the Pants until now. But this novel, I could see most of the plan before I started to write. So I sat down and created a time-line on my computer which I have printed out and stuck to the wall next to my working space. Within a short time, I had planned out the entire book, and I felt excited about fleshing out the storyline, as the characters showed me how they were going to achieve the various points.(Seat of the Pants!) Here it is, if you haven’t read about it yet.

There were a few gaps that I didn’t know how they were going to work out, but I was confident I would come up with a plan, or perhaps I should say my characters would.

Last night, the same day we had turned down the magazine offer, I spent the night working on my novel in my sleep. I wasn’t really dreaming, I was planning. Yet I was asleep. As the night progressed, I saw more and more of the plans coming together. By the time I awoke, I couldn’t wait to make notes before I forgot key elements. And so, just like that, I had the missing gaps all filled. Now I just need to give the plans to Amanda and the other key characters and let them run with it.

Living and Writing According to the Lord’s Plans

That’s when I realized how exciting it is to write for the Lord. Where the Panster creates plans for her story, and the Panster leaves that up to the characters, I have now become a Planster! And by committing the novel to the Lord, I am assured that where I may not know everything that’s going to come together in the story, the Lord does.

And that’s the last thing I shared with Rob. How real this Scripture is. The Lord has plans for me. But more than that, He has plans for Amanda! Plans that will bless His people as they read the novel. I have never thought of this before! Do you find this exciting? Or far-fetched?

When you hand something over to the Lord—it becomes His challenge. And He will come up with plans way beyond any that you may think of on your own.

Question for you:

Are you a writer? Which of the three categories do you fall into?

If you’re not a writer, how do you live your life? Is your life guided by goals and plans and lists? Or do you live by the seat of your pants? Please answer in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!


He is Not Here for He is Risen

The Empty Tomb

Years ago, my husband and I visited the garden tomb outside Jerusalem. We went first as part of our official tour, but then we had a few days to ourselves to explore and we didn’t hesitate. We went back to the garden and spent time on our own sitting absorbing the quiet, beauty, and spiritual awareness that seemed to soak into our bodies. I could see there was a person in the rock-cut tomb, so I sat a distance away, wanting to visit alone.

After the man had left, I made my way to the tomb which was unearthed in 1867 and believed by many to have been the place where my Savior’s body was laid after He was crucified.

Inside the Tomb

I walked through the entrance, past a heavy varnished door that stood ajar. I didn’t pay any attention to it, although I saw there was some sort of notice attached to it at eye level.

The area where the body would have laid is railed off to prevent vandals or even over-zealous worshipers from doing any harm. I experienced the presence of the Lord in such a real sense as I stood in awe that I wondered how anyone could ever doubt this was the true final resting place of the Savior.

After soaking in all the tomb had to offer, and spending some time in silent prayer and worship, I turned to leave. Only then, did I pay attention to the large notice nailed to the door. In bold carved words were the words,



The hair on my arms stood up. I was glad I hadn’t seen it before entering the tomb as the words struck me so much more. He really really had risen. No doubt.

Facing me, as I exited past the massive door, I saw a huge round-hewn disc, an example of the boulder that would have been used to seal the tomb with Jesus’ body inside.

And this brings me to the thought I want to leave with you today.

As a child, I was taught how the angels rolled away the stone so that Jesus could come out. As I grew in my Christian faith, I realized: Jesus didn’t need the stone to be removed. He didn’t walk out. He arose! If He could conquer death, He certainly wouldn’t be stuck inside by a mere boulder.

No—the boulder was not removed for Jesus. It was removed for the disciples. For Mary. For us.

It was rolled away so that we could see inside! That we may not doubt, but believe.

He is not here for He is risen!

Every blessing to you as you celebrate the death and amazing resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may be in lockdown—but Jesus is not. May you experience His presence in an amazing way this Holy Easter time.

Please take your time and watch this short video clip as often as you want to. Try and imagine the atmosphere visitors can feel as they stand in this incredible burial place. And soak in the message burned into the door:

He is not here —FOR HE IS RISEN. 


Can I hear an amen from you? 

Have you been to Jerusalem? Have you seen this sight for yourself? If not, take a look at this site which describes it in far better detail than I ever could.


Meet Amanda, the Pastor’s Wife

Last week, I said I would be introducing you to the main character of my upcoming novel.

Introducing . . .

