To Please the People

retro-1480621_1280At what point should a writer write to please the people,
and at what point should a writer write what should be said?

A lively discussion on this topic was recently on Steve Laube agency’s “What’s Wrong with my Book” blog post by Tamela Hancock Murray. The wise recommendation was made to not defy the market’s unwritten codes.

“…write by the most conservative standards. No smoking, drinking, cursing, sexy double meanings, overemphasis on physical features and pleasures, and so forth. If it helps, imagine writing for your very strict grandmother or an aunt who’s easily shocked. Then you won’t knock yourself out of the market – at least not for that reason.”

We were told, “Don’t DEFY THE MARKET.” And yet what did I do but open my mouth and…defy the market. But I’m not the only one who’s bucking the system, or challenging the status quo. Many other Christian writers are wondering how to get Truth into a marketplace that only wants junk. My kids would live on junk food if I let them. I am in a position to influence them in their eating choices, so I give them excellent AND healthy food.

Let’s face it. When we come home from a long hard day at work–let’s say we teach three-year-olds ALL DAY LONG–we don’t want to think anymore. We want to chill out, to turn off the brain, to check-out mentally and escape to another time and another place.

Vicarious Living

Mirror neurons in our brain enable us to do exactly that. Reading books and watching movies (and, yes, playing video games), physically enable us to empathize and live vicariously through the main characters whose point of view (POV) we are reading/watching/playing.  Because of this, we can “escape” into another world. Our brains literally morph into that time and place.

Readers want to be engaged. But this does not mean the brain actually goes into neutral. The brain is actually vicariously thinking it is DOING what the main character is doing. So this is a great opportunity for writers to make an impact on the world.

Ernest Hemingway succinctly expressed this ability of writers when he said:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”

I love in particular one part of Tracy Groot’s Madman, a Christy Award winner. After being wrapped up in the madmanproblem of the Demoniac of the Gadarenes you hear that Jesus is coming. Actually what reminds you is that you know the Bible. You know that Jesus is coming. The way Tracy sets it up, you know that across the sea something is happening. As one who has read the Bible, you know that “something” is Christ coming. I can’t recommend this book enough. I felt the freedom of the Madman’s salvation and it built up my love of Jesus because Tracy knows her responsibility to her readers and she wrote it that way.

We will be judged on the Day of the Lord for our actions. While salvation is only by faith in Christ, those who are called by His Name will be assessed. Our eternal rewards will be according to our deeds. The fruit of our life.

Teachers will be judged more harshly. And writers by definition put themselves in a position of teaching and influence. So do not fail to live up to Christ’s call. Anyone who reads a book ends up changed, in some way, for better or for worse. If readers need an escape from this crazy world, enable them to grow in faith as they escape.  Your deeds as a writer will follow you into eternity, you can be sure. If the parable of the talents tells us anything, it is that we are expected to DO RIGHT by the gifts we have been given. In fact, the word “talent” came into English from this very parable.

So as Christian writers what is our responsibility before God?

If we are writing a book that will be read, we need to use that talent in a way that brings results to the king.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Writing to please the “MARKET”? If you write just what will sell you are short-changing your talent. That’s giving them sugar and high carbs. What do you need to say? What do you want to call out from the housetops? Say it!

Writing to please the KING who gave you the talent in the first place? Kudos. If you do an excellent job, you will change lives one by one. That is all we can do. Whole grain delicious goodness.

No one is called to do anything less than live and work in a way that MOST honors God.

No one can be called to NOT do that. You can’t say, “I’m not called to write about the glory of God.” You cannot. If you are a Christian. Remember, the Book of Esther does not mention God once, and yet the whole book is about the glory of God and how He keeps His promises.

We maybe have great plans for our lives. But our deeds won’t be judged by Amazon reviews. Our deeds will be judged by those books that are being written in heaven. We will not get off with no reference to those books. The Lamb’s Book of Life erases the sins, but our good deeds follow us into the eternal kingdom.

level

 “If Calvin and Luther had written to the level of the people there would have been no Reformation.”
(Fikret Bocek)

Do you want to write books that are light reading, that merely entertain? Or do you want to entertain AND build up believers to glorify God? I challenge Christian industry to up-the-ante. Time is short.

