Everyone questions their worth at one point or another—but especially those of us in creative industries, such as writing, because we face so much rejection. Whenever we prepare to share a story with others, we’re tempted to judge ourselves by how it might be received. Is it good enough? Are we good enough? Will readers like it? What will they think of us? Is it clever and original? Are we talented? Will a publisher accept it? Do we belong?
Meaningful stories leave you with memorable solutions to complex issues. A story shouldn’t stand behind a podium and spell out the lessons you’re supposed to learn from it. But it should tackle complicated questions and conclude after the characters have embraced (or, in some cases, rejected) the answers. That’s why resolution, the literary term for a story’s ending, contains the word solution.
I’ve long believed that authors can benefit from the methods educators employ in the classroom. Applying them to short pieces or rough inspiration may open up reservoirs that would otherwise go untapped. And daily mental aerobics train your mind to approach topics from a variety of angles.
All of us are experts at sad stories. We’ve read novels that schooled us in death scenes, betrayals, fractured relationships, and harrowing pasts. These examples taught us that tormenting the protagonist is easy: just thwart his deepest longings. Then we can type “the end” and congratulate ourselves for accurately reflecting our fallen world. But the real sad story is how untrained we are in the art of weaving meaning into tragedy.
Since the rebellion in the garden of Eden, our souls have longed for wrongs to be righted and life to be whole. Happy stories aren’t heaven on earth because they ignore our brokenness. One of the most challenging aspects of the human condition is when we fall into hardship, where we begin to question who we are and why God has seemingly forsaken us.
Books were history’s first long-range torture devices, subjecting readers to vivid renditions of holocaust, suicide, doubt, and betrayal. As the worlds and characters shatter, so do our hearts. But can we write about such situations without creating emotional scars? Should we even try?
Stories that focus on the rosy sides of reality are rarely compelling or memorable. They’re predictable—and indistinguishable from other patented plot lines. Just like Hallmark films. Although lighter fiction has a place in today’s market, I’d argue that we need more stories tackling the gritty sides of reality from a Christian perspective. We explored this two years ago with our Tricky Subjects series. And this year we’re addressing it again from a new angle based on the eleventh resolution of our Christian Storytellers Manifesto.
A non-writer friend once told me that I seem to enjoy making my characters suffer. I disagree. Sure, portraying pain can be an exciting challenge, but I don’t relish putting my characters through trials. If their hearts are breaking, so is mine. Despite this, I realize that characters, like people, grow through adversity, and oftentimes they experience the greatest change when their circumstances can’t get any worse. In storytelling terminology, this hopeless moment is known as the low point, and it happens shortly before the climax.
When you’re waiting for the curtain to rise at a theatrical production, you wonder what the stage will look like. Will the first few moments show dazzling scenery or characters prancing about? Will silence or song fill the air? What are you in for, and where will it take you? The catchphrase “lights, camera, action” captures the exhilarating transition from darkness to light and stillness to dancing. When you stand on the threshold of a poem, you’ll have similar questions and emotions swirling through your mind.