The Superior Storyteller

As a writer, I often wonder, am I telling my story (fiction or real) in a way that people will both understand and embrace? Especially as a Christian who wants to relay certain truths (without the sermon), storytelling is my avenue by which I feel called to do it.

Sharing stories isn’t new. It seems to be ingrained in every human, perhaps even in our DNA. Storytelling goes back to cave-dwellers before written language. Scribes wrote down a leader’s accomplishments many times in the form of a story, sometimes true, often embellished to make said leader appear larger-than-life, and thereby worthy of being followed.

The Bible itself is full of stories. Whether you believe they literally happened the way they’re written or not is–as far as stories with a point go–irrelevant. Because the truth (or message) of that story is what matters. Many of Jesus’ words also took the form of stories, because he knew his audiences. To simply say, “don’t steal,” wasn’t enough to drive the point home. By creating characters who stole, and showing how those characters had to face sometimes devastating consequences, the listener (or reader), can better relate to the story, remember it, and hopefully apply the lesson to his/her own life.

I’m reading “Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine to Aquinas,” by Curtis Chang. The author also talks about telling stories, but on a macro, societal level. On page 29 he says, “The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch [or era]. History is replete with examples of epoch-defining power gained by superior storytelling.” He then goes on to use examples of the Nazis (negative), and the American civil rights movement, namely Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and his “I have a dream” speech (positive).

To use a cliche “the pen is mightier than the sword,” in many cases this is true. Hitler wielded words that turned Germany from the biggest loser in WWI to a world power in only a few decades. Dr. King wielded words that gave minorities a bigger and more influential voice in American society and politics. Their speeches often included narrative that, as Chang put it, “[took] every thought captive.”

As a storyteller, I and others like me sometimes forget the impact our words can have on others. Too often we think our words will never matter. While we may never spur a new epoch in our history, what about that those who take our words to heart, and in turn influence others who do change the course of history?

If you’re not a writer, and have no desire to be one, nevertheless, tell your stories. Show others the lessons life (or God) has taught you, so they may avoid the mistakes you’ve made, and instead enjoy more success.

Be a superior storyteller; take people’s every thought captive so that those who might otherwise lead them astray can’t.

Time to Produce

The best (and most thought-provoking) part of attending the RealmMakers writers conference a few weeks ago was spending time with Terry Brooks. He was gracious enough to read the first few pages of my fantasy (you can read more specifics here if you haven’t already).

What stuck with me was this part of the conversation:

“How much time do you spend per day writing?” Terry asked.

“About an hour.” (On a good day).

He scowled at me a bit and said, “If you’re not willing to give up everything for your writing, your writing will suffer. I’m not saying you have to, but you must be willing.”

I haven’t been able to get that out of my head, but at the same time, I haven’t yet seriously asked myself that question. Simply saying “yes” isn’t enough. I have to believe it.

I like what I’m doing other than writing too much. Note the qualifier “too much,” because I do many things that do little more than waste time; things that I can afford to rid myself of. That includes television and much of social media (not all, because publishers look for authors willing and able to market themselves via social media. I just have to manage my time on social media better [more on that in a future entry]).

If I’m serious about writing and publishing, I have to take it seriously. After all, once I get a book contract (and yes, I am assuming I’ll eventually get one), I will have to meet any deadlines. If I’m not willing to sacrifice my time now to write, how can I hope to sacrifice it later?

Just Like The Rest of Us

There’s one thing I hate about meeting with agents and editors (and a famous author this time around) is the anxiety. The fear of stumbling over my words, the inability to share my story correctly, and all-in-all making a bad impression.

Before my first appointment — a fifteen-minute mentor appointment with Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara series among others), I prayed most fervently to take away my anxiety. Not so much that I say all the right things (although I prayed that too, but considered that secondary). I hate being nervous, because ninety-nine percent of the time, that anxiety is in the end completely unfounded.

As I waited for my appointment with Terry, another writer was waiting for someone else to finish theirs. I mentioned how I’ve been praying for a calm spirit, she graciously (and beautifully) prayed for and with me. Her prayer even made me a little misty-eyed (and simultaneously grateful I don’t wear makeup).

During that appointment, and a literary agent appointment a few hours later, no nerves presented themselves. I was calm, confident, but also listened more than I talked. When I did talk about my story, the words flowed out of me when I usually stumble. I also didn’t hedge or try to figure out what they wanted to hear (as if I could anyway, but still I try. I can’t help it. I know why I do, but that’s an entry for another time).