Amanda – also known as Mandy…


Amanda Kirkpatrick

… wins a number of awards during her spell at college where she is majoring in art. During her final year, she receives urgent news from a friend that her dearly-loved sister, Deidre, has been involved in a tragic water-skiing accident. She races to her sister’s side in ICU where it soon becomes apparent that, outside of a huge miracle, her sister is not going to recover.

Where are their parents? The parents that appear to have been responsible for the accident? They haven’t even contacted her, nor are they visiting their critically-injured daughter.

Mandy, as she is known by her friends, settles down for a twenty-hour vigil by her sister’s side. She prays fervently to the God her sister believes in, telling Him that if He heals her sister, she will believe in Him too and will commit her life to Him. She can’t help but be impressed by Owen Douglas, the newly-ordained assistant pastor from her sister’s church. Does he really visit all the patients every day? She can’t help wondering what a nice guy like this is doing throwing his life away to serve a God who allows accidents like Deirdre’s to happen.

Where is God?

Deirdre does not regain consciousness. Owen steps forward and helps Mandy through the horrible days that follow. Her parents barely make it to the memorial service and Mandy realises she is now alone in the world—with no parents or a sister.

Fast forward several years, and Mandy commits herself to God despite His failure to heal her sister.  Her painting continues to draw accolades, and her dream is to become a full-time artist.

She falls in love with Owen and they marry.  She settles into her new life as Owen’s wife in a congregation where their predecessor was a widower, and so the ladies in the church are used to covering all the tasks where female leadership is required. The congregation loves their new minister’s wife, and they are happy to let her spend her days painting and producing beautiful landscapes that sell well. Life couldn’t get better.

The family grows

Then the children come along, and her time is mostly taken up with nappies and feeds, walks, and games. Her art is pushed to one side, but she knows this is just for a season, and she dedicates her life to her growing family. Once they are at school, she will be able to take up her painting once more.

Then comes the move that changes everything.

New Standards for Amanda

The next congregation had been led in the past by a dedicated minister and an equally-dedicated minister’s wife. They expect nothing less from Owen, and from Amanda, as they all call her. They have a list of roles they expect from their minister and wife.

Where her husband rolls up his sleeves and throws himself into the work of the demanding congregation, Mandy sinks under the pressure. Her children start to play up, and Owen doesn’t understand. He’s far too busy and can’t understand why his wife, whom he also now calls Amanda, can’t at least make an effort to meet the congregation’s demands. He wants her to realise she’s no longer free to be an artist. She is a pastor’s wife, as well as being responsible for the children’s upbringing. There is no time to pursue her youthful hobby of painting.

It’s all too much

Eventually, it all gets too much for the would-be artist, and she comes to the point she just wants out. Out of the church. Out of the ministry. And yes, even out of her marriage.

Afraid she is going to make a wrong decision, Amanda follows the advice of a friend and decides to take a sabbatical. She takes off, leaving her husband to cope with the children as well as his ministry. Before she leaves, her friend gives her a copy of a book to study while she is away, saying that this would help her understand and solve her problems.

She leaves a note for her husband and suggests he gets a copy of the book himself and see if they can together sort things out. She promises to keep in touch but asks him not to try and follow her.

Questions for Amanda

Will Owen look for her? Will he get the book? When will he be able to read it when he’s now learning firsthand what Amanda’s life was like? How will he cope with the children, the curious congregation, and his packed schedule which he can no longer cover? How will the congregation react to the news that they have a runaway pastor’s wife? Will either of them ever learn about their motivational gifts? And will Amanda—or Mandy—ever be able to return to Owen after her break?

As if the whole situation isn’t bad enough, a mysterious virus that originated in China lands in South Africa. Mandy’s sabbatical seems destined to be a lot longer than anticipated. What will the future hold for the Douglas family, and for the members of the Aloevlei Family Church?

Question for you:

Last week, I asked for suggestions re a name for this book. Thank you to those who offered input. I have now gone with the name:

Finding Amanda


An Eighteen-year-old Novel ~ With a New Slant

Resurrecting an old novel

I am currently re-writing a novel that I first wrote eighteen years ago! At that time, it was my first attempt at a full-length story, and my plot was weak. This, of course, resulted in a story which, although I think it is entertaining in parts, waffles somewhat aimlessly in most places, and arrives at the end with little sense of resolution.

So now I’m rewriting. This time, I am excited about the storyline. It involves a family in ministry (based on the teaching I had at the popular idea – “Write what you know!”). They are nothing like our family, but it was fun developing the characters. I started my rewrite during NaNoWriMo, the annual writing challenge where you tackle a 50,000 word book in a month. You do not have to finish the book–just write 50,000 words. I completed the challenge, but I still have a way to go.

