Tag Archives: readers

Germs and Jesus

The preacher’s little son was repeatedly told to go wash his hands before lunch. The youngster demanded to know why he had to wash his hands before every meal, so his mother said, “Son, there are germs on your hands.”

He looked his hands over carefully, then said, “I don’t see any.”

“You can’t see them, but they’re there,” his dad said firmly. “Now go wash your hands.”

The little boy stomped away, shaking his head and mumbling, “Germs and Jesus…Germs and Jesus…that’s all they talk about in this house and I’ve never seen either one!”

My writer friend, when you sit down to write, do you have a strong desire that readers will see Jesus in your story? How do you accomplish this goal? Is it possible?

What stories have helped you see Jesus better?

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Too Heathen?

Has a secular writer has ever been rejected because their story was too heathen?

While I don’t want to come across as disrespectful and snarky, I do think it’s important to give some thought to the above question. Christian writers are often cautioned against being too preachy…too explicitly Christian. And, frankly, for some reason something about that concern bothers me.

In all intellectual fairness, it must be stated that there are various ways for a Christian worldview to manifest itself. A great example of this is the (Protestant) Bible. It’s a collection of sixty-six books that contain examples of multiple genres written by a host of personalities–all guided by the Holy Spirit. Some parts are explicit in their God-talk and others are less so. One book doesn’t even mention the name of God at all.

But, when it comes to Christian writers writing stories, what fuels the concern about being too preachy? By the way…[Larry slides out a different soap box and jumps aboard]…as a preacher, I take offense to the way the words “preach” and “preachy” are used. [Larry surveys the room and realized that no one else is here, so he shouts, “Amen! Preach it, brother!” Then, feeling silly, he gets off the second soapbox and returns to the first].

Are we to strike a balance between entertainment and mission?  Or do we have to choose between the two? How much is business-driven and how much is a reflection of the current state of American Christianity?

What do you think?

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When Jesus prayed for me & my readers

It happened one evening in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem…more than 2000 years ago. The disciples gathered with Jesus, and what transpired is known by theologians as “the upper room discourse.” The Apostle John used five chapters to cover a few hours of time. In chapter 17, we are allowed the soul-stirring honor of listening as Jesus prayed. He prayed for Himself, for the men gathered with Him, and then–in one of the most amazing moments in all the scriptures–Jesus prayed for us!

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone [the disciples in the room with Him], but for those also who believe in Me through their word;” (John 17:20)

Jesus prayed for believers who would become part of “the Church” that didn’t even yet exist! He prayed for those who would accept the word of the apostles. That word would be both spoken–via preaching and teaching–and written–by being recorded and thus preserved in the New Testament.

That’s you and me, folks! Jesus prayed for us. He prayed for those of us who would choose to believe in Him because of the timeless message of the apostles. They spoke the word about the Word. And centuries later, you and I–if we are in Christ–are beneficiaries of that message.

We have believed because of their word.

As a writer of Christian fiction, I certainly don’t live under the illusion that my words are inspired scripture. That would be heresy. But I do try to find creative ways to deliver the message that was handed down in the scripture: that Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and save sinners. And I pray for those who will read the words I write, and hope that they will find hope in Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus has already prayed for them too.

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That Small But Loyal Band”

One of the disciplines that I try to keep up as a writer–and one that I recommend to writers at all stages of their writing journey–is to keep two types of reading a part of your regular routine: First, always be reading a novel or two. Read novels of all genres. Learn to appreciate the skill of another writer’s ability to tell a story. Second, always read, and reread, books on the craft of writing. And don’t limit your reading to only your particular type of writing–fiction writers can learn from those inclined to the non-fiction side of the table, and visa versa).

I’m glad to tell you about the craft book I’m reading now, because it has been a tremendous blessing to me. It’s published by Writer’s Digest Books (they have several great ones), and is called Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I highly recommend this book by Rebecca McClanahan. It’s impossible to quote every line or paragraph that has wowed me (I think there are laws discouraging such liberal borrowing), so let me share just one quote (emphasis mine):

“Unlike visual artists, we [writers] have no brushes, no clay, no glazes, no many-colored palette to aid us in describing our world. And unlike performing artists, we have no keyboard, no trombone, no toe shoes, no tutu, no midair leap with which to stun our audience and ourselves. What we have is the alphabet, that small but loyal band of vowels and consonants.

Since the word is our only tool, we cannot afford to be imprecise…”

Writers are artists. I’m awed and humbled by that concept. Moreover, we’re using what has been entrusted to us as writers–namely words–to paint new worlds, or at least new perspectives of the old world, for our readers. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But writers know that the right words–precise and evocative–can be worth a thousand pictures in our readers minds.