The literary agent was intrigued by my idea, but as he speed-read through the first couple of pages, he said that while he’s intrigued, the jump between the prologue and the first chapter was too jarring. Still, he did ask me to send him a proposal. Not a complete rejection, but nothing to indicate he was all that excited either.

For which I was fine with, oddly enough.

Or not. Truth is, I received the score-cards for the contest I submitted it to a few days before, and although I didn’t agree with some of the comments at first, they still got me thinking that perhaps I need to revisit the story yet again. The first couple of chapters at least.

As I talked to Terry Brooks, he offered also to read my sample chapters. I had to keep it, however, because it was the only one I brought (reminder to self: bring multiple copies next time). I did give it to him during the scheduled autograph session later that evening (I was the only one in line who didn’t have a book for him to sign, but that’s because he signed my copy of “Sometimes the Magic Works” during the mentor appointment).

He read it that night and returned it to the conference coordinator with the message for me to find him so he could talk to me about it.

I attended a Q & A session with him and fellow author Brent Weeks, and hovered over him until he finished signing several more autographs after the session. That entire hour and a half of me waiting to talk to him, I tried not to worry that he would tell me to burn those pages and never write another word.

I exaggerate. I didn’t think that at all. Nor was I overly anxious, because I convinced myself that no matter what he told me, his advice would only make my story better.

He first asked if it was YA or adult.

When I told him it’s adult, he said I need to flesh it out more. Adults tend to want to read about the emotional impact of what happens–that I need to add more exposition. The prologue was powerful, but not enough emotion of the devastation the characters endured. The same for the first chapter of another character being sold as a slave.

Other than that, he said he wanted to keep reading, the bones of my story are good, and the concept is interesting. Granted he was working off a dozen pages, but experienced authors do get a sense of good or bad writing from the first few pages. That he thought the bones were good gave me a measure of relief. As long as my story has a solid structure, everything else is detail (literal and figurative), and can be fixed. A poorly structured story can’t, at least not easily and not without starting over.

All in all, after spending $500–which included the cost of the conference and one of the few Terry Brooks mentor appointments, I got my money’s worth. Not only to spend time with one of my favorite authors, but to get a glimpse into the man behind the words. I discovered he’s a delight, funny with an almost childlike gleam in his eye, a real passion for the written word, and doing whatever he can to help newer writers learn the craft to tell fabulous stories that entertain, and teach readers new things (without the sermon, of course).

Because (with God’s help) my nerves didn’t get the best of me, I was able to enjoy both appointments and discover that famous authors are just like the rest of us. They have the same desires and passions, weaknesses, strengths, humility and humor as everyone else.

Beatitudes and Woes, The Anthology

First off, to everyone, both new and regular vistors, welcome! Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and have a seat!

Now before we get into the meat of this post, I recommend you read Rebekah Loper’s entry and first installment of this blog tour. She describes best the humble beginnings of the anthology as well as the anthology itself, and I don’t want to repeat what you may have already read.

You’re back now! Great!

For my story, I was lucky enough to pick the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, KJV)

I’ll admit to some trepidation over writing a story about that verse, because I never studied what “poor in spirit” actually meant.

So I brought out my handy-dandy study Bible, and it referred me to this verse among others:

Isaiah 57:15: “The night and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy one says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.'” (NLT)

As one who has to work hard at being contrite and humble, this was double the challenge!

After three complete rewrites (and a lot of prayer) where nothing but the first paragraph made the final draft, I finally completed my story called The Promise:

Cantis promised his parents to take care of his ailing twin sister, Cathrin, before they died. In order to do that, he must take her through unknown and dangerous territory where Marauder ambushes are frequent and deadly to get her the help she needs.

He soon learns firsthand what it feels like to be “poor in spirit,” and to depend on God when all seems lost.

Intrigued? Will he and Cathrin, avoid being caught, robbed–or worse–killed by Marauders? You’ll have to read the story to find out!

But it doesn’t end there! Since my story is only the first of thirteen, I guarantee if you like mine, you’ll love the rest.

Although the official release date is July 13th, you can pre-order the Kindle edition for a mere $4.99. There will also be paperback and hardcover editions available soon!

Something else to add to your calendar: all the authors and our illustrious editor, Travis Perry of Bear Publications will be hosting a Facebook Party on July 13th for the book’s official release. Come and join the fun where you can ask questions of the authors, answer trivia, and perhaps win a prize or two.

