Thursday, December 24, 2009

THE Story

To all you writers out there, Merry Christmas!

Remember always the story of all stories about the King of all kings. Praise Him!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Blind Side and Fiction

My husband and I went to see The Blind Side Saturday afternoon. In case you haven't seen it but plan to, I promise I won't give the story away here. I just wanted to comment on something that applies to writing fiction--which The Blind Side isn't.

The movie begins with a janitor trying to convince the athletic coach at a private, Christian school to enroll the janitor's son and, most important to the story, the son's friend, at the all-white school. Once the movie is underway, we never see the janitor or his son again.

In fiction, this would never work, and no fiction writer worth his ink would dream of doing it. One of the first rules of good fiction is that everything in the opening scene is of prime importance. Not just the characters, but the seemingly insignificant details as well. They need to have a bearing on the rest of the story. They need to subtly foreshadow coming events, so that the reader (or viewer) at some point recalls the beginning and says to himself, "Aha!"

You've probably read the writer's advice (I don't remember who wrote it) that if the opening scene of your whodunnit shows a shotgun over the mantel, you mislead your reader if your murderer uses a lead pipe instead.

If The Blind Side were fictional, the author would not have begun the story the way this one begins. Or, alternatively, he would have found a way to weave those introductory characters into the action of the story and wrapped the ending back to the beginning.

I'm not criticizing the movie, of course. (I loved it. Sandra Bullock is wonderful!) And I haven't read the book. I'm merely pointing out what anyone would notice if, like me, they're trying to write fiction.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Praise & Thanksgiving

In October a friend of our family was diagnosed with brain cancer and given a very bleak outlook. Steve (not his real name) is the same age as my husband and has been married to the same woman for 35 years, just like my husband & me. Instead of the usual route of chemotherapy and radiation, Steve & his family chose a 20-day, alternative cancer treatment at a clinic in Tulsa, 10 hours from home. Steve can't have a PET scan to determine if the tumor is smaller--or, God willing, gone--until January. But we all trust that the treatments have worked. Unlike traditional cancer patients enduring radiation & chemo, he feels and looks great.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I've entitled this post "Praise & Thanksgiving" after hearing about Steve. But here are a couple of reasons:

1) Steve and his family have submitted themselves to the hand of God. They live each day in praise and thanksgiving that He alone controls their destiny. They are comforted knowing that the universe does not run around like a crazy-clock to no purpose.

As in-control as they (and we) would like to be, they (and we) just aren't. Nor do we have what it takes to run even the tiniest corner of the universe, much less a destiny that, God be praised, is interwoven with the destiny of so many others.

2) Which leads me to the second reason for praise and thanksgiving: our inter-connectedness. My middle daughter has a friend whose mother was just days ago diagnosed with brain cancer. I e-mailed them the information on the clinic that Steve attended. Six weeks ago I would not have had that information. I have no idea what this woman ultimately will do to deal with her cancer, but knowing that I, a total stranger, may have figured into her decision is pretty awe-inspiring--and humbling.

In my experience, times of trial are always filled with great blessings, to which our proper response is always praise and thanksgiving.

The would-be writer should pay attention to the wealth of lessons here. The best fiction must always mirror the purposive, interwoven, nature of the universe and of each life within it. The quickest way to get a reader to lay down your story is to write a plot with random, unrelated action that leads nowhere.

Likewise, the best protagonists display the same traits through trial that Steve and his family display. No reader will stand for a protagonist who whines about his troubles--unless he gets what's coming to him, learns his lesson, and changes his ways.

Which leads me to endings. Fiction is most loved, most cried over, most uplifting, most moving, if it mirrors life itself. Life-death is bitter-sweet.

If you can write like that, you've got yourself a bestseller.