So paint away, my friend. Gather that “small but loyal band of vowels and consonants” into a work of art. The world will be a more beautiful place because you did.

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“How do I get an oyster cracker out of my nose?”

The little quivering voice of my four-year-old son drifted from his car seat in the van.

“Dad, how…do I…get an oyster cracker…out of my nose?”

The wide, teary eyes that met my glance in the rearview mirror twisted my heart. He was trying to be so brave, but his chin  trembled ever so slightly. Help me was written on his delicate face.

He needed me.

As I pushed back against my urge to wax eloquent about the poor choice that led to the cracker’s ending up lodged in his nostril, I opened his door and told him, “How did you…? I mean…we’ll get it out little buddy.” So I peered up the nose hole in question, but saw nothing. I wanted to ask him if he was sure there was an oyster cracker up there, but I realized that this was no training exercise. This was the real thing. So I pinched the free-flowing side of his nose shut and said, “blow.”

Out came the cracker.

Then he looked at me, relief pulling the corners of his perfect little mouth into a smile. “Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son,” I said. “Let’s not put anymore crackers in your nose. Okay?”

He agreed.

What does this cranium cramming cracker caper have to do with writing? Something very important: I put myself in my four-year-old son’s shoes. I felt the worry–fear, even–from his perspective. I got into his head (though not through his unblocked nostril) and imagined what the experience was like through his eyes. The fear. The discomfort. The guilt (he knew he’d done something wrong). The the relief.

I try to live inside the heads of my characters when they appear on stage in the current chapter I’m writing. Many times this vicarious journey is a joy, and other times it is uncomfortable. I’ve tried to imagine the mindset of killers and cops, men and women driven by love, hate, loyalty, revenge, and dozens of other passions. It’s draining and exhilarating at the same time. I may not be able to agree with their motives or actions, but I want to know them. Well. There are great tools avaliable to help writers prepare a character interview of each major character. These aid a writer in getting in the skin of their characters.

I want to paint my characters so vividly that my readers can feel the villain’s stare on the back of their neck, or hear the beat of the endangered heroine heart in their own chest. I want a reader to think, I’ll help you…or…I’ll stop him. In other words, I want my characters to live in the imaginations of my readers. I want the characters to be so believable that my readers feel as if they know them. Or would really want to. Or, perhaps–in the case of an evil character–fear they might meet him.

Have you ever encountered a character in a book that you just couldn’t get out of your mind?

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Quality Never Goes Out Of Style

Great stories are timeless.

It doesn’t depend on genre, trends, or anything else. Great writing is great writing. Period. Quality doesn’t have a “use by” date. It continues to be used by God to reach new readers, years after its original publication date.

Isn’t that what we strive for as writers? Don’t we really want our stories to have long-lasting relevance? The potential for “timelessness” is one of the things that keeps me in love with writing.

As a preacher, I thrive on the preaching moment when I stand before a congregation and proclaim the Word of God. Preaching is a happening…an event. But the uniqueness of that experience is mostly a one-time thing. Recordings of sermons are great tools, but the dynamic isn’t the same. And I’ll repeat–so as NOT to allow room for anyone to suggest that I’m discounting preaching: I LOVE PREACHING. There’s an “aliveness” that surges through my soul when I’m preaching. I feel the same thrill about teaching. The church where I am privileged to serve means everything to me. I look forward to being with them each Sunday.

But there’s something different about writing. When I sit to write a story, I’m humbled anew at the vast potential that surrounds the words–potential to reach a vast number of readers, in various parts of the world, in different languages, even if they’re separated by years as well as other distinctions. And the digital revolution may just be making the potential even greater!

It’s the great “what if?” of possibility. And I can’t control much–if any–of it.

But I can have a direct influence on one thing: quality. I can refuse to settle for good writing and push myself for the best I can do, no matter where I’m at on the journey of writing. I can…I will…I must pursue excellence. That means I never stop learning the craft, because I respect it.

Because maybe, just maybe, my writing will change someone’s life. Even if it’s just mine.

 

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Lest We Forget

“I’m getting you that for Christmas,” announced my daughter, Jayne, as she pointed to something on a store shelf.

“Honey,” I said, “if you want to surprise me, you shouldn’t show me the present three weeks before Christmas, because now I know what it is.” My goal was to help my young daughter understand the joy of surprising someone with an unexpected gift.

It seemed to be a real hallmark moment…until she added, “I’m not worried, Dad. You’ll forget by Christmas.”

Out of the mouths of babes, huh?

