Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Theme of the Book of Ruth

What is the theme of the Book of Ruth? I’ve heard that it is several different things. Some say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is that of the kinsman-redeemer. They base this on the doctrine of Jesus being our kinsman-redeemer. The concept of the kinsman-redeemer is one that comes from the old traditions and the basis on which Jesus could be our propitiation. Had Jesus not be a man, his sacrifice could not have been applied to our debt. Certainly, that is a very powerful and important doctrine that is discussed in the Book of Ruth, but is that the theme?

Some people refer to the faithfulness of Ruth to Naomi and say that faithfulness is the theme of the Book of Ruth. Some say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is the Lord’s provident protection of the faithful. Here, with Boaz a stand-in for the Lord, we do see the Lord providing protection, but is that the central theme of the Book of Ruth?

I would like to suggest that the primary theme of the Book of Ruth is something else. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with saying those others are the theme of the Book of Ruth, but I think that if we look at the Book of Ruth without preconceived notions of making it conform to the story of Jesus that the theme of the Book of Ruth looks very different.

First, even though it bears Ruth’s name, this is Naomi’s story. The Book of Ruth begins with Naomi and the Book of Ruth ends with Naomi. It is Naomi who suffers the greatest loss in the Book of Ruth and it is Naomi who has the greatest influence over the action in the Book of Ruth. It is Naomi’s husband and sons that die. It is Naomi who decides to go back home. It is Naomi who tells her daughter -in-laws to go back to their families and when Ruth refuses, it is Naomi who sends her out to glean from the field of Boaz.

Since Naomi is the primary character in the story, it is important for us to consider the change that she goes through and what she had to learn in order for that change to take place. At the beginning of the story, she is has nothing, her family is dead, and her line has ended. But at the end of the Book of Ruth, we see Naomi holding the child who will give rise to the line of kings.

Often, we have what we call the B-story. The B-story is usually the love story and it is in the B-story that the theme is discussed. Usually, it isn’t only discussed, but someone will come right out and tell us what the theme is. There’s actually two love stories in the Book of Ruth. The first is between Naomi and Ruth, but since that one is the one we start and end with, I’m going to say that the B-story of the Book of Ruth is that of Ruth and Boaz. The question then is what that story discusses and what the story tells us the theme is.

I see Ruth 2:8, 9 as being the theme statement of the Book of Ruth. To paraphrase Boaz’s statement, “Go not to glean in another field and I’ll provide for you.” It is very similar to the statement made in Proverbs 3:5, 6. Or that of Matthew 6:33. It all goes back to doctrine that there is only one way to God. So I would like to say that the theme of the Book of Ruth is “seek not another to provide.”

If I’m correct, then we should be able to see all of the events of the Book of Ruth either reinforcing or arguing against that statement. With Naomi off in Moab, she loses her family. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that this is symbolic of her being away from God and the things she is trusting in for her provision failed. She makes a step back toward God, by choosing to return home. When Ruth refuses leave her side, we see an example of what the theme is saying Naomi should be doing. Ruth will stick firm. They reach their homeland and Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields. The law of Moses provided for those in need by reserving the corners of the fields.

This is where the B-story kicks up and we see the benefits someone doing what the theme claims should be done. When Boaz learns that Ruth is someone he is supposed to be providing for, he instructs his workers to leave even more for Ruth. From this, Naomi seems to have learned her lesson. She instructs Ruth to continue to glean from his fields and then sends Ruth to request that Boaz marry her (through a tradition that seems strange to us in the western world). It is at this point that we see an argument against the theme. Boaz is willing to provide for Ruth and Naomi in this way, but there is a problem, another kinsman is nearer to her than Boaz. So Boaz goes to the kinsman and tells him that there is land that he can redeem. The man is willing to redeem the land, but when he learns he’ll have to marry Ruth to get it, he backs away. He is unable to provide, but . This demonstrates the concept that only the Lord is able to provide.

And the Lord provided for Naomi, giving her a son by way of her daughter-in-law. The person telling this story, who was probably writing during the time of King David, gave us the generations from Pharez to this child, Obed, to King David. Pharez, you may remember is one of the children born to Tamar after she disguised herself as a prostitute and had a child by her father-in-law, Judah, after he failed in his promise arrange for one of his sons to provide her with an heir after the death of her husband.

To me, this connection with Tamar just adds to the idea that he theme of the Book of Ruth is “seek not another to provide” because the story of Tamar is such a sad story in which Tamar is trying to do what is right but the men around her are doing the wrong thing. She ends up taking matters into her own hands to get it done, but she is an example of not gleaning from another’s field. In the Book of Ruth, we see not only the provision of God for Naomi when she had no children, but we see God’s provision for Tamar and it was because they continued to seek provision from one source.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christianese: Not as Bad as All That

Recently, KTVT ran a segment on Christianese. What they seemed to be saying was that Christianese is a bad thing because people outside of Christianity. Christianese is a type of jargon that Christians speak. Part of it comes from the Bible, while other parts of it come from the way Christians do things or from music they sing.

