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Why Memorable Writers Need to Experience Real Adventures

July 1, 2021

By Christopher Babcock

 

As Jesus walked along, he noticed a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me. I mean, if you want to. No pressure. And feel free to wrap up the workday first. Just grab a sleeping bag if you decide to come because we’ll be on the road for a while. Also make sure you ask someone to water your houseplants while you’re gone. James lost his geraniums, and he was so peeved, haha.”

 

If Jesus had called His disciples like that, I doubt any of them would have listened. Or that the Bible would have become the cult classic (if you’ll forgive the expression) that it is today. Without urgency, the moment lacks stakes and tension. In short, it wouldn’t be a story worth telling.

 

The trouble with Christian writers today is that, instead of leaving everything behind as Matthew did, we sometimes stay huddled in our own little booths, waiting for excitement to tap on our windows. But not only does this mentality ignore Christ’s greatest commandment (“go into all the world”), it also stunts our growth. Only interesting people can craft interesting books. And being an interesting person requires one crucial element: adventure. 

 

But Can’t I Write Well with a Cup of Warm Tea and a Blanket?

You can! But the old adage “write what you know” is a reminder that you have limitations—limitations that you can either resign yourself to or expand. That doesn’t mean you must become a fencer to describe a sword fight accurately (although it’s not a bad idea!). Research serves a purpose too. What I’m talking about here is how your personal experiences enrich your emotional intelligence and understanding of God’s design, which lends more authenticity to the scenes you pull from your imagination. Being comfy while you write is fine, but if you spend most of your waking hours in that cozy corner, you’ll rob yourself of the ability to portray a wide array of people, cultures, and situations. 

 

Mark Twain piloted the length of the Mississippi at a young age. Tolkien and Lewis served in WWI. Maya Angelou fought oppression to become the first Black cable car conductor in San Francisco. Ted Dekker grew up as a missionary kid in Indonesia. Brandon Sanderson was a missionary in South Korea. J. K. Rowling taught English in Portugal. All of these authors share the trait of courageously stepping outside their comfort zones.

 

So Do I Need to Move to a Foreign Country?

My family did, and it was one of the best (and hardest) changes we’ve ever faced. But for the sake of the immigration offices, I won’t advocate this approach for everyone. Adventure doesn’t have to involve relocating to a different continent, but it should include some form of displacement.

 

In the Hero’s Journey plot structure, displacement is the moment at the end of the first act when the hero abandons his former life to pursue a goal. In the process, he usually plunges into a “new world” (often literally in sci-fi or fantasy) that he must master before he can solve his problems or defeat the antagonist. Although you don’t need to go to the extreme of putting yourself through the same pain as your characters, you can still actively choose displacement.

 

Genesis 3 records a tragic displacement as God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However, nearly every displacement after that chapter has a soul-shaping effect on those who willingly explore uncharted territory. Against all odds, Noah builds an ark and is catapulted into a new earth. Abraham sacrifices the wealth of Ur for the allure of trailing an unknown God through the desert. Jacob accepts the risks of settling his family in Egypt. Moses cuts ties with a loving community in Midian to travel into the heart of a hostile empire. Ruth remains loyal to Naomi and is blessed beyond her highest hopes. And, of course, Matthew exchanges his privileges as a tax collector for a much more satisfying, and challenging, vocation.

 

Adventure doesn’t lose any of its potency when you intentionally chase it. No one shoves Bilbo out of the Shire. He departs of his own free will, and the events that ensue are life-altering, both for him and everyone in Middle-Earth. You can seek adventure too—even if you’ll miss some of the comforts of home. 

 

What Kind of Adventures Should I Engage in?

Before you start getting nervous, rest assured that you don’t need to do anything wild that’ll make your family worry about your safety (or sanity). Adventure is a muscle you exercise whenever you embrace the unfamiliar over the mundane. The point is to avoid slipping into complacency and letting it become flabby. That requires commitment.

 

Maybe you live in suburbia, work fifty hours a week, and drive your kids to soccer practice every other day. I can already hear you grumbling that you don’t have time for adventure. But can you switch routes during your commute? At soccer practice, can you strike up a conversation with the angriest mom? Many areas of suburban America are becoming increasingly diverse—can you visit a synagogue or mosque? Even in rural areas, you’ll encounter Indigenous, Mennonite, or Amish minorities who may be willing to acquaint you with their customs.