One thing I’ve discovered about writing Christian fiction is that there’s nothing new under the sun. I’m not charged with discovering new truths to write about. However my task is nearly as hard (maybe harder). I’m called to reintroduce readers to truths that they’ve already seen before. And I’m expected to do it in a way that penetrates the walls of complacency surrounding their hearts and minds. I’m asking them to reconsider an old truth because I presenting it to them in a new way…wrapped in a story that captures their attention from both sides of their brain. And I’ve only got a few chapters…or pages…or paragraphs to do so.

What books have you read recently that caused you to think more about truths you already knew, but perhaps had forgotten about, or taken for granted?

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“The Best Is Yet To Come”

A little girl climbed onto her great-grandmother’s lap. She looked at the old woman’s snowy white hair, then at the many wrinkles that lined her face. “Great-Grandma, did God make you?”

“Yes,” the old saint replied.

“Did God make me too?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well,” said the little girl, “don’t you think He’s doing a better job now than He used to?”

I chuckle at that story, knowing that the little girl hadn’t yet learned that these physical bodies of ours are temporary, and are unable to hide the signs of wear and tear that come with age. She would eventually come to understand that her great-grandma didn’t start off old. It wouldn’t take long to discover that it was time that had carved those wrinkles and had taken the color from her great-grandma’s hair.

As a writer, I know that I only have a limited amount of time to write. And my readers are dealing with the same dilemma. I pray that the stories I write will draw them closer to the God that loves them. If I can urge someone to journey on with renewed strength toward heaven, then I’ve used my time wisely. If I write books that stir readers to a renewed commitment to the Lord, then it’s been time well spent. More than anything in this world–whether in preaching, teaching, or writing–I want to communicate that a God of love and mercy is knowable here, and invites us all into His hereafter.

No one will stumble into heaven accidentally.

That makes the call to write an important task. Time is limited to help point people in the right direction.

Can Christian fiction carry out this task?

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Oops!

Ever written something that didn’t quite communicate what you meant to say? Me too.

Enjoy the following bulletin announcements that I’m told actually appeared in church bulletins:

“Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight. Come and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.”

“At the evening service, the sermon topic will be What is Hell? Come early and listen to the choir practice.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Johnson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

“On Sunday a special collection will be taken to defray the expenses of the new carpet. All those wishing to do something on the new carpet, please come forward and get a piece of paper.”

“A bean supper will be held on Saturday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.”

“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind, and they may be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoon.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the church rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.”

“Barbara remains in the hospital, and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.”

After reading the above bloopers, I’m sure you agree that getting a fresh pair of eyes to view your writing is valuable. Do you have someone to read your “raw” Work-In-Progress and help you catch the bloopers that might be there?

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Real, not Raw

There are discussions among Christian writers as to whether or not certain types of language belong in Christian fiction. The debate seems to circle around the question, “how far is too far?”

I happen to believe that there’s nothing wrong with vigorous debate, until that debate becomes disrespectful. The problem is we’ve raised a few generations of people who don’t know how to discuss issues without taking things personally. Such a beginning point makes “agreeing to disagree” a noble yet nearly impossible goal.

Another part of this equation–for me–is that I don’t know if there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of using strong language in our Christian fiction. The reason is I can’t find the definitive list on what is and isn’t considered improper. Oh sure, I know there are the “really bad” words like **** and ****** and even **********. But what about *****? In some parts of the country people consider that a compliment. But what about the terms that are only kind of offensive, like ******, *******, and ****.

In all seriousness, there are Christian people on both sides of the language debate. Each is just as committed to good fiction as the other. Each seeks to produce powerful stories that will honor the light of the truth without ignoring the reality of the darkness into which that light shines. Some want to write characters–especially non-christian characters–who represent accurately the fallen humanity that lives around us. Others believe that capturing the ungodliness of the carnal world can be done without resorting to their vocabulary.

Personally, I am not comfortable in using “curse words” or four-letter words in my fiction. My reason is simple: I just don’t need to use those words. I believe that I can be creative enough to find other words that will show the same emotion without planting unhealthy seeds in a readers spirit. Do they encounter–perhaps even use–such “bad/unchristian” terms in their daily lives? Perhaps. That’s something I can’t control. But I can control whether they’ll encounter them in my books.

Which is more likely to happen: readers will stop reading my books if I DO use “bad” words or readers will stop reading them if I DON’T? Does slipping these words into my fiction repel of draw a reader?

Friends, in the spirit of Christian unity, let us be very careful about how we treat one another while carrying on this uncomfortable discussion. And when it comes to how we talk about one another, and our choice of vocabulary words to place in our books, perhaps Ephesians 4:29 can guide us:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

 

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