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.

The meaningful writing

What is our purpose? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life, or the meaning of life? These are important questions that people have been asking for a very long time. When it comes to writing, we, the authors are in control of the purpose of the book and its characters.

We decide what we are writing about and who we are writing to. That’s how we start and base the structure upon that. Who is the writing for? What do we want it to achieve? These are the questions we have to ask ourselves before we start planning or writing.

Last week, we saw that the Bible has a structure of a story, a setup, the main body of the story and the conclusion. The Bible is a story, yes. But it is also an instructional book. It tells us the story of God, but also how God works in us and how He moves in us (in ways that simply blow our minds). So there is a different structure to the Bible as well. And when we compare the Old Testament and the original Hebrew Bible of the Old Testament, they are again structured differently. So what do the compilers of the Christian Old Testament want us to know?

The Hebrew Bible is separated into three parts – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Christian Bible kept the Law as it is, the first five books, Genesis to Deuteronomy. We rearranged the rest into:

  • history books – Joshua to Esther
  • writings or poetry – Job to Song of Songs (Song of Solomon)
  • major prophets – Isaiah to Daniel
  • minor prophets – Hosea to Malachi
  • Gospels – Matthew to John
  • church history – Acts
  • Pauline Epistles – Romans to Philemon
  • other epistles – Hebrews to Jude
  • apocalyptic – Revelations

When we see the structure of the Bible, we can start to see where we can get a better understanding of its purpose.

So if you, like me, want to write a children’s story, we need to see what makes a good children’s story first. Do your homework, look at other children’s stories you like to read to your little ones. See the repetition and structure. That’s what you need to incorporate in your own writing. We the authors have to give our writing structure to help our readers get the message.

Hebrews 12:2 tell us that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. So if you want to understand the purpose and meaning of your life, look at how God has structured and guided you.

God structures things, therefore, we need too as well.

Take your time

The last place anyone would expect to hear the phrase “Take your time,” would be in the army. In times of war, time is of the essence. Everyone on the battlefield wants the war to be over and done with so they can go home to their loved ones. Soldier have to get to places in time in coordinated assaults. And the person who would survive the first volley of a battle are the ones doing the shooting.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was conscripted into the Singapore Army. The one phrase I remember hearing the most was, “Take your time”. The phrase was dripping with sarcasm, of course, but it was still surprising.

So it takes me great pleasure to present to you my advise in writing. Please take your time when you write, and no, there is with no sarcasm attached to this. Take your time to get it right.Take your time to do proper research on your topic. Take your time to find a proper illustrator (if you are working on a children’s story). Take your time to form the sentences. Take your time to tell your story. Time gives us a chance to reset our minds, gives us a better chance to catch mistakes we had made earlier when writing.

When man sinned, God already knew the solution and knew what needed to be done. God could have fixed it up straight away, but He knew it had to be done right. God had to prepare the hearts of men, prepare the bloodline of Jesus, prepare people to receive the forgiving grace of God, prepare the technology needed for the final events described in the book of Revelations. Even after over six-thousand years (give or take), we are not ready for the final events yet. And we know God isn’t slack (2 Pet 3:9), so He has been at work, getting things ready. So why are we not there yet? Because all these preparation requires time to get them right.

And our writing, as good as we are at our craft, require the same thing. We need the time to get it all right. God takes millenniums to get His preparation right, so what is wrong with taking a few extra weeks to get it right? Not a lot. So remember to “take your time”. It doesn’t cost a lot, but it will bring a lot of returns.

Make it last

So for the past few weeks, I have been talking about the Generosity Gospel. If you’re scratching your head, wondering what is the Generosity Gospel, go look at my past few posts.

I hope that in the last few posts, you noticed that I broke the big topic into many smaller items and stretched it out. Like all good things, we want to make them last. And a good, challenging topic is no different.

God, in the Bible talks about many different topics, but He doesn’t lay it all out in one go. He stretches it out and we can read about it throughout the Bible. We learn one aspect here and a few weeks or maybe even months later, we learn another.

