Guest Post: Writing What You Know by Allen Brokken

Writing What You Know by Allen Brokken

Allen Brokken is on the blog today. He’s the author of the Towers of Light Series, a middle-grade christian fantasy series. The second book in the series, Still Small Voice, released on July 24th.

Allen’s kindly offered to share his thoughts and experiences on drawing stories from real life. Please welcome Allen Brokken!

One of the first axioms I ever heard about writing was “Write what you know.” When I was a kid that took the form of modifying Star Wars, GI Joe, and the Transformers to make me the hero. As I grew up, I came to understand there were potential copyright issues with that so I focused on different things.  

When I became a parent, I began to write stories for my children—bringing my children’s stuffed animals to life for silly adventures. One day, while we were putting together a play fort in our backyard, I saw a sunrise pattern on the wood at the top of the tower. I thought:

What if there was a Tower of Light shining God’s goodness over the children and their animals?

What if the children experienced the indwelling of the holy spirit in a real way like Sampson or David?

What if the full armor of God was physical armor that they could use to defeat the darkness?

That was all well and good, but where would this tower stand? When would it be built? At first, I defaulted to the typical mid-evil European environment. But I didn’t know anything about that. What I did know about was the 1800s era Midwestern United States. I grew up on a farm and, from baling hay to feeding the animals, much of the work wasn’t that different from how it was in the 1800s. I was surrounded by the recent history of the area.

Recreating the Scenes of Your Life.

As a kid, I remember spending uncounted hours exploring the woods and fields around my home. What was great about my experience was, my kids were now experiencing a similar life. Our home had a stream and woods behind our house and they were regularly exploring these areas on their own. This experience drove one of the first scenes that came to mind where the Darkness pollutes the stream the family uses for water.

Not everything you know makes a great story.

As the story developed, I initially tried to recreate the experiences in those places. A big thing my kids and I did in the stream was play hydro-engineer. Digging little trails and channels, trying to move water from one place to the other. In the first edition of Light of Mine, I had a whole chapter around the kids using these techniques to water the animals. It turned out to be a real snoozer from a storyline perspective so I had to rework it into the scene with the windmill.

You don’t always KNOW what you think you do.

That scene brings up a good point: You really don’t always know what you think you do. As I envisioned Aiden, one of the main characters in my Tower of Light series, trying to repair the broken windmill, I realized I’d been around them my whole life but I didn’t really know how they worked. I didn’t have the right concept of the physical dimensions and how the “fix” would actually work. I had to find a working windmill, examine it, and read quite a bit on the internet to put it all together.   

Not everything you know fits.

My grandfather was a founding member of the Midwest Old Threshers reunion which highlighted the farming equipment and techniques of the late 1800s and early 1900s (he even had a working steam engine). As I envisioned my world, I became enamored with the possibility of making it more of a steampunk setting. As an engineer professionally, I realized I was more likely to get caught up in gears and metallurgy than telling a great children’s book. So I backed away from that concept and worked to ground it more in daily frontier life.

Some things make great people.

One of the best parts of writing fantasy is that anything can happen. For me, a lot of my story was very serious. There are significant consequences for what’s going on in this world. But I remembered classics from my own youth always had a drop of comedy to cut the tension. And that’s where my kids stuffed animals came to life. By providing each of them with a special power and personality, I was able to take an inanimate object in our home and breath life into it in a way that injects just the right amount of fun where it’s needed.

Writing about what other people know is a plus.

The Church I attended had been in operation since the 1860s and there was a regular focus on sharing the history of the church community. It fit the setting perfectly, and I patterned a lot of what goes on in the series around that old church and others like it. Beyond that, I knew that the songs I sang in Sunday School, like This Little Light of Mine, had been sung there for generations.

By using This Little Light of Mine as a focal point for the opening of my series I was able to bring to life something many other Christians knew very well and personally tied to their own childhood. At the same time, the fantastical way singing that song impacts the story drives a powerful message about personal faith that resonates in a way that an original song written for the book would not.