KTVT is the first to say something against its use. Those who have criticized it range from Atheists who are making fun of Christians to pastors who are speaking from the pulpit. There are even some videos on YouTube that make fun of it. It is easy enough to criticize it because non-Christians don’t understand it, but as I started putting together a list of Christianese terms, it occurred to me that it is pointless to try to eliminate it completely. I suppose that is always the case with jargon. Consider the statement, “My WIP is up to 80,000, but it’ll go up because it has a lot of telling.” If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m saying, but if you aren’t then you’re probably clueless. I could rewrite it as “The novel I’m currently working is up to 80,000 word, but I expect that number to go up because I have a lot of paragraphs that just make statements about the way things are instead of being a sequence of actions the characters are doing.” But by the time you expand jargon into its definitions, the meaning gets lost in the abundance of words.

The following is a list of a few Christianese terms:
On my heart - the feeling that something is of great importance
Witness - to tell others about what Jesus did
tithing - to give 10% of one’s income to God
Amen - from a term meaning “God’s will be done”, but usually spoken to indicate agreement with a someone, or to indicate the end of a prayer
Sin - anything that violates the law of God
Prayer - the means by which one speaks to God
Blessed - the Lord has brought good things into a person’s life

Does it really hurt to use these terms around someone who doesn’t know what they mean? If you were to say in a meeting of co-workers, “It’s on my heart that we should finish Project X before we go too far with Project Y,” they’ll understand what you mean. Or if a co-worker gets walked out the door for some impropriety and you say, “be sure your sin will find you out,” people may not know you’re quoting from the Bible, but they’ll understand what you mean. So while Christianese may cause a few people to scratch their heads, I doubt it will confuse people so much that they can’t figure it out after looking up one or two words.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Jesus said that the whole law rests on the first two commandments, namely, to love God and to love each other. If people would obey those two commandments, they wouldn’t do the things they do to each other. Think about envy or if you prefer, covetousness. Why do we become green with envy? It doesn’t take much to show that envy is a result of us not loving our neighbor.

Consider this: Your brother goes out and buys a new car. He brings it over and shows it off. You tell him how nice it is, but all the while you’re thinking, “I wish I could buy a new car.” But what if we really loved our neighbor as ourselves? Suppose you’ve saved up some money and you have enough to buy a car. The one you’re driving still runs, but you would like a new one. But you know your brother needs a car and he can’t afford one. Perhaps you buy a new car and give him your old one. That seems like a nice thing to do. But maybe you keep the old one and give him the new one. Most of us would do the first over the second. However, if we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would see little difference between the two. Our question would be which person needed the new vehicle more.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Carrot

When a friend found out just how little I make from writing books he asked why I would put so much time into writing a book when I make so little from it. I sometimes wonder the same thing and yet I find myself at the computer typing away on that next book.

I’m sure the answer is different for everyone. I frequently hear of people who have lost a job and have decided that they’re going to write for a living. Anyone who knows much about the publishing industry knows this is an unrealistic goal for most people, but I think I understand it. Writing is one of those jobs that people feel they can do and they don’t have a boss to report to. So it gives them the feeling of control over their situation. But that’s not the reason I write.

Writing is a form of communication. When I write, I hope to communicate, but I see many indications that that is not my primary goal. If it were, I would do more to give my books away. You can’t communicate if you don’t get the book into people’s hands, so it would make sense to get them into people’s hands, even if it required spending a lot of money to do it.

I believe the thing that drives me to write is the challenge. Just the effort required to fill 300+ pages with text isn’t easy. It takes approximate ½ million key presses to write a novel. Even more if you have to edit a lot. Imagine sitting at a computer and hitting a key ½ million times. That is hard enough, but we want to give meaning to those ½ million key presses, forming them into words and sentences. But the real challenge is to shape all of those into a work that is far more than just the sum of its parts. It isn’t an easy task. It is one thing to see the story in your head, but you have to find a way to convey that story to the reader.

The challenge is to show the reader the images you carry in your head, without bogging the reader down with too much description. You want to tell the reader what is going on, but in such a way that the reader discovers it for himself. That challenge, though hanging just out of reach like a carrot before a plow horse, is enough to drive you on, even when few people take interest in your work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comments From Would You Read On

A week ago, some of my work was on another site and today is the day that people should find out that it was my work and they may be clicking through to this site, so I thought I’d use this space to respond to some of their comments.

The general response seems to be that it piqued their interest, but they thought it drug on too much without going anywhere. I thought it was interesting that one person said it was realistic and another person thought I should do more research to find out how a security guard would actually respond in this situation. I have worked for more than one large company that has had guards posted at the front gate. I even did a small amount of work for the security department of the company I worked for in college. I cannot with any certainty say that this is the response you would get if you tried this at any one of the companies I’ve worked for, but I see this response as plausible at some company.

