robin jones gunn

What Makes A Really Great Story?

I’m kind of in the process of writing a book. A novel.

I say kind of because it feels a little like playing house.

So no one hold their breath.

I’ve never considered myself a writer.Especially not a storyteller.

I have friends that weave stories in their daydreams and always seemed lost in plot. Haha. See what I did there? Imagining characters and creating their stories while they drive, sit at work or space out while you are talking. It’s in their DNA. Crafting stories.

It is definitely not in my DNA. I am a consumer of story. I love to read. I love fiction and real life stories. I am always amazed at people’s creativity. And God’s. He writes really beautiful stories. And empowers others to as well.

Well, when I decided to go to the Writer’s Conference with Andrea, I started praying for a story. Just one. That might someday turn into a book. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much. But then as I was taking out my trash one night, God whispered an idea in my ear. And I’ve been toying with it ever since.

At the conference, I met a lovely lady named Nancy. I was immediately drawn to her. She struck me as vivacious, inviting and wise.

The conference was very stressful for me.

From the moment I got in the van, I had to come to terms with the fact that I might possibly be a writer. And if I was willing to be honest with myself, that I have dreamed of writing since I was small. But the desire to write was so precious and fragile that I had locked it away in a treasure box in my soul. Tucked away safely. Where moth and rust and criticism and failure could not touch it.

And at the conference I felt like God was giving me a choice. To open the box and give the dream to Him. Or keep it safely tucked away.

I left the conference with it safely tucked away. I’m not a writer. I’m a blogger. And I love blogging.

But late at night, I would listen to the sessions from the conference on my phone. Laying safely in my bed, I listened to author after fiction author talk about their process. And I realized that I wanted to learn more. About writing. A Fiction. Book.

So I’ve started a program. With my new friend Nancy Rue. To learn the craft of storytelling. For those who don’t dream in stories. But feel like they might have a story to tell.

What hooked me was when she used this verse from Psalm 48 in her workshop.

Circle Zion, take her measure,
    count her fortress peaks,
Gaze long at her sloping bulwark,
    climb her citadel heights—
Then you can tell the next generation
    detail by detail the story of God,
Our God forever,
    who guides us till the end of time. 

So anyway.

I’ve started learning about what makes a really great story. And it is blowing my mind. The crazy thing is we all learned (and possibly forgot) this structure in school.

Every story starts with the hero/heroine living their everyday life.

Then, there is an inciting incident that propels the story into motion.

Here’s what I didn’t know.

There is a question that drives every story. It is hidden in the heart of every hero/heroine. That leads and guides every choice they make. And the question varies from story to story. Hero to heroine. But it must be answered for the story to find resolution.

Doesn’t that sound like life? We all having a driving need. A hidden question. That we ask God over and over and over. And I’m convinced it different for each of us. There are themes and similar desires. But the way we phrase it is so personal.

And our lives are a beautiful story where God graciously answers the question of our soul, over and over.

The other thing I’m learning in my class is that in order to have a really great story, your hero/heroine has to be flawed. And real. With hopes, dreams, desires and fears.

And in order to truly tell their story, they will have to face their fears. You have to put them in situations that bring them to their knees.

Well. All of this knowledge has been rocking my spiritual world.

Because in my youth, I thought the Christian life was about getting it “right”. Trying to make the right choices, do the right thing, follow God without error or deviance from his path/will. And I believed that if done “right”, you could live a life free of pain, sorrow or heartache. I now see how this contradicts scripture.

But at 22, if I were the author of my story, here is how I would have written it:

There once was a girl named Leslie. She grew up in a loving home and met Jesus at an early age. Her childhood was filled with love and laughter. She had lots of friends and they never had any conflict. She went to college where she discovered her life’s calling-sharing Jesus with kids through the mission of Young Life. She married a man who shared her life’s passion and together they served the Lord wholeheartedly. Leading people to the feet of Jesus.  They never fought, experienced zero heartache and no tragedy ever touched their world. They had four lovely children who all grew up, safe and sound. Their children all fell in love with Jesus at an early age and followed Him all the days of their lives. And everyone died peacefully at a ripe old age.

But that is not the story of my life.

And that used to bring me great sadness. And shame. And a sense that I had somehow failed God. Because how could this be the story he wanted my life to tell.

And yet, the more I learn about what makes really great stories, the more I see my life through a gracious lens. The lens of love. And my life tells a beautiful story.

I can see the inciting incidences that have shaped my journey.

-In middle school, when I felt like the world ended when my friends stopped talking to me

-In college, when I had a car accident with a Young Life girl in the car

-In ministry, when I didn’t know how to talk to men in authority so I bailed  instead of learning a new skill

-In marriage, when the person I loved chose not to love me

-In divorce, when the church I expected to bench me, invited me to partner with them in ministry

-In Young Life, when God sent key people to heal old wounds and invite me back to a ministry that is in my DNA.

-In teaching, where God called me to a job that is as challenging as it is fulfilling which is where I love to live.

Each one of these incidents, has forced me to face my fears. They have driven me to my knees. They have broken me. And forced me to cry out the same question over and over. Which comes from my hidden need. And God in his kindness, has answered it every time. Not always how I would have preferred. Because He sees the bigger picture. And has the greater story in mind.