ACTION POINT FOR READERS: Don’t let yourself be entertained by anything less than that which brings pleasure to God as well.
ACTION POINT FOR WRITERS: Don’t let the industry dictate you away from your primary call. All Christians must use their talents for the active honor of God. Your gifts and offerings need to be those that God requires.

Do you agree? Disagree? What publishers are upping-the-ante? Which other books have bucked the status quo?
Comment below.



See also how these writers contribute to the discussion:

Joel Miller: What is Christian Literature?

Got Questions: Can Christians Read Fiction?

Simon Mordon: Sex, Death & Christian Fiction lecture

Review of Mr Nary by Roo Carmichael

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I made the mistake of starting to read Mr. Nary in the hospital waiting room. Not a place to be guffawing every ten seconds or so.

The wry sense of humor, the unexpected turns of phrases, the laughable story and story-within story and novel within that story with a romance on the side, the ability to surprise the reader with hilarious word choices and random thinkings of an exceptionally ADHD want-to-be-author, announce the brilliance of Roo Carmichael as a skilled craftsman of delightful reading pleasure.

Hemingway said, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”

Grady’s distractedness and discouragement and loss of control of the characters and his unending procrastination…his innocent egotism and belief in fan clubs and best seller lists in his honor…so real it hurt.

Thank you, Roo, for this nonpariel adventure into the realm of the absurd but strangely realistic life of a first-draft writing author.

UPDATE:
My family and I were lucky enough to be able to meet the author. What a blast! We were super-surprised to find that the first few letters in this book were the ACTUAL PRANK on his father Bill Carmichael, author of The Missionary. Can’t wait for the sequel. What novel plans has Grady got up his sleeves? Anxiously waiting for the next installation, Mr. Carmichael!

100 Things to Do Instead of Editing your Novel

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  1. Write a blog post entitled “100 Things to Do Instead of Editing your Novel”
  2. Find articles and blog posts about how to edit your novel (see Lists)
  3. Comment on those blog posts in detail
  4. Read books about editing your novel (see Lists)
  5. Take your kids out to breakfast, they haven’t seen you in so long
  6. Spend some time with that friend you haven’t seen because you were writing your novel
  7. Research online to find out if you missed something about the historical or cultural context of your novel.
  8. Plant a garden, you’ve wanted to do that for so long. What’s not to love about homegrown tomatoes?
  9. Read other novels similar to your own
  10. Watch suspense movies, so you know how suspense works
  11. Read novels in a different genre, to consider expanding your writing repertoire.
  12. Join several forums that are related to your genre and contribute to the discussions
  13. Ride a bike
  14. Clean out that closet and those clutter drawers (see Flylady for help)
  15. Have a movie marathon with your family to watch a series, ie: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Anne of Green Gables.
  16. Host a wedding in your backyard
  17. Host a church or youth campout on your property
  18. Make a chart of chores for your kids to do to free you up for editing your novel
  19. Plan homeschooling curriculum for next year, be creative in planning field trips
  20. Research locations to go on field trips for your homeschooling next year
  21. Do some research on other countries where your future novels might take place
  22. Travel to those other countries to see and photograph the settings for your future novels
  23. Make tie-dye shirts with or for your family and friends
  24. Go early Christmas shopping, don’t wait till the last minute
  25. Play board games with your kids, I recommend Act Your Wage since you are having fun, but it’s educational!
  26. Write a blog post about a current political or social issue that bugs you.
  27. Look on Pixabay to find photos that you can use on your blog posts
  28. Learn how to cut your own hair (surf Youtube) so you don’t have to use precious editing time to go to the hairdresser.
  29. Teach your daughter how to fix hair that has been self-cut.
  30. Go to the hairdresser.
  31. Create your own book cover using Powerpoint!
  32. Look on Pixabay to find photos you can use on your book cover.
  33. (Assuredly, in the days ahead this list will grow as I discover myriad options for my time.)
  34. (any suggestions?)
  35. .
  36. .
  37. .

 

Action Point: But in all honesty, having a book to edit, or something difficult and challenging to do, on which much rests, causes us to rethink priorities. We evaluate our goals and dreams, our hopes, and the parts of our lives we have neglected. I doubt many of the items on our list are in themselves wrong. But they identify our weaknesses and our affections. We should always be faithful to the things on our plate for today. Be wise in the use of your time. The days are short.

Please help me add to the list. Comment below.

Tips for Teaching Kids to Write Their Own Stories

stories
As an author myself, I find the task of planning, writing, and editing a story challenging. How much more so for kids when they are told to write a story.