Closing Thoughts.

If you are new to writing, don’t be afraid to write what you know. A minor spin on it here or there and you have a whole new world to work with.

The second book in the Towers of Light series, Still Small Voice, is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers online. Learn more here.

About Still Small Voice

As defenders of the light, three children embark on a journey to stop the dark forces invading their land.

Because of their faith, twelve-year-old Lauren and her younger brothers, Aiden and Ethan, prevailed in the battle for the Tower of Light. But their victory did not stop the Dark One. Darkness continues to spread across Zoura’s frontier.

Now, in a vision, Mother tells them to light a second tower in Blooming Glen. Before they can set out on their journey with the Knight Protector, their Uncle arrives with a different set of instructions. He doesn’t trust the Knight Protector or the Mighty Mercenaries and believes the children should go to grandma’s house instead.

Unyielding in his belief, Uncle unknowingly leads the children off their path. And a misguided acolyte follows them. Lurking in the shadows, he strikes at every opportunity as the dark forces prepare to descend.

Lauren, Aiden, and Ethan are Zoura’s last defense. Can they convince their Uncle of the truth—that he must listen to the still small voice—and make it to Blooming Glen before the Dark One’s forces overtake them?

About Allen Brokken

Allen Brokken is a teacher at heart, a husband and father most of all. He’s a joyful writer by the abundant grace of God. Follow his endeavors @towersoflight, @twodadsandajoke, and Your children can grow their own faith and love of God by following the adventures of Lauren, Aiden, and Ethan (plus their pets!) at

Still Small Voice Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, July 23rd Texas Book-aholic

Friday, July 24th For the Love of Literature

Saturday, July 25th Artistic Nobody (Author Interview)

Sunday, July 26th Inklings and notions

Monday, July 27th Library Lady’s Kid Lit

Tuesday, July 28th Vicky Sluiter (Author Interview)

Wednesday, July 29 Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations

Thursday, July 30th Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy

Friday, July 31st A Baker’s Perspective (Author Interview)

Friday, July 31st Blogging With Carol

Saturday, August 1st Deb’s Book Review

Sunday, August 2nd A Reader’s Brain

Monday, August 3rd Through the Fire Blogs (Author Interview)

Tuesday, August 4th For Him and My Family

Wednesday, August 5th My Devotional Thoughts (Author Interview)

Thanks to Greg Pattridge for hosting MMGM! Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Published by K.A. Cummins

K.A. Cummins is an award-winning author and artist. Her publications include Havok Publishing, Rattle, Blue Mesa Review, and her middle-grade series, Snow Globe Travelers.

15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Writing What You Know by Allen Brokken

  1. What a brilliant idea and such a gift during these current times. I looked at some of the online lessons and was intrigued! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi, Rosi. Me too. It’s interesting to hear about the different processes and approaches to writing. And thank you for the welcome.

  2. Welcome to MMGM, K.A.! I really enjoyed the guest post by Allen Brokken, and I especially enjoyed touring your wonderful website. Thanks for sharing Allen’s new release with us for MMGM! :0}

  3. This sounds like an really interesting series.I really liked what he said about not knowing what you think you know–so true. I like the sound of a fantasy/steampunk with a strong Christian message. I’m always on the lookout for fantasy series like this for my kids, who still like MG even in their teens.
    Welcome to MMGM!

    1. A Christian fantasy steampunk for middle-grade would fun. All the gadgets and gears and inventions. Thanks for the warm welcome, Jenni!

  4. Welcome to our MMGM group. I really learned a lot from reading Allen’s post on what works and doesn’t when writing what you know. His series sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Yes, I really enjoyed all of the wonderful insights into Allen’s fantasy writing. His story sounds engaging and fun. Enjoyed the story about what he thought he knew when writing about trenches and the windmill. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your book launch!

  6. What a great guest post! Thanks for sharing, and welcome to MMGM!

    1. Allen did a great job. His posts often incorporate family and faith and have a wonderful nostalgic feeling. And thank you for the warm welcome!

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