It’s All About Story

3 Lynn at her deskI’m sitting in a comfortable chair in my living room with a cup of tea, surrounded by stacks of library books, my laptop, and some movies I plan to watch. To the untrained eye it appears that I’m loafing, but I’m actually hard at work, searching for new worlds to discover. In other words, I’m researching my next book.

Living in the Information Age is both a boon and a trap for authors. With so much detailed information available, it’s easy to get lost in the jungle of research and never find the trail home. To avoid getting sidetracked, the “compass” I use to direct my search is a simple one: I always look for a story.

Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann

Here’s what I mean. At this stage of the writing process, my research resembles a huge mountain of facts that I must conquer. I will undoubtedly need those facts at some point, but in these early days I focus instead on the stories I find buried among the details. I’m currently researching the early years of archaeology in the 1800s. Who were the great explorers? Where did they excavate? What did they uncover? Hidden among the facts was a story that reads like a fairy tale. Heinrich Schliemann grew up poor, reading the tales of Homer and dreaming of finding buried treasure. Beginning as an apprentice in the grocery business, he eventually became a self-made millionaire. At age 61, he set out to find the lost city of Troy, convinced that Homer’s legends weren’t myths but descriptions of actual events and places. With Homer as his guide, he uncovered ancient Troy and its golden treasures. Schliemann’s story brought the facts to life for me and offered valuable insights into my characters’ motivations.

A Light to My Path IIAt some point I will finally close the books and explore the settings for my novel. Again, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by hundreds of precise details such as a period mansion’s architecture and furnishings. As I research my settings, once again I’ll look for stories. For my Civil War novel, A Light to My Path, I toured a beautiful southern mansion, taking copious notes and pictures. The tour guide questioned my interest, and when I told her I was a novelist, she offered an exclusive, post-tour peek at the slave quarters behind the mansion.slaves quarters

plantationI knew it would take pages to describe the differences between the mansion and those hovels! But then the guide told me a story: The mansion’s owners fled when the city fell to Union soldiers. The newly-liberated slaves moved out of their squalid quarters and into the Big House, using their owners’ dishes, sleeping in their beds, wearing their clothes. Again, a story offered insight into my characters’ point of view and showed me how best to present the settings’ differences.

Eventually I’ll have to sift through my mountain of research and decide what goes into the book and what doesn’t. But the story gems I discover will provide a head start in creating my characters—and they’re the most important story element to me. I always begin with my characters. How I create them is another story . . .


  1. Referencing the Candle in the Darkness series, I have to say that I am not a reader. Walking through an airport awaiting my flight, which had been delayed twice by now, I walked into one of the kiosk (not like the stores we have today) and saw your book, Candle in the Darkness laying on the table. I picked it up (thinking to myself what a pretty lady on the cover) and knew that I would never read it even if the cover is pretty. The book was small and thick but i had nothing but time. I decided against my better judgement to buy the book and see if I could make it through the first few chapters, that would be success for me. After getting settled with my coffee and finding my gate, i opened the front cover and started reading the first chapter. Two hours later, airplane still delayed, I had read almost 1/2 of the book. What a strange concept for me and I was hooked. My reason for sharing this is only to say that when you mentioned that success for you is not only monetary rewards and Best seller charts but changing someones life through your novels, well I was just that person. I have devoured each and every book you have written (to my knowledge) and find myself waiting in anticipation for your next reveal. God and Kings series re-introduced me to scripture and my relationship with the Lord. His hand was all over it and I could not get enough. Life for me has changed drastically over the years and see how God used your books to get me back in the word and spending time developing a long lost relationship with him, I’m so sorry for writing this mini novel and it is probably something you hear often but I am truly grateful for your books and inspiration directing your readers towards the word of God and creating a love for me to the historical significance in your writings. Never have I enjoyed history so much as when I read your books and it comes truly alive. Thank you so very much for doing God’s work and using your gifts. I guess it is truly good that I didn’t know you lived in Holland, MI as I grew up nearby and spend a lot of time there. I’m not very starstruck by people but I would have probably studdered had I run into you there. I have the great pleasure of coming to your book signing this week at Parable Kregels in Grandville, MI and I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book. I’m also told by my 17 year old daughter that she feels she needs her own copy too. She has fallen in love with your books as well and started with the God and Kings series. What more could a mother ask right? lol Thanks so much and I look forward to meeting you next week. Blessings, Susan

  2. Hi Lynn,
    I am reading the 3rd book in the Refiners series and can’t say enough about how the stories “sucked” me in! Knowing even in our smallness, the Lord loves and really is there is inspirational. Not sure if I could have lived through what the poor slaves lived through for sooo long. You have brought a lot of insight, I only wish the people of all color would realize we are all creatures of the same God and none are better.
    Again thanks,

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