The problem may be that the scene is too realistic. Most security guards are nice people. They have a job to do, but they’d rather not ruin someone’s day. As one person noted, the guy approaching the guard is not a mastermind. It is more likely that he is a few bricks short of a load. He must be denied entry, obviously, but he might not be a threat, just someone so focused on getting inside that he isn’t thinking about how the guard might see it. But one person suggested that a bomb should go off inside. Sometimes, I think people watch way too much television. That is plausible, but it really doesn’t happen all that often.

While it may have fallen apart a little at the end, I think the comments show that I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. What I hoped to show was that a person could drop the reader into a simple everyday scene and with a slight increase in conflict turn it into something that interests the reader. What I expect the reader to be asking at this point is “what’s wrong with this guy?”

There are so many books these days that begin with something catastrophic. I’ve seen books begin with a tornado. Several books I’ve read begin with an automobile accident. But when I think of my favorite books, so many of them begin without gimmicks. Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming begins with a woman asking her kids to stay in the car while she goes into the mall. Nothing is more ordinary than that. Parents do it all the time, once their kids are old enough. The only thing that adds conflict to this scene is that the kids don’t know why they stopped. It takes us several pages to realize that this is the last time these kids will see their mother. A car wreck simply cannot match the power of a scene like that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Rainbows, Please

On my way home from work the other day, I saw a rainbow. I was traveling East along I-20 and there it was, a double bow. One half was on one side of the road and the other half on the other. Science tells us how they are formed, but you’ve got to read the Bible to know why they exist. The Bible tells us that God put a rainbow in the cloud as a sign of his promise that he would never destroy the earth by flood again.

Science tells us that rainbows are formed by light. There are two reflections and refraction. But when I was a kid, it was easy to think of a rainbow as an object you could find. Back then, there was a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. I miss those rainbows.

But I like that the Bible says that God put a rainbow in the cloud. God put it in the language that we can all understand. If he were to tell us what it takes to put a rainbow in a cloud when there wasn’t one before, even our greatest scientists would seem like idiots. Sure, they know how to shine light on a water vapor and produce a rainbow, but they don’ t know how to change the nature of the Universe so that is possible.

I think we need to see more rainbows and fewer water droplets. So often, we get so focused on details that we can’t see the beauty of the things that are happening. Something bad happens today. Something good happens tomorrow. We make our plans and then we’re disappointed when they don’t happen. But to God, those are all like water droplets. If we could see through his eyes, we would see that all of those things are coming together and forming something beautiful, like a rainbow in the cloud.

Monday, November 21, 2011


It’s so hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way or so the saying goes. Humility is a strange thing. It is prized by God. The Bible says we are to humble ourselves. But I question whether we understand what humility is. By “we”, I really mean me.

Someone once said that humility isn’t about us. In other words, humility doesn’t mean you have to go around telling people what a worm you are, but it is seeing the greatness of others. If you’ve accomplished something in life or if you have some special ability, you don’ t have to go through life playing it down like it is unimportant. That would be dishonest. The humble person simply doesn’t spend a great deal of time talking about that stuff. If he has won an award, he may talk about it if it comes up, but what really distinguishes the humble person is that he is quick to talk about the accomplishments of others. When someone is better than he is at something, he says something about it.

In our relationship with God, what that means is that we talk about the greatness of God. Of course, compared to God, we really do look like worms. We don’t have to play down our abilities, we simply need to highlight the greatness of God and we’ll see ourselves as plenty low. Even in talking to others, we may talk about the things we’ve tried and by themselves, they may seem great things to try, but once we talk about what God did, even the greatest of our attempts seem like nothing.

So I think a person can talk about his accomplishments and still be humble, but not if that’s all he talks about. If he view his accomplishments without the proper context of what others are doing, he is a braggart, and not humble.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How Much Should a Book Cost?

How much should a book cost? Some people get upset if a Kindle book costs more than $2.99. Some hardbacks cost $25.99. I’ve paid $100 for a text book that was smaller than most novels. I remember some romance novels Mom had with a price of 69¢. Today, those same books would bring about $6. I saw somewhere that the production cost of a hardback is only 50¢. The same source said the production of an e-book is $4.05. But e-books typically go for less than a hardback. Are publishers overcharging us for hardbacks? Are we paying too little for e-books? How can we figure this out.

First, production and delivery costs shouldn’t matter to the consumer. There are a lot of people out there who think Kindle books should be priced very low because the publisher doesn’t have to pay to print them. In truth, printing is not the major drive on book pricing and there are plenty of costs for e-books that publishers must consider, but as a consumer, I have no reason to be concerned with that. The real question is, am I willing to pay that price? I’ve seen a lot of assisted self-publishing books priced at $20. I’ve bought a few of those, but it makes me hesitant. And yet, if there is a computer book I really want, I’ll pay the $45.95 asking price. It is about how much I want the book, not how much someone else had to pay to produce it.