“What am I supposed to do, Teacher?” they ask.

Then they give you what they wrote. Sometimes the stories work, sometimes they don’t.

Teaching kids to write excellent stories is actually not difficult. All they need is a handle on the structure of story.

How can you teach your students to write a good story?

First, students need to know what makes up a story. Secondly, they need to put their story idea into that kind of structure. Thirdly, they need to write the story. And fourthly they need to edit their story.

The basics of a story are:

Character
Setting
Three Point Plot development:
  • Set-up
  • Climax
  • End

1. Start your lesson by making a chart like this on the board.

<<Keep Reading>>

7 Sources for Primary Document Research

Research Guidewriting_fresco

Instead of looking for primary source documents with a random Google Search, start with actual history sites!

What to do:

Let’s say you have the prompt:  “What were the three most significant causes of the Fall of Rome

1. Plan your search.

Before finding primary documents, you need to know WHAT you are looking for. Review a history book to get a general idea of the kind of answer you seek. Make a list of at least 10 keywords you are looking for. Narrow down what exactly you are looking for. Are you looking for a journal, a letter, a picture, a speech, a statistic?

Berkeley has a helpful list that can help you “Know Before You Search.”

Plan: I read in my textbook that the borders were weak. Barbarians came. I read about the moving of the Capital to Constantinople.I read about problems with the emperors, and about nationalism, something about Theodosius.  

“Fall of Rome,” “barbarians,” “Constantinople,” “Theodosius,” “Roman borders,”  “Roman emperors,” “Roman nationalism,” and “Theodosius” are my search terms.

I am hoping to find  a letter that a Roman who lived then wrote describing the problems they were having.

2. Narrow Down, then Search

Click on the most relevant link below. Narrow down from category to subcategory. Use the search feature to type in your pre-planned search terms.

Hint: you can do a search on any website, even if they do not have a search feature, by using the following method.

In the address bar, copy the website up until the subfolder you are interested in.  (Make sure the subfolder does not end with .htm or .html, because that will merely search on the page, not for all related documents.)

Write—  site:http://(website address)/  space (search term).
For example:          site:http://spartacus-educational.com/ barbarians

3. Document Where You Found Your Material

Stay Organized! Scrivener is a good method for organizing research, since in one project there are different areas to file various types of information–chapters or pictures or research links.

Don’t forget to copy the source link BEFORE copying the vital information.  Always copy the link first, paste it on your sources page. (You can format it later, but get that link saved!)

The worst thing a researcher can do is to spend hours finding something, but then not be able to track it down again later, so he is not able to use that evidence.  Back up where you found that vital piece of information.1170824_79172868

The Links

Ancient and Medieval History

I) Global History and Geography: Reading and Documents (Alternately available from Classical Historian). This book is a very nice introduction to the value of primary documents. There are questions at the end of each excerpt, enabling students to consider the source critically. Though it is not an internet source, it provides a necessary and “bite-size” transition to the study of primary source documents.

US History, Uniquely

II) Library of Congress American Memory Timeline in particular is the holder of primary documents from United States history.

World History, including US History

III)  Spartacus Educational exists for the purpose of connecting young readers to primary source information. This site index sorts history by topic or by time period.

IV) Primary Sources by Century—USC LibGuides (many login required, but some are free access)

V) Library Guides at Bowling Green  Early American History, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century

VI) JSTOR.COM There are a lot of historical documents here. You can sign up for a free account and have access to three documents at a time. While these are not all directly primary documents, they quote primary documents and can be a valuable source of books to look for. Often Jstor leads you to Google Books.

VII) Online Books a) Google Books  I have found quotations of otherwise unavailable research in topical studies available in the searchable academic books available through Google Books. Some pages are not-viewable, but often those missing pages can be found if the books has an b) Look Inside feature on Amazon. Sometimes the books are available secondhand at a very reasonable price. c) Gutenberg.org has many digital copies of documents available for free online viewing or download. If the document is in the public domain, it may be found there

These are starting places. The key is to have a direction, key words, a plan.  If you do not prepare yourself before you begin, you will get lost in a swamp and turn up nothing substantial, having wasted your time. Know what you want and see what treasures you find!

 

Here are some other Links to look into

Berkeley’s Library Links

National Archives

How to Use Youtube for Primary Source Info