Learning From the Pros

After meeting the wonderful and vibrant author Colleen Coble at the Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW13) last weekend, I decided to give reading Christian fiction another try. She’s written a gazillion books that have appeared on best seller lists.

Of course, I want to be her.

So I read one of her recently published novels, Rosemary Cottage. And yes, it is what is sounds like, ROMANCE. There’s romance in it, but it is also a cozy mystery. This is one of those books you can take with you on vacation and lose yourself for a couple of hours. Except for the hour I spent at the dentist’s office, I think I devoured this one in four. It was a great, engaging read.

Don’t worry, there’s no spoiler alert here. That’s not the purpose of this post. What I did was (other than enjoy it) analyze it for what I’d like to be able to achieve in my writing, and to see all of those techniques she taught at MWW13 in living color.

First, this is Christian fiction. But like the title of her intensive workshop session, it’s not your grandmother’s inspirational writing. This was not about one of those vanilla Christians whose only vices are white lies and pride (because all us Christians are like that, right?). No, Coble gives us characters with real issues they have to work through during the course of the story. And her protagonists don’t come to the realization of their vices after pages and pages of someone preaching a sermon. They do it through the consequences of their actions. And not that I’m adverse to hearing the Word. For me, it has to come off naturally. Otherwise, it’s like back story that stops the flow of the plot. In Rosemary Cottage, Christianity is just an extension of who the characters are. When faced with adversity, they pray, briefly. They attend church like an everyday occurrence. Coble could have just as easily sent them to the store.

She also does a marvelous job with layering, a writing technique that gives a story more substance. This is different than subplots. Writers deepen their stories through multiple layers in the setting, the characters, and the problems needing to be solved. Boy, does Rosemary Cottage have a lot of layers! From some of the Christian fiction I’ve read—and I could just be picking the wrong ones—the story lines are two-dimensional (except for Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, excellent read!). I took those layers and completed a Venn diagram with the three POV characters from Rosemary Cottage (yes, I’m a nerd). The connections with all those layers were amazing. I’m going to measure the depth of my own manuscript this way, too.

Needless to say, Rosemary Cottage has renewed my faith in Christian fiction. I didn’t think my manuscript could be classified that way because I assumed the Christian part had to be overt. I don’t have that. But my beta readers and critique group members spotted Christian themes in my novel (maybe they aren’t as subtle as I thought).

But if you want to disappear for a couple of hours, read Rosemary Cottage. One doesn’t have to be Christian to appreciate the truths Colleen Coble so elegantly conveys.


About Michelle McGill-Vargas

Michelle hails from Gary, Indiana where she enjoys writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. Her writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", and "Typehouse Literary Magazine." She served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium. Until the day her historical fiction manuscripts get published, she pays the bills as a special education administrator with a background in deaf education. In October 2018, she will be a contributor to Concordia Publishing House's quarterly devotional series "Portals of Prayer." Visit her blog at www.michellemcgillvargas.wordpress.com
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4 Responses to Learning From the Pros

  1. Carmelle says:

    Very nicely written.

  2. Grace Gillespie says:

    My daughter likes Colleen Coble. I will have to read her books!

    • askdelta8 says:

      I met Colleen at a writers conference this summer. We’ve been in touch and she actually asked to read a piece of my manuscript. I was so honored! She’s an awesome person. Extremely nice and down-to-earth. Like I said at today’s seminar, I’ve just gotten back to reading Christian fiction… and it’s because I took one of Colleen’s classes. I have her latest book and plan to read more. Hope you like her, too!

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