Having the time between the different aspects allows us to process and internalise. We get to learn more when we ponder on a topic over time, much like cooking. Simmering over low heat over a long time turns tough sinew from something tough and chewy into something tender and falls apart in our mouths.

The description of God’s throne room in Revelations 4 is the most descriptive reveal of God in the Bible. It describes His surrounds and gives us an physical image to picture. But this isn’t complete. It is like a final reveal after the massive build up that starts in Genesis 1.

Just reading Revelations 4 might give us a description of God in His throne room, but it fails to tell us what God is like, His character, His attributes, etc. In a way, the description fails to fully describe His majesty, glory, holiness, and when taken without the context of all the other things we learn about God, fails miserably in describing God fully. I believe that’s why God doesn’t give us such a detailed description of Himself until the final book in the Bible.

There’s so much to Him that we need the time to process before we get a full idea of who He is. So when you write to discuss difficult topics, take your time, stretch it out a little and make it last.

Creativity from a creative God

Is the world running out of ideas? I’m a big movie fan, and I feel that the movie industry is running out of creative ideas. Most modern movies seem to depend on computer generated action sequences. Everything happens so fast that even in slow-mo, we can’t make out what’s happening.

Add to that the number of sequels that seem to use past plots only adds to that feeling. Disney seems to be making more life-action films of their past movies. Aladdin, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Jungle Book, Dumbo, are only a handful of these movies. And they do not stray very far from the original movies.

Even looking at superhero movies, there’s not a lot of creativity in their storylines. Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is material borrowed from the comics. And when searching through Netflix films, we find a lot of movies based on books. So I do grieve the lack of new stories on TV or in movies.

The best example I can think of is Star Wars. They had a very creative and successful start. They told the origins of story badly. And for the last trilogy, they decided to start rehashing the original trilogy.

It started with episodes 4-6 which were very well received. Good work. Tick. It kept the creativity with had an original story. Did it work? Sorry, nope. The story was original and answered many questions that fans had about the story. But it wasn’t well told and was widely panned.

Now what choice did they have if they were going to keep telling the story? Time to start copying from the successful trilogy. The results are Star Wars episode 7-9, and these are the worst of the lot. Episode 7 took bits and pieces from episode 4-6, stuck them in a blender and served it up as it was. Episode 8 is a retelling of Episode 5, and Episode 6 and 9 seem to have too many parallels to be a coincidence. I do not think this was the right path to take. They are back where they started after episode 6. People are asking again, what’s happening now that the Empire (or the First Order) is over thrown? How did the First Order (or Empire) come to be? And because of this, episodes 1-3 are way better than episodes 7-9. Episodes 1-6 had continuity.

Although Star Wars’s A New Hope followed your classic “good vs bad” story, but it had amazing storytelling. It had an imaginative world with new kinds of people, crammed into this classic story. Us vs them, good vs evil, killed or be killed. But that’s what made it so good. It took a classic story and brought creative elements into it. And that’s what made it so good. At the end of the day though, the franchise tossed what was good about the original into the bin. Along with it went the successful elements of the series.

So, are we running out of ideas? Looking at what I talked about, I don’t blame anyone for agreeing with the thought, but is it true? As a movie goer, sure, but as a storyteller, I disagree.

Many authors are coming up with great stories still. That’s why many movies and tv shows take their stories from them. As a writer myself, I have gotten creative ideas from the most amazing places. I would not call myself creative, but I get these inspirations out of the strangest places.

I was waiting in line with my son for him to get a Covid-19 test. It was cold, the line was long (2 hour wait to enter the building), and it tested both our patience. But I decided to work on a book idea. Next thing I noticed something and it would make a great story. So this is a story I’m working through these days.

I cannot say that these ideas came from deep inside me. I had to work at it, but when I did that, God moved. He is my source of my inspiration. God is the creative one. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. And because God made us in His image, we too have His creativity (Gen 1).

If you are looking for a creative idea, try giving God a short prayer asking for inspiration. And He will be faithful to promises to you.

Let us know how you go.