Second, publishers should be looking to maximize their profit. Publishers are in the business of making money, so their investors are happy and so they can publish more books. Consumers may prefer to get books free, but publishers are looking for ways to make as much money as they can. Aren’t we all that way? If our boss offers to give us more money, not many people would turn it down. But maximizing profit isn’t as easy as increasing the price of a book. The lowest sellers can go is one penny over the cost, if they want a profit. The highest they can go and make a profit isn’t as easy to figure out. There is a price at which the number of books sold will not be high enough to cover the cost of producing the books. So publishers’ profits are also dependent on how much the consumer is willing to pay.

In the drawing, A represents the point at which a publisher can first sell a book and make money. That could be as low as $1 and it could be as high as $100,000+. We’ll assume it is something like $5. The consumer line shows the willingness of the consumer to buy the book. There are some people who will “buy” a free book just because it is free, so we expect that the lower the price the more people are willing to buy it. As the price goes up, the number of books sold goes down. At point B, the number of books the consumers are willing to purchase crosses the line showing how many books the publisher is able to print for that price. That is the price at which the publisher will make the highest profit. If the Consumer line were to cross the publisher line before point A, then the publisher will never make a profit, no matter what price he sets it at. On the other hand, through promotion activities, the publisher may be able to push the Consumer line to the right, resulting in an increase in profits.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Makes Writing Difficult

After years of writing books and never understanding why people say writing is hard, I’ve decided that if writing isn’t hard, you aren’t doing it right. Now, that’s not to say that we should make writing difficult, just so we have to suffer for our art. And it’s not to say that everyone who finds writing difficult is a good writer. But no one achieves greatness by doing what is easy.

This is true in any field. Imagine the great concert pianist. He is performing in Carnegie Hall. He walks out on stage. All eyes are on him as he sits down at the piano. He rests his hands on the keys. They raise ever so slightly as he prepares to hit the first note. Then with one finger he plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

You don’t get to Carnegie Hall by being the best at playing easy stuff that any five-year-old can play. The same is true of writing. When you consider that there are millions of would be authors out there who are willing to write the easy stuff, no matter how well you write easy stuff, you won’t stand out. If you want to stand out as a writer, you’ve got to write stuff that other people aren’t writing.

In music, there are a couple of reasons why performers won’t play a piece. One is that it doesn’t sound very good. The other is that it is difficult to play. The performer who stands out is the one who is able to perform a beautiful piece of music that no one else is playing because it is too difficult. For writers, the writers who stand out are those who write things that people want to read, but other writers find too difficult to write. So let’s look at some of the things that make writing difficult.

Lack of Knowledge

One reason people turn to books is to gain knowledge about a subject. What makes that difficult for writers is that they have to gain the knowledge before they can write about it. If the subject is already covered well in books and online, it is easy to gain the knowledge, but people are less likely to buy the book. The author must turn to other sources for that knowledge. It may be life experience from the school of hard knocks, which difficult enough as it is. It may be that the author has to work through the problem people want to know how to solve. Through trial and error, he finds a solution and writes it down so that other people will have an easier time coming to the solution.

Tedious Writing

In a book that I’m working on right now, there are hundreds of classes in a software package that I need to document for the appendix of the book. From my use of other similar books, I know that this part of the book could become one of the most useful to my readers, but it is tedious work. But when it is done, it will make the book worth owning.

Solving the Unsolvable

For this one, I’m thinking more in terms of fiction, but it can apply to non-fiction as well. It is easy when you write a story and everything falls into place, but if we’re pushing the bar with our writing, we’ll encounter situations where our characters have no way out. It is difficult for us because we don’t know how to solve the problem when we get there. It is interesting to our readers because they don’t know how to solve it either. Maybe we never find a solution, but if we can, the writing that results is so much better.

What are some other things that make writing hard?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Which is Better?

Now here’s another one. Suppose someone offered to give you all of those pennies ($10,737,418.23) or they will give you only those things you need in any given day. After having been burned by the pennies, I’m sure you will assume the second is the better choice, but you may not know why. Without having been burned, you would likely choose the money. With money, you are in control. You get to choose what you buy. You don’t have to rely on the other person knowing what you need.

The thing is, as we go through a day, there are relatively few things that we use at any given time. Look around your house and think about how many things you have that you haven’t touched today. Other than the joy of knowing you have it. You could have gone through the day without it. Tomorrow, you might need it, but not today. Look at the food in your pantry. How much of that will you eat today? What about your car? You drive it for maybe an hour or two and the rest of the time it is parked. If we looked at a person with a small amount of food and who rides on public transportation. We would assume he is poor and yet, he has all the same things you actually used today.

