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.

Structuring your story

We love structure. I love when there is structure to my day. Others love architecture, looking at building structure. Structure gives us a way to form incredible things.

Our homes have a structure. Kitchen is over on one side, living area is over there. Bedroom, bathroom, toilet, laundry, etc each have their own spots. And even when they seem to mix, there is still a separation.

Structure gives form and purpose, and helps us to see said form and purpose. The Bible has the same thing. It has a story structure – a beginning, a middle and an end. It tells us of the story of God moving amongst mankind. And the structure helps us to understand the story.

There is an introduction or a setup – the “fall of man” when sin came into the world when Adam sinned. That introduces us to the problem that the Bible highlights and addresses throughout the rest of the book.

Next comes the problems and God’s intervention that arise from sin. The story of Noah, the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and the nation of Israel’s rise and fall all play a key role in the story of a Bible.

Jesus and his redemptive work is the ultimate solution in the Bible. And it goes on to build upon that in most of the New Testament letters. And the conclusion, the ultimate showdown and climax would be Revelations.

Stories requires the same thing. We need to provide an introduction – what’s started the whole thing off? What is the problem that the story seeks to address? What is the solution that fixes the problems? And finally what is the ultimate conclusion?

So when you write your story, remember the simple the three form structure – the setup, the problems and solutions that arise from the setup and the conclusion.

How to reframe your topic

Last week, I talked about the Prosperity Gospel (PG) and how many who talk about it have missed the point. We talk about it in this day and age about receiving the reward for giving. Go read about it if you want to know more.

Because of this false focus on the PG, many people have an issue with the prosperity gospel. They feel that the PG promotes greed and features God as someone we can get to do our bidding. Interestingly enough, I got saved when I heard the Good News through a preaching on the PG. Now you have an idea of the kind of person I was. I’ve grown a lot since then, so put away your pitch-forks and torches.

But the PG is very much misunderstood by just about anyone who’ve talked about it online. That has a lot to do with its name. With such a name, just about everyone thinks it is about wealth and ‘having’.

Christ is in the business of inward change, not outward change, therefore nothing in the Bible talks about outward action. Therefore, we have to conclude that what we call the PG is not about giving and receiving as they are outward actions.

So what should the conclusion be? I propose that God is talking about being generous, not about giving, not about receiving. Generosity is an inward attitude that is demonstrated externally, and therefore, it is a better understanding of God’s goal for us.

Let’s bring this back to writing and storytelling now. I have tried to reframe the point of the PG by talking about what I think it is truly about instead of tearing it apart. If we seek to convince people, it is easier to start on a place of agreement. People are more open to hearing from us when they think we agree with them – we see this in many people’s social media use.

It has been shown that people are spending so much time because the AI behind people’s newsfeed tend to show people what they are interested in. People won’t be shown ideas from others who oppose theirs, so you’ve gotten past the first gate-keeper – social media algorithm.

Now that you’ve gotten past their defences, people start reading. If they see that you’re tearing down their belief system, they’re turned off. However, if you show that there’s agreement, you have a captive audience and can “redirect their gaze”. You have an open door to reframe the narrative.

Let’s look at a classic movie (I term it classic because it’s over 20 years ago when it was first released). They started showing how Shrek was a classic ogre – dirty and disgusting creature which is destined to live alone. That’s the “agreement” part. Most people would think that’s the image of ogres in their minds.

From this place of agreement, the story goes on to show how Shrek isn’t just a dirty, disgusting creature. He is also a friend and someone who is capable of love. I’ll leave the summary as that as I don’t want to spoil the story for those who may not have watched the movie.

So my writing tip for you today is this – start from a place of agreement and make your point. You go fishing with something fish wants to eat, not not something that drives them away.

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.