 

If you’re struggling to determine whether you’re stretching yourself enough, apply the acronym CPR:

 

Cultural Displacement. Few experiences can match immersing yourself in another culture. Keep in mind that this can encompass sub-cultures (e.g., sports culture at a pub). If you’re an introverted homebody, try learning a new language or practicing hospitality by inviting folks over for a meal. Better yet, travel, whether to a neighboring town or the opposite coast if you can afford it. Attend a cultural heritage celebration in your area. Or, if all else fails, sing “Never Gonna Give You Up” as loud as you can in the middle of Walmart.

 

Physical Displacement. Athletic activities are an excellent way to challenge yourself. Think outside the box: you don’t have to jog or weight lift. Hunting, LARPing, parkouring, and dancing could all push you outside your normal hobbies while providing potential fuel for your stories.

 

Religious Displacement. This pertains to Christian denominations that are distinct from your own (e.g., Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Orthodox), as well as entirely different religions. Even if you strongly disagree with the creed of someone else, that person still bears God’s image, and certain parts of their beliefs will reflect truth. Whether you’re worldbuilding fantasy religions or developing characters for a contemporary novel, you’ll strengthen your writing by studying other worldviews.

 

How Do I Connect My Adventures to My Writing?

Preferably, pick settings that are similar to the ones your protagonist interacts with. If she camps in the forest every night, go on hikes with a friend. Carry a journal and note the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. You can capture details with a camera too (just make sure that you look at the photos later).

 

Even more importantly, reflect on the emotions that displacement evokes in you. Maybe you start out anxious but end up feeling fulfilled. Or maybe your adventure takes you in an unexpected direction that leaves you breathless. Brainstorm how you could incorporate those reactions into your work-in-progress.

 

As you admire the beauty around you, don’t forget that the scope of your adventure will likely differ from your protagonist’s. As Sam Gamgee explains it, “I used to think that [adventures] were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for… But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.” 

 

Adventure is a beneficial endeavor, but also examine your life for broader narratives that you never could have planned or foreseen. The ones that really matter.

 

Bringing Out the God-Flavors

In my introduction, I claimed that only interesting people can craft interesting books. While that’s true, remember that as a child of God you are beautifully and wonderfully made. Your mission, then, is not to don a false persona but to be salt and light. As you sprinkle those God-flavors along your path, you’ll also season your writing. Whether your adventures transport you to the patch of woods behind your house or an underground church in Afghanistan, God will join you in your quest and help you infuse your stories with far more depth and insight than you could have dug up on your sofa.

 

In the recent Engaging Plots Summit, Allen Arnold’s closing keynote mentions how the process of writing alongside the Holy Spirit reveals “things hidden since the creation of the world” (Matt. 13:35 NIV). What hidden things do you long to discover? Grab a paper and pen, and for two uninterrupted minutes, dream up as many adventures as you can. Don’t worry about feasibility—that filter will come later.

 

Now review your list. Which adventures stand out to you as 1) relevant to your writing, 2) character-building, and 3) plausible but not comfortable? Discuss your top three with a friend or family member. Or comment below! I’d love to hear what inspires you.

 


Currently a student of Global and International Studies at Carleton University, Chris grew up in a sleepy nuclear reactortown in northern Ontario but moved to Africa with his family at the age of 9. Since then he has visited over 20 countries on 4 different continents, which provides him with endless fodder for his imagination as he creates new worlds in his head. He’s currently planning the third book in his epic fantasy series, and he loves reading and writing stories that deal with difficult topics while also portraying truth. If you think it must be awkward for him to write about himself in third person—he thinks so too.

 

You can connect with Chris on Instagram @chris.b.babcock, by email at Christopher.benjamin.babcock[at]gmail.com, or check out his website to catch a glimpse of his vision: https://christopherbabcock.weebly.com/

32 Comments

  1. Kristianne

    Wow, this is so helpful and insightful! Having grown up as a missionary kid, I can definitely say that my experiences have really enriched my writing. And while my whole life has been one big adventure, it’s always a good reminder to continue to step outside my comfort zone and have that desire to learn more so that I can grow as a writer.

    Thank you for this great article, Chris!

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Hey Kristianne,

      Glad it was helpful! That’s really neat. I’m actually a missionary kid as well (if you couldn’t tell). I’m currently writing from Malawi, where I’ve spent most of my time since the age of ten. I think it’s a bit easier for MKs to step out of our comfort zones, but it still requires effort to make it a habit!

    • Olivia Catherine

      Haha, I’m stepping in as an MK as well. 🙂 How many years have you been MKs, Chris and Kristianne?

