Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Write What You Know, But Know Something Worth Writing

Rose Fox asked an important question the other day. “Have you ever noticed how many protagonists are writers? ‘Write what you know’ can be taken too far.” Rachelle Gardner also asked a question about what writers give up for writing. I don’t think the two are unrelated.

Many people give up a great many things so that they can “become a writer.” Writing becomes a lifestyle. I think this is the wrong approach. If what you want to do is write about writers or librarians or bookstore owners, by all means give up what you are doing and become a “professional” writer. But there are plenty of books about writers out there. A better approach is to keep doing what you’re doing and write about what you are doing. You may not think you have time to do that, but think about it. You don’t have to do research on something you are already doing. That’s why people write so much about being writers. They know how to do that. But when a writer wants to writer about stuff that’s happening away from the writing world he either has to ask other people or make a guess. It isn’t the same as if he has personal experience to draw upon.

One of the big mistakes I believe Christian writers make is that they write about things they believe are good things for their characters to do but they have no experience doing it. Don’t writer a scene about sharing the gospel unless you personally have shared the gospel with someone. Don’t write a about a Bible study teacher if you haven’t personally taught a Bible study. And don’t portray the situation as if it is easy; look for the conflict. Consider the following scenes:

Scene 1:

The boy had a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk when I saw him again. I knew this was my chance, so I walked up to him with Bible in hand. “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?”

The boy shook his head.

“Did you know that the Bible says that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ will go to hell?” I shared some scripture with him, Romans 6:23 and Acts 16:31. “Would you like to ask Jesus to be your Savior?”

“Yes,” he said and then he prayed, “Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and without you I’ll go to hell. Please come into my heart and save my soul.”

Scene 2:

The service was drawing to the close and our pastor was standing up at the front. We were singing the second verse of Just As I Am and I was gathering my stuff when I saw them. There were three of them, a young boy, a woman and a man. They came from different pews, but they approached the pastor together. At first, I thought they might be a family. Our pastor leaned down and spoke to the boy. He straightened up, scanned the crowd and made eye contact with me. He beckoned for me to come. Why me? I wondered. I’m not good at this.

“This boy needs someone to lead him to the Lord,” my pastor said. I wouldn’t refuse, but I still wished he had picked someone else.

I took the boy over to the other end of the pew, while our pastor spoke to the other two. They probably wanted to join the church or something. I sat down and figured the pages of my Bible. I knew there were some great verses in Romans, but what did the boy really need to hear? Lord help me, I prayed before I spoke to the boy. “Do you know that you’re a sinner and on your way to hell?”


I thumbed through my Bible, looking for a verse. I spotted Romans 6:23, but I decided not to read it.

“Do you want to be saved?” I asked.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“The Bible says ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’” I thumbed through Acts, but I couldn’t seem to remember that it was Acts 16:31. I closed my Bible. “Would you like to pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart?”

“Right now?” the boy asked.


The boy got down on his knees and prayed, “Jesus I want to be saved.” All the while I was thinking, “Lord, I hope you’ll make him understand better than I explained.”

“Amen,” the boy said and looked up.

“Did he save you?” I asked.

“Let’s go tell the preacher,” I said, knowing that if this kid had gotten saved it wasn’t anything I had done.

A lot of books I have seen include scenes like the first one, but I think most Christians are more familiar with the second. The second also has a lot more conflict in it. Instead of showing the character as a great experienced soul winner who shares the gospel with everyone, we see the character as a person who knows he ought to witness but is uncomfortable doing so. He wants the kid to be saved, but he would rather someone else did it.

A lot of Christian books portray Christians in what we might call the pastor’s view of Christians. The pastor stands up front and tells people how they ought to live. The Christian author then creates a character that lives like the pastor says, with a few “flaws” thrown in to make it interesting. Real Christians are like that. You may find an elderly prayer warrior who has great faith, but I can assure you that she didn’t come by that easily. And though she may have great faith most of the time, she may still worry about her grandchildren. If it isn’t worry, it may be something else she struggles with, but all Christians struggle with something and it isn’t an easy struggle. And if the old faithful saints struggle, then us young saints struggle even more. That is where Christian writers need to turn our attention.