Make sense, make history

Some people value the New Testament over the Old Testament. Some, the other way round. I personally like reading parts of the Old over the New because of their compelling stories. The epic adventures of King David, the king who was once a lowly shepherd, for example, is one of my favourites.

But that doesn’t mean I value one over the other. In fact, one is not complete without the other. The Old Testament informs the New, just as the New Testament is built on the old.

The Old Testament gives us the settings in which the New Testament was revealed to all mankind. It sets the scene, gives us context to understand the New Testament and completes the picture for us.

We learn so much from history. What happened yesterday guides us today. We learn a lot from the lessons learnt throughout history. We see the mistakes of our forefathers and a close study of the past will show how those events have shaped us and our society today.

As writers, we too need to provide context for our readers to set the scenes in their heads. They need to know what is happening, why it is happening, to have a proper context to your stories. If we took out the context, we cannot understand the the story.

So, the writing advice for this week is, help your readers make sense of the story by making up some history to put things in context for your readers.

Connect with your audience

I recently had a terrible day when everything felt down and depressing. There was nothing wrong with the world around me. I just felt down, like nothing mattered. The sun was shining, but it couldn’t pierce the darkness that settled upon my soul.

I don’t know why, but I was drawn to read Ecclesiastes, where nothing seemed to matter. I had always struggled with that book because it always seemed so downright depressing, where everything seems to be “meaningless”.

But who would have thunk it, I saw many injustice described in Ecclesiastes that are around in our society, and it felt good just knowing that we’re not the only society seeing this happening. You hear that? We’re not alone. And that these things are meaningless. Don’t sweat it. There’s more important stuff to think about and more interesting things to do than worry and be depressed about.

What’s important here as a writer is this. It connected with me. It spoke to me. It encouraged me and lifted my spirit. I felt refreshed and ready to take on the world after reading Ecclesiastes. And our writing should speak. It should help others connect to the world around them. Tell them ‘yes, we’ve felt that way before’, ‘you’re not alone’, or others have gone this way before because, who knows who will pick up your book and need a quick pick me up one day.

So, when you’re writing, remember to try connecting with your readers. And do try reading the various books of the Bible when you’re I certain moods. I think my next moody read should be the Song of Songs…

Don’t reveal everything

Ever notice how the Bible stories are laid out? How we aren’t given all the details  and have to fill in some other gaps with our imagination? Interesting, isn’t it, considering I remember being taught to add more details into my stories when I was younger.

My belief is I was taught wrongly as a child when it comes to writing. As storytellers, our focus should be on the narrative and events, not the minute details of everything around. John’s recollection of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (Jh 8:3-11) has a lot missing from it when compared to what I was taught. What did Jesus write in the dirt? Where’s the man who she was with? Was she allowed to clothe herself before being dragged out? And if not, did she have a sheet to cover up with?

Here’s the whole point. What is important is not the details that will distract from the story. The important thing is that the woman was condemned by others who were also guilty in the eyes of God. They knew that they were guilty themselves, but chose not to see it until Jesus said (in Dave’s not so loving paraphrase), “she is guilty, but so are all of you.”

So when we write, remember what is important, and what is not. And you will be a better writer.

Having God without God

The book of Esther is a good read. It is one of my favourites, especially since it is one of the easy to read short stories. It has one really interesting feature that makes it stand out to me – it doesn’t mention God.

I want to point out that God was working in the midst of Esther’s story and although it doesn’t specifically mention God, we can see His hand at work. God works in our midst, even when we don’t see it or ask for His help or guidance.

God works behind the scenes in a lot of lives, even when we want Him at the forefront. We usually can’t see it when we’re going through the midst of our issues. It is amazing to see how things work out when we look back.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

My first published story, The Lost Animals, talks about how God works in our lives. He gives us help when we need it from any aspect that we do not expect. And it shows how people do not have to have all the answers (See 1 Cor 12:4-7).

I hope that if you want to write about story for His glory, I hope you do not feel compelled to squeeze God into a story. God doesn’t need us to fit Him into a story when it won’t add to the story. We bring Him more honour with a good coherent story without God, than an incoherent story with God squeezed in there somehow.

Plan your story

I was helping my neighbour build his home extension a while ago. It was the first time I was involved in a building project and it was interesting. I think we took as much time comparing the plans to the pieces of structure as we did measuring the placements and nailing them into place.

I was only involved in setting up the frame, but every part of the frame played a part in creating and supporting the floor plan. It wasn’t easy getting the picture of the final product then, but in these final days of construction, I can now see my neighbour’s vision.

Planning takes time. It takes us away from the fun part of writing – the writing. But planning is important as it gives our story structure. It helps us tell the complete story. We know what we’re working towards and what we’re working with.

Even from the very beginning, God had a plan and a purpose for man’s redemption (Gen 3:14-15). And the rest of the Bible serves to build upon that plan. Do a search on Jesus in the Old Testament and you’ll see what I mean.

So before you write, make a plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but you need to know what you’re working towards.