The Art of Story

Tess O’Shay is in her mi’s, has red hair, green eyes and a feisty temper. She says what she thinks, which I love about her, and has a deep wound that has held her in a bondage of her own making for ten years. She’s lost her mother to cancer, her father to a heart attack and is the only family her sixteen-year-old sister has left.

And she’s a figment of my imagination.

I’ve spent the last several months learning her back story, creating her personality and watching her take off in directions I didn’t foresee. That’s the magic of writing story—that the characters somehow become as real to me as my closest friends. And often, they speak to me in a way real people can’t.

In the six plus years I’ve been putting my often-times suppressed imagination into story, I’ve discovered that each of my characters are, at heart, a part of me. This is why my agent, Karen Ball, says that we must dig deep to write from our true core. What is it that we struggle with on the deepest of levels and how do we make our characters come alive with that realization?

In ninety-thousand words, I can bring characters to life (I hope) give them an impossible situation to overcome and, in the end, leave them more spiritually fulfilled and stronger for the experience. And let’s not forget happier. Because who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way, at least not within the context of a few months. If it did, we wouldn’t need to lose ourselves in other people’s stories. The life lessons Tess learns from the first page to the last has taken me years to realize. And isn’t it great when the characters we read about (and write about) take those lessons to heart and don’t have to relearn them again and again? And again? It sometimes seems as if God is continually showing me His truth because I forget them from one struggle to the next.

And I pray it’s those truths that come through in my writing. For God’s glory, not my own.

A young man said to me today, “Isn’t it amazing how every time you read the Bible, you find it applies to your circumstances?” That’s the living, breathing Word of God. And as I finish up my edits with Tess and Jake and Katie, my prayer is that God uses me as a tool to breathe His Word to those who need it. Because story isn’t just about being entertained, it’s about connecting with the characters, and the ability to see how their lives might reflect our own.

Jennifer Sienes has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education. She was a 2013 Genesis Semi-Finalist and is a 2014 Genesis Finalist. She has three short stories published in the Inspire Faith and another short story A God-Colored Lens in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury released last month. She is represented by Karen Ball of the Steve Laube Literary Agency. Connect with her at

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