Since I doubt Rebekah or I have whet your appetite enough, check out the next stop on this tour written by RJ Conte who “writes realistic, issue-driven fiction that explores human nature and the depths of the soul, while pointing readers to their Creator.”

A Head’s Up

Busy week y’all!

Tomorrow a short story of mine will be published on gohavok.com–a sci-fi story this time, and a bit of a love story. It’s based on a song written in the 1960s, and the first person to guess it correctly will be added to a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.

I will also be hosting a blog tour for the release of a speculative anthology on the biblical Beatitudes and Woes for which I wrote a story. Be sure to stop by for that, because I’ll talk about how it all started and came together in only six months almost to the day.

I Done Did It Again

I dove into another Twitter discussion with a few atheists about how God condoned slavery (specifically Exodus 21:20-21).

I initially tried to say that the Hebrew word used in those verses was “ebed” which translates to servant and/or slave, and that they were considered more indentured servants than slaves as we define them today. Yet the last part of verse 21 does say, “…since the slave is his property.”

Part of me wanted to argue against it, but I had to admit that yes, God did allow for the owning of slaves.

Does that mean he condoned it, though? It could be argued, certainly.

So then comes the next question. If God allowed for and condoned slavery, does that mean slavery isn’t bad? It’s a question that deserves an answer. I think I got a glimpse after thinking about it more last night, but that’s a discussion for another time, because I need to do more research (although you’re always welcome to give your own thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear them).

Part of why I like discussing scripture with agnostics and atheists is they challenge my thinking, force me to study scripture more, and try to understand the background and context of that particular book or passage (because context does matter, sometimes more than the words themselves). After all, I’m supposed to know God’s Word so I can defend it (see previous entry Defend Yourself!).

I often use Twitter to both practice that defense, and discover where I lack knowledge and wisdom.

In this particular discussion, I discovered I lack quite a bit. But that’s not only okay, but good! Few people change their thinking on Twitter anyway, so I don’t really lose anything by losing an argument, or fail to convince someone to my way of thinking. Plus the anonymity helps.

My motive is to learn what I don’t know.

Do I hope my opponents gain a little more understanding, and perhaps even change their mind eventually? Of course, but I don’t expect it.

Speaking of studying, I have to write five devotions based on certain chapters in Psalms before June 26, and I don’t even have the first one written yet! I did start, but I couldn’t get my most recent Twitter implosion out of my head. Now that it’s out, maybe I can concentrate on writing the devotions and get them done in time.

The Seventh Deadly Sin

In today’s society (especially this month), it’s all about pride. Pride in your skin color, your heritage, and culture. Pride in your sex, your gender (for those who consider them separate), and who you’re attracted to.

The seven deadly sins are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.

Why is pride on that list, especially since society expects us to celebrate every kind of pride imaginable–believing it to be a virtue?

Humans are a rebellious lot, and rebellion against God is our favorite. The first and easiest way is through hubris: in believing we know better than God. “He’s too far away to understand. He doesn’t care. Look at all the evil in the world that he does nothing about. He doesn’t exist anyway, so everything is up to us to create or destroy however we see fit.” Etc., etc.

The first sin in the Bible began with the temptation of pride: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat [the fruit], and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, NLT, emphasis mine)

Almost every evil deed (including our own) can be traced through a seed of pride.

Taking the spiritual out of it, there are other, worldly consequences of pride.

When people embrace pride, they lose all humility. As such, they believe they are perfect, and have nothing left to learn. They become haughty, and few people like to spend time with a “know-it-all” (I am certainly guilty of this).

They also start to see others as less than them. Less smart, less beautiful. In extreme examples, less human. Anyone who has a modicum of historical knowledge knows the consequences of dehumanizing a certain group of people.

Prideful people often see others unlike them as the enemy that must be destroyed. At the very least ignored or silenced, because how dare anyone question their beliefs or opinions?

How often have people harmed themselves or others accidentally, because they believed they could do something without taking a step back first and asking, “Can I really do this? Should I do this?”

Humility, on the other hand is acknowledging that no one is perfect, including themselves. Humble people tend to self-reflect (without being self-absorbed). They are more inclined to seek out new knowledge, new people, are less judgmental of others, and are willing to test their assumptions. Above all, they are willing to change their view and apologize for being wrong if enough facts to the contrary come to light.

Imagine what society would be like if people embraced humility instead of pride.

“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” ~ Proverbs 11:2 (NLT)

“Do not love the world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” ~ 1 John 2:15-17 (NLT)