The person who always has what he needs just in time for him to use it is no worse off than the person who has stockpiled so much that he never runs out. $10,737,418.23 is a large amount of money, but it isn’t enough to guarantee that you will never run out of the things you need. No amount of money can. God didn’t tell us that he would give us a lot of money. Instead, he told us that he would supply our need. That, my friend, makes us the wealthiest people in the world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Just Love It When a Theme Comes Together!

I just love it when a plan comes together!” Hannibal Smith used to say as the A-team brought victory from the jaws of defeat. Well, I’m at the point where I want to say, “I just love it when a story comes together.”

I’ve been fighting this thing for several months. It started out as a simple logline. It sort of flashed into my mind, but once I thought of it, I knew I had to try to do something with it. I’m not ready to reveal what it is in a wide public forum, but I will say that what fascinated me about it is that it takes one of the worst situations you can imagine and then implies that the solution makes it even worse. Not this, but something along the lines of “She thought their divorce was the worst thing that could ever happen, but then they reconciled.”

After thinking about it for a while, I went ahead and started the story. I had an idea of what might be worse than the worst thing, so I headed in that direction. But then it didn’t work. The story involved a couple of parents and an adult child. The man is the lead character. I tried thinking it through with the wife as the villain, with the child as the villain, with the child male, with the child female. No matter how I thought about it, I just could not come up with something that was worse than what they had already faced together.

Weeks went by and nothing, but then, it started to fall into place. You might say that the lead character made lemonade out of lemons, but when the lemons went away, so did the ability to make lemonade. To overcome the loss of lemonade, the character must overcome a problem like what his daughter was trying to overcome when she caused life to hand him lemons.

As I looked at the solution, it just worked. Eventually, I’ll provide you with more detail, but I didn’t have to make any of the three villains, though the story is such that as we near the end, the lead character realizes that he has not only caused the problem for others, but it has caused him to have the same problem in his life.

Looking at the elegance of the solution, it all goes back to theme. The theme is what we have to say to the reader. It is our one and only message. In the story in question, the theme is along the lines of “don’t try to turn force someone into being something they are not.” Doing that with his daughter caused the problem and put him in a situation where others are doing that to him. It is killing him, but he doesn’t know it yet. Like his daughter, he must be true to himself in order to resolve the situation.

I’m excited about the story again. I’ve got a theme that will run throughout the story and I know the major events that will drive the story forward. I don’t see a gap that I don’t know how to fill.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What All Writing Is About

What one word sums up everything that every successful writer has ever written? What one word tells us what every reader it is looking for? Think you can’t do it? Think you can’t come up with just one work? I think you can, because that one word is hope. Hope is what it is all about.

Take the bestselling book Heaven is for Real as an example. It has turned into a chase cow for Thomas Nelson. But why? What is it that people expect to find in its pages? Hope. Many people are fearful that maybe heaven isn’t real. They’re fearful that the Bible isn’t true. So they are turning to a little boy named Colton Burpo to give them hope. If he went to heaven and saw it, then it must be there. My fear is that he’ll let them down. I fear he’ll revise his statement later and say, “I made up most of that because I thought my parents wanted to hear it.” Read the book and tell me you don’t see that coming.

What about a novel, like Harry Potter. Don’t we look to characters like Harry with hope, wishing we too could wave a wand and change the world? Of course we would change it for the better and we would avoid the problems he faces, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Or what of a romance novel. Aren’t women looking to those characters for hope? They wish they’re husbands would treat them the same way the man in the story treats the woman.

What then of computer books? Surely, we can’t say they offer hope. And yet, they do. A reader picks up the book having reached the point that he knows he has a problem he isn’t sure how to solve. He hopes that the author of the book will solve the problem for him, so he doesn’t have to do all of the work required to solve the problem.

It really is all about hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Successful Book Video

Here is a book trailer that works. Let’s look at why.

1. It entertains - Even if you never intend to prepare a sermon, this video is fun to watch. Who can’t imagine what must be going through the poor assistant pastor’s head when he receives an e-mail saying he’d better be ready to preach on Sunday. And then to look at all the things he tried, before typing in the phrase “How Sermons Work.” It’s kind of funny to think that a man would do that, and yet we’re all guilty of doing something similar.

2. It shows why you need the book - It first shows us a problem and then it shows us that the book is the solution. But if you look closer, you’ll see that it follows the outline of a story. There is a problem, which the character tries to solve. The solution isn’t what he hope. He tries again (with the book) and all is well.

3. It is simple - A video like this shouldn’t burden us with all of the reasons we should buy the book, but it should give us one very specific reason. If the viewer is looking for a book to solve that particular problem, he’ll buy the book, not matter what other problems it might also solve.