I have just signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. For this virtual camp, you set your own goal, and it can be a new work or an editing task. I aim to complete the novel’s draft during this period. You also get to “share a tent” with your friends or writing companions. How about you? Are you interested in joining me in my tent this April?

Here is the draft plot for the novel:

Marcia, a gifted artist who marries a man who is a student for the ministry, looks forward to being in ministry with him, as long as she can continue to paint. During their first years of marriage, Marcia is a stay-at-home mom of her growing brood. Whenever she has the chance, she dabbles with her pencil, looking forward to the day when the children are old enough, and she can devote herself to her art once more.

Then comes a move that changes everything. The new congregation has a clear role mapped out for their new pastor’s wife—a role she has no desire to fill. The problem is Owen, the minister, has his own ideas. And Marcia doesn’t like them. Not one bit. Eventually, matters came to a head, and Marcia takes off on an unannounced sabbatical, leaving Owen with the children and the congregation to figure out what has gone wrong.

Will Marcia be able to return to her pastor husband? Does their marriage, and the ministry stand a chance? You’ll have to read the novel to find out. (And I need to write it!)

Looking at the novel’s immediate future:

Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to share some insight into the various characters in this light-hearted story with some underlying lessons for us all. The Runaway Minister’s Wife is a temporary title. I’d love your suggestions.

Question for You:

What would be a great title for this novel?

Please leave your suggestion in the comment box. If you come up with the winning title, I will send you a free copy of one of my Out of the Shadow books – your choice. Don’t suggest The Runaway Pastor’s Wife, which I absolutely love, and it’s perfect for the story. Sadly, it’s already taken!

If you don’t have any suggestions, please comment on the story outline. Do you have any questions for me?

Welcome to My World (W2MW)! – A Place to Make Friends

As part of the Welcome to My World challenge, I’m answering the question of the week below:

Q  What do you see as you look out your window today?

A  I see a stunning sunny day with a blue blue sky and no clouds. My study window looks down a narrow back lane in our retirement village, but the sun and the clear sky brighten the picture. 

Background to Welcome to My World (WMW)

Thanks to COVID we have all been isolated to one degree or another. We have little opportunity to visit or be visited. I have family living on three continents and have no idea when I’ll see them again, and I’m not alone. Many times, we are not even able to visit family and friends in the same town. Never have I been so grateful for my online community. At times, I crave company, and it is wonderful for me that I never need to feel alone. There is always someone, somewhere, sometime, awake and available to chat to. It may just be a sentence or two, but it banishes that “I’m alone in this world” feeling. read more

Discover Your God-Given Gifts ~ Don & Katie Fortune

Introducing the book that changed our ministry

Don and Katie Fortune have updated their bestselling handbook Discover Your God-Given Gifts, The books has been fully revised and expanded for a whole new generation.

Using the listing in Romans 12:6-8, the Fortunes help readers see how these “motivational” gifts are the driving force in our lives. They shape our personalities and help us serve God and others more fully.

With interactive worksheets and guides, Don and Katie help readers recognize their own unique gifts and why they act and think the way they do. With this knowledge, readers will be empowered to use their motivational gifts to further the kingdom–bringing the greatest sense of joy and fulfillment they have ever known.

read more

Light for the Writers’ Soul

Christian writers from around the globe have contributed to this exciting journal, a unique commemorative book for LittWorld 2015, an international conference for Christians in publishing to be held in Singapore. Containing 100 devotional articles by 80 contributing writers from 27 countries, this book aims to inspire and encourage Christian writers to harness their gifts and keep writing for God.


My contribution: #92 – When God Makes the Impossible, Possible – which tells of how God used the U-turn of cancer to turn me into an Internationally-published author.

Interview with Allyson Koekhoven, South African Editor

Meet the editor

We’ve just come to the end of a series of interviews covering all the authors of our thirteen books contained in In All Things.  Each of us undertook to get our own proofreaders etc, but when I received the books, after checking them for consistency and making corrections where needed, I sent them out to a number of volunteers from our Christian Writers of Southern Africa (CWOSA) group for final edits. That’s when I discovered the editor, Allyson Koekhoven!

Allyson has been a member of our group for a while, but up until then I hadn’t realized she is actually a member of the Professional Editors’ Guild. What a find! She did several excellent edits for me, picking up on a number of issues that had slipped through all the other pairs of eyes that had already been over the books. read more