How do you get the ideas for your books?

Sometimes I’m with family or friends and we start talking about something. I find some detail or some idea interesting and want to know more about it. When I know the direction that interests me, I start researching and that generates more ideas. Often I get my best ideas when I’m taking a break. I especially like cycling. When I get stuck and don’t know how to keep on with what I’m writing, it helps to take a quick walk down the road. As one of my writing teachers told me, “I walk to a certain tree and usually by the time I get there I have the idea I need.”

Most important of all: I ask the Lord to give me ideas. He does.

Do you have any tips for developing characters?

I feel like I’m friends with the people in your stories, but I know that means that you must have put tons of time into making those characters into real people. How do you do it?

With my major characters, such as Kate, Anders, and Erik in the Northwoods novels and Libby, Caleb, and Jordan in the Riverboat Adventures, I ask myself, “What does this character want? Then, “How can I say no?” That way my characters get really motivated and conflict develops.

I also try to develop characters that have both strong and weak character qualities. If a strong quality goes too far it can become a weak characteristic. For instance, Jordan is so courageous that at times he can be too brave, and it borders on recklessness.

I want to become a writer. What should I do?

Read. Read. Read. Not junk, but good stuff. What you read will shape you. Ask yourself, What do I want to give to my reader? How can I contribute to a reader’s life?
How can I encourage and help someone who reads my work?

Write. Write. Write. Listen to people who can help you improve. Then write some more.

Think about how your teachers help you improve your writing. Learn from their suggestions. When you have the opportunity, take good writing classes through schools, colleges, universities, online courses, and writers conferences. If you don’t understand why a teacher consistently corrects one aspect of your writing, find out.

If you’re older and live near a good Christian writer’s group, see if there’s a critique group you can join.

Pay attention to what kind of writing you like to do most. Who are the authors you admire? What do you learn from their style of writing? Do you prefer writing stories or personal experience articles? Do you like writing true stories about what people do or would you rather write imaginary stories? Do you like writing a news article or a feature? When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure about what I liked best. I tried several kinds of things until I knew what I was best at doing.

Notice this: How do the authors you love help you love reading? What’s a special characteristic of what they offer? For example, I especially like to put cliffhangers at every chapter. I end a chapter at an exciting point in the hope that my readers will want to keep reading. I especially like writing historical novels because they can offer both excitement and nostalgia, along with a sense of “They lived through a difficult time. So can I.”