I’m still not sure how to apply the same principle to fiction, but this video makes me think I might should try my hand at making another book video.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Color of Redeeming Love: Environment in a Nutshell

Yesterday, I mentioned a discussion I had with someone about the color or Francine Rivers’ novel Redeeming Love. I also described For the Love of a Devil as being green and moving into the territory of forest green or even black at points. There is another book that I’ve been working on some and I think of it as a brown. Not a dark brown, but it had definite earth tones to it, with a tinge of yellow that brightens it.

Why are we able to think of stories in terms of color? Some are a fiery red. Some are as black as night. Some are a cold blue. Some are a soothing green. Some a relaxing teal. Some are a cheery yellow. Some are soft and tender pastels. What is it that allows us to say that?

Color moves us emotionally. So does music, but music is active. Color is more static. Color tells us the state of the environment. The gray of a cloudy sky gives us the impression that it is a dreary day. The black of night hints at dangers lurking in the darkness. Blue is a color of authority. Yellow reminds us of a sunny day. Teal reminds us of the ocean. It isn’t the action that takes place, but the setting in which it happens.

But setting doesn’t have to be constant. It could even be used to outline a story. Let’s go back and look at Redeeming Love. The book begins with the innocence of youth. Even with what her mother is doing, this is actually a bright spot for the point of view character, so I’m going to paint that period with a light yellow. The story of Redeeming Love continues and Momma dies. This is actually the darkest part of Redeeming Love, so I’ll go ahead and paint it black. Then we kind of get off into a dark red period, as she struggles to make her way. But then it gets brighter. Even though she’s in what should be an undesirable situation, she is a successful prostitute, in demand by all the men of the area. Then Redeeming Love turns pink. A man shows up who wants to marry her and he is willing to pay the price to take her home with him. Redeeming Love has occasional dark spots after that, but mostly it is what I would call pink because the only real struggle is with her trying to convince herself not to fall for the guy she married. Off in the background, he is still there, looking for romance. There are others who want her to return to her old ways, but it is pretty much clear that she has left that life behind and won’t be going back. Blend it all together and here’s the color outline of Redeeming Love.

I don’t know how many people will find it to be helpful, but my thought is that when people are looking for an environment in which to escape, color provides a way to convey what the environment of a book is without the need to explain everything in the book.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Color is Redeeming Love?

I love when people disagree with me, especially when they stick around long enough to have a good discussion. The other day, I got into a discussion with a woman about the color of a novel. It started with a literary agent asking me what kinds of books I thought were missing in Christian literature. I answered that it seems like most of what is out there is either pastel, as is the case with romance and other forms of women’s fiction, or it is the dark browns and black of stories about demonic forces taking over the world. There isn’t much in between. In another part of the discussion, another commenter said something about Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. I said that I had read the book and I saw it as being primarily aimed at women and it is more pastel. The woman disagreed, so I thought she was disagreeing about Redeeming Love being aimed at women. I went into some detail about how Francine Rivers’ had fashioned Redeeming Love in such a way that the woman had the primary lead and the man, aside from rescuing her from prostitution in the beginning, does little to influence the outcome of the story. It is only after she silences her demons that she returns to him. I said that when I read the story of Hosea, what intrigues me is the man’s role in the story. Here is a man who loves his wife, but she leaves him and the kids anyway because she thinks her lovers have more money. Here is a man who is willing to let her lovers take the credit for the things he’s doing for her, because he loves her. Here is a man who, even after all she’s done to hurt him, even after she’s reached the point where other men don’t want her, is willing to walk into the slave market and pay the price to get her back, when she was rightfully already his. He’s the kind of man that guys should want to be like, and that’s the image that we see in the book For the Love of a Devil.

Okay, so after I said all of that, it turns out that the woman wasn’t disagreeing with that, she was disagreeing with the statement that Redeeming Love is pastel. It intrigued me to think that we could disagree over something like what color the story of Redeeming Love is. After giving it some thought, I think she might be right. Redeeming Love isn’t pastel. Redeeming Love is more of a pink covered with burgundy lace. But isn’t it strange that we can talk about the color of a story like Redeeming Love and we know what each other is talking about?

The color for the cover of For the Love of a Devil was decided long before the book was written, but I think green is a fitting color. As for shading, I think it turns dark in places. As we move toward the end of the book, that bright green becomes more and more of a forest green and eventually you find yourself in a forest so dark that you wonder if you will get out. It is not unlike how the shading on the cover is. On the front, it is a bright green, but as you turn the book over, it grows darker and darker. But then morning comes. I imagine that last chapter as being an antique white, with white curtains blowing in the breeze.

I’ve got so much more to say about this. We’ll have to pick it up again some other time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Describe the Beauty of a Woman

How do you describe a woman’s beauty? In part, a woman’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A man in Africa is likely to see beauty where a man in Japan does not. If you were to ask the man in Japan to describe the beauty of a woman, he would probably describe something very different than a man in India. And look at what they say is beauty on television. Apparently, a woman isn’t beautiful unless she has nothing covering her long thin legs and her breast are the size of melons. If that is what you’re thinking of when you’re asking how to describe a woman’s beauty, that isn’t hard. Just talk about legs and breasts and cleavage and people will know what you’re talking about. But is that true beauty? A woman like that has made herself a slave to the men she is trying to impress.