I could write about this forever. But I have to stop somewhere.

One last thing that amazes me about our lives, is all the sub-plots. And how there are multiple stories that are being written as we live on this earth. And how God is actively at work in each one. And His timing is perfect.

Look at your life.

What have been inciting incidents?

Have you allowed them to drive you to your knees? Are you in a season where you need God to answer that driving question that rattles in your soul? Again? Is whatever you are walking through an opportunity to face your fears? Perhaps it isn’t a punishment or a result of failure. But perhaps the Author of Life wants to being you freedom. Resolution. Redemption. In that area of your life.

Something Wanda Beth said recently stuck with me,”Answered/unanswered prayer has absolutely nothing to do with God’s love for you and everything to do with his plans and purposes for your life.”

Still chewing on that one.


Love, Love, Love,

The Girl Who Lives in My Head




Stories You Can Get Lost In: Christian Fiction

I heart books. They are some of my best friends.

I can tell you where I was when I read them the first time and why I treasure each one.

I have been thinking a lot about books lately because I am heading to my first ever writer’s conference in a few weeks with my friend Andrea. She is seven chapters into her first novel and I am tagging along for the ride.

And since I’ve been thinking about books, I thought I would share with you a few of my all-time favorites.  At least the ones that fall into the Christian fiction genre.


1. The Mark of the Lion Trilogy

I read the first book, “A Voice in the Wind” while I was on Christmas vacation in high school. My parents then spent the rest of the trip driving me around Florida in search of the second and third books.

Why I loved this series:

First of all, I am a history buff. And Francine Rivers brings the 1st century to life . This novel puts flesh and bone on the early Church and paints a riveting picture of life almost 2,000 years ago. It honestly transformed how I see the New Testament.

Secondly, Mrs. Rivers started her career as a romance novelist. After she came to faith in Jesus, she vowed to write for God’s glory. And she can write a really good love story.

Romans. Pagans. Jewish slaves. Socialites. Gladiators. Lions. Depravity. Love. Courage. Selflessness. Power. Hope. Darkness. Transformation. It’s all there in beautifully crafted layers.


2. Rekindled by Tamera Alexander

I could not put this book down. And it is one I could re-read over and over again. I’m kind of jealous of those of you who get to read it for the first time. Savor it. Take in each word slowly. Because it is that good.

It is a story of redemption. Second chances. When all hope is lost, our God is bigger.

The publisher says it this way, “Left for dead, Larson Jennings, returns home badly burned. His obviously pregnant wife Kathryn is losing their ranch. Disfigured beyond recognition to most–Larson is determined to save his family.”


3. Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker

If you have read any Ted Dekker’s books you know that he writes some dark and trippy things. This book is not dark. But it is trippy because it deals with the idea of multiple possible outcomes. Two lives intersect-a young graduate student who can suddenly see the future and a young woman from the Middle East trying to escape a predestined future. The results are thrilling!!!

The reason I love this book is because Mr. Dekker takes you on the adrenaline packed adventure of a well written story. What’s amazing to me is that while he keeps you on the edge of your seat, reading furiously,  he also shines a light on what life is like for young women in the Middle East. On top of explaining the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. But because his execution is flawless, you don’t even know it is happening. It’s like chocolate chip zucchini bread in book form. Except instead of vegetables, you are feasting on history.



4. Wildflowers by Robin Jones Gunn

This is the last book in a series that I read for the first time in college. (Did that make sense?) I think it is really odd that it is my favorite because the entire Glenbrooke series is about young women the in their 20’s except this one. It tells the story of a wife and mother named Genevieve.

The others books in the series were delightful. This one feels raw and real. It is about dreaming again. And God’s redemptive power when all hope seems lost. As a young girl, I saw my mother’s life in the main character. And I related to the daughter as she watches God make beauty from the ashes of her family.  If there were ever a book of Robin’s I would like to see as a Hallmark movie-it is this one.

“After 26 years of marriage, ‘all the doors to her heart were shut, and all the shades were pulled down tight,’ and she’s withdrawn from her faith (Crosby).


5. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti

Growing up, my parents were notorious for listening to sermons on road trips. Painful. So when my dad popped in a book-on-tape as we headed to North Carolina, my sister and I threw a hissy fit. Then we begged him to keep driving once we arrived at Grandma and Pop’s because we were captivated by the story.  Which he did.

This book changed how I saw the spiritual world. It enriched how I read the verses about spiritual warfare. Where Paul says that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”

It also changed the way I pray.

I love this book because it offers amazing insights into the heavenlies and explores what might be happening all around us. All the while telling a really great story. Keep in mind as you read that it is a fiction. A possibility. An imagining of the spiritual world. Designed to open our eyes to schemes and plans of the one whose  goal in life in life is to steal, kill and destroy us.


Whew. That was harder than I thought. And I feel like I’m throwing a party and had to leave some dear friends off the guest list.

What are some of your favorite Christian fiction novels?

Why did they make an impact on you?

I’m always looking for new books so let’s spread the wealth!! And please don’t worry-if your favorites don’t fall into the Christian fiction genre, there will be many more lists to come.


Love, Love, Love

The Girl Who Lives In My Head