    • Christopher Babcock

      Wow that’s cool, Olivia! I’ve been an MK since I was 9, so about 11 years now. Where does your family serve?

    • Olivia Catherine

      It is! I feel like there are a lot of MKs around, or at least more than I ever thought existed when I was younger. I didn’t know many MKs growing up, besides my siblings.

      Cool! My family became missionaries on a First Nations reserve in North Western Ontario when I was one, but we moved from the res when I was twelve. So I was an MK for ten and a half years. Technically I guess I wouldn’t really be an MK anymore, but I still feel like one and love talking with other MKs.

    • Christopher Babcock

      That’s really cool, Olivia! I have a friend in Canada whose family is working with Indigenous churches in Saskatchewan. It sounds like a very interesting dynamic, and very necessary as we as a country move toward reconciliation and truth.

    • Christopher Babcock

      That’s really cool, Olivia! I have a friend whose family is working with Indigenous communities and churches in Saskatchewan. It sounds like very interesting work, and very necessary as we as a nation move toward truth and reconciliation.

  2. Sarah Pierce

    Very Thought provoking and insightful! Love following your adventures on Instagram!
    Are your books published in paper form?? And where can I buy them?

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Thank you Sarah! Glad you enjoyed it. My books aren’t published quite yet, I’m currently working on the revision process. But I do hope to begin sending manuscripts to agents or publishing houses within the next 3-4 years.

  3. Benjamin Black

    Awesome article! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      You’re welcome Benjamin, glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Joelle Stone

    Woah… these are all excellent points! More and more I find myself incorporating the little bits of everyday life (and the non-everyday life) into my stories. I live on a farm, so I ride horses a lot – thus, I knew how to write it when my characters picked up a few. Hikes are great – it really helps you describe scenery!! All excellent points, Mr. Babcock, and I intend to go out and find a few adventures of my own!

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Thanks Joelle! That’s really cool, sounds like you have a lot of tools under your belt for the writing process. I love hikes too, also runs. Recently I was running a half marathon and decided to mentally describe the scenery around me as best I could. When I got home I wrote it down as a description exercise, and I found it to be a great prose-building activity.

  5. Olivia Catherine

    That was a really cool article to read! Thanks for that! I’ve never really thought of it in that light: that if I want adventures to write about or new ideas, going on adventures myself is a good idea. Never crossed my mind before.

    Reply
    • Olivia Catherine

      Also, I couldn’t help noticing that you lived in Northern Ontario when you were young. I live in Northern Ontario and have my whole life, so I was curious what town you lived in?

    • Christopher Babcock

      Thanks Olivia! Glad you found it useful.
      So I grew up in Deep River, which may not be “northern” for you depending on where you live, haha! It’s North of highway 7 though, so that counts for something. How about you?

    • Olivia Catherine

      You’re welcome. 🙂

      Haha, so I don’t know the name, but let me look it up on a map… it may be closer than I’m picturing. And I have no idea where Highway 7 is, so I really need to look it up. xD

      We live in a small mine town really far North, two and a half hours farther North of Dryden. Do you know where that is?

    • Olivia Catherine

      I just looked it up and we’re a long ways away! Almost twenty hours!

      I didn’t realize how much of a difference it makes when I say Northern Ontario versus North Western Ontario. xD Now I see how much of a difference it can make! We’re like way over, close to the Manitoba border.

    • Christopher Babcock

      Oh wow lol, that is pretty far North! Sounds like an adventure living there.

    • Olivia Catherine

      It definitely is! 🙂 Half the winter is spent playing hockey and sledding. 😉 Haha, not quite, but my brother and I do play hockey a few times every week.

  6. Brian Stansell

    Hey Chris!

    Great article.
    Where can I reach you for bail money? I just got arrested for singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” over the PA system in my local Wal-Mart… [just kidding] 😉

    Great advice here! I am a PK too, but we didn’t go to the mission field. Though my cousins are presently flight missionaries in Mozambique, Africa.

    I did marry my lovely girl who immigrated from Russia, and I was born in a military-base hospital on the island of Okinawa, Japan. [Yes, the one in “The Karate Kid” movies.]

    I don’t remember much about it. I was only 3 months old when we returned to The States.

    I have traveled to Russia 4x’s since our marriage in 2000, visited Barcelona, Spain during an international conference, and took tours up into the Catalonia region and Montserrat monastery up in the mountains there.

    We have been to Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala many times, (I don’t remember how many).

    We have toured Canada visiting Victoria Island, BC (on our 