If you find that when you are trying to describe the beauty of a woman, your mind’s eye focuses on those things that are below the neckline, you aren’t focusing on the true beauty of a woman. There’s nothing that says that a woman of true beauty can’t be attractive below the neck, but our description changes. Her dress was long and flowing. Her shoes highlighted her elegant feet. Instead of our focus being on the skin she is showing down there, our focus turns to her attire. But it doesn’t stay there long because talking about her clothes doesn’t completely describe the beauty of a woman.

Our gaze turns upward. Her eyes sparkled behind the oval shaped glasses. They were the color of a clear blue sky. I wondered how long I could stare into them without her thinking me strange. Her nose was upturned, ever so slightly. Her smile was gentle and sweet. Her hair was like corn silk and I wanted to reach out and touch it, to see how it felt in my hand.

Notice how very differently we describe the beauty of this woman than what we did for the first. Our gaze is almost completely on her face and head. If we were to continue to describe the beauty of this woman, we would turn our attention to what she did and said. We would describe how she treats other people. We would describe her kindness and her love.

How we describe the beauty of a woman has as much to do with our attitude toward the woman as it does her appearance. If we see the woman as having a head only to keep her legs and chest from looking funny then that’s the way we will describe her. But if we see her as someone to be respected as a person, our attention will turn upward and our focus will be above the neckline.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Key to a Successful Marriage

As you may know, I'm not married nor have I ever been, so I'm not the ideal person to offer marriage advice. But Christian novelist Colleen Coble recently celebrated forty years of marriage and one piece of advice she offered recently is "Appreciate all the things your spouse does for you. Verbalize it in front of others too." And then she said, "Focus on your spouse's good qualities." Good advice.

When was the last time you said something in public about something you like that your spouse does? Some people are so quick to tear criticize their spouses in public. I'll probably get in trouble for this, but it seems to me that women are the worst offenders. If nothing else, you can hear it in the tone of their voice when their husband does something they think is childish or silly. You don't see many men who will say something like, "You'll never guess what my wife did this week. She went out and bought a purse to match her shoes. Then she decided she didn't like the shoes." Some will, but good Christian men don't do that. The wife is to be protected. No matter how silly she may act, you don't go around laughing about it.

I always loved open house when I was in school. Both of my parents always went. What I liked best was when the teacher would talk to them and tell them how good I was doing at one thing or another. It made me stand a little straighter. There's just something about hearing someone praise us in front of other people. And though I've never been married, I'm sure the principle works the same for couples. Men, if you want your wife to feel loved, the next time you and your wife are out with other people, talk about how much you enjoyed that casserole your wife fixed the other night. Or talk about how well she does with the kids. Or tell them how you enjoy coming home to a clean house. Women, if you want your husband to feel respected, tell people how you like seeing him take the leadership role in your home. Tell them how much you appreciate the time he spends at work. Tell them about the work he’s been doing to fix up the house or keep the cars in running order. That’s what we’re all looking for. We long for someone to love us and appreciate us. That love and appreciation should primarily come from one’s spouse.

And another thing, make a commitment that you won’t criticize your spouse in public. There is never a reason for you to criticize your spouse in public. Never. Maybe they did something you don’t think they should have done. Save it until you’re in the car or until you get home, but don’t do it in public. Resentment comes quickly when a person is publically ridiculed. Don’t do it.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I think I should add one more thing. Offer praise at every opportunity and never publically criticize your spouse, even if your spouse does. I think one of the problems couples have is that one half of the couple is willing to do the right thing, but only as long as the other person is doing it too. When the other person hurts them, they take that as permission to hurt the other person back. That will only result in disaster. Instead, praise your spouse in public anyway and it is very likely that your spouse will soon be returning the favor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fixing Authors Who Can't Write

One of the popular things for literary agents to do on their blogs is to post first pages (with the author’s permission) and then provide comments and/or allow their readers to provide comments about what works and doesn’t work with the piece. The concept is that since agents typically see nothing more than the first page before rejecting a novel, the first page is very important. I’ve participated in these and have enjoyed doing so, but there’s a point where it isn’t fun.

The other day, an author submitted a first page and it was brutal. You can usually find something good to say, but this was a case that I felt like I was lying to the author by mentioning the good parts. There wasn’t much hope in saving it. All of the people who responded were nice about it, but I couldn’t help but thing that if I were the author reading those comments I would cry.

But then I looked at the author’s website. This particular author has a few books out, is a public speaker, and she gives writing classes. What a classic case of getting the cart before the horse, but I fear many authors are doing the same thing. So many authors are doing all the right things to sell books, but they can’t write.

Sadly, I think we’re doing the wrong thing by patting them on the back and saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.” It is impossible to improve if you don’t know you need to. Encouragement is fine, but we shouldn’t encourage the wrong behavior. But at the same time, there is a point at which it is painful to give an honest critique.

Have you ever submitted a first page for critique? Did you find it helpful? Why or why not?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reveal The Story

Writers are often admonished to Show, Don’t Tell. My roots are in the Show Me State, so I’m all for showing, but I think there’s enough confusion about the topic that some writers just don’t get it. I don’t know if it will help anyone else, but when I think about this topic I think in terms of revealing, rather than showing. That may be confusing also, since you can reveal something by simply telling someone, but I imagine that there is something hidden behind a curtain. While the curtain is closed, I can’t help but wonder what is back there. Someone pulls back the curtain a little ways and I can see something. There is a table back there and something is on it, but I’m still not sure what it is. Then they open the current all the way and I can see, that a magician’s top hat is on the table and he is about to pull a rabbit from the hat.

In a story, it isn’t just about action versus narrative. Narrative has a way of slowing down the story because it stops the clock, but the real question is whether the reader has a sense of discovery. We tend to get that sense of discovery with action because the things the character interacts with and how he does it reveals something about the story and the character that the reader discovers by reading between the lines. With narrative, the tendency is for us to give the reader the stuff we think they need to know.

Let’s look at an example:
While the video played, Robert adjusted the microphone hanging from his ear one more time. He pulled the transmitter from his belt and looked for the little red light then reattached it to his belt. The video reached the half-way point as he checked his appearance in the mirror. His polo shirt was buttoned. The sleeve weren’t turned up funny. His hair was combed and his teeth were white. He heard the words, “We were on the verge of losing our house” from the backstage monitor. Without looking at the screen, he knew it showed a man and his wife sitting on a sun lit porch. Ten seconds to go. He began his walk to the stage. The lights came up. He walked across the stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I know you’ve all seen plans for you to make money at home before…”
Now, compare that to:
Robert is trying to sell his latest money making scheme.
Clearly, the first example provides a better sense of discovery because the reader is allowed to figure out who this guy is, rather than us telling him. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t provide a sense of discovery with narrative.
Robert is in the business of promoting money making schemes. He is bankrupt.
This is narrative and some may call it telling, but it has revealed something about Robert that the reader might not have expected.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Little Research

Research isn’t always good thing. I’ve seen some authors talking about all the research they did when they wrote their books. You open up the book and there it all is. One author was talking about visiting a farm and talking to the owner about all the stuff he did in a day. She rattled off a list of stuff he told her. In the book, it was pretty much all there.

The problem is that when you’ve never lived in that environment, you might place high importance on something that the person you are interviewing sees as unimportant. You might assume that something he mentions is common when he is actually telling you about it because it is rare. And the truly ordinary stuff—the stuff novels are made of—may go unmentioned because it is so ordinary that he didn’t think you would want to hear about it.

One reason people like reading novels is because they give us a view of what other people consider ordinary. It isn’t ordinary to us, because we don’t live in that environment, but it is for our characters. No matter how fascinating we may find something, we don’t want our characters to be fascinated by something they find ordinary. We don’t want to put great emphasis on something that our characters would do without thought.

So, a little research is a dangerous thing. There’s a reason why we should write what we know. If we haven’t lived in the environment of the story, we may do more harm than good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Worst Pain

Is divorce worse than losing a spouse through death? Unless you’ve experienced both, I don’t think you can compare the two. Even if you have, it is likely that your experience may be different than someone else’s. I’ve never been married, so I’m in no position to say. But what about that saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” Perhaps that isn’t true. I can tell you straight up that I would rather spend my whole life single than to go through a divorce. As for whether divorce is worse than the grief from losing a spouse through death, logic tells us that it is. The widowed person has the memories of the good times to look back on. The divorced person is unable to enjoy those memories as much as he should. He can’t look back a the times his wife did something nice for him without wondering if she really did it because she loved him or if she was just going through the motions.

But here’s the thing: It really doesn’t matter. The person whose spouse has died doesn’t care whether her grief is less painful than that of a divorced person. It hurts. That's all he knows. As a single person, I know that I’m better off having never married than to have married and then divorced. But when I start feeling sorry for myself, that has no solace for me. To put it another way, your pain has less meaning to me than my pain. When someone is going through pain, it does them no good for someone to belittle it. For all we know, the pain they are experiencing is the very worst pain they can possible handle. Our own pain may come from a worse experience, but our ability to handle it may be greater.

At some point, I think we have to conclude that grief is grief, no matter where that grief comes from. That doesn’t mean that we can tell someone who has been widowed that we understand because we lost a dog when we were five, but we should never belittle another person’s grief because we don’t see it as being as bad as something we went through. To that person, whatever they are going through is far worse than anything we have been through, because they haven’t experienced our grief any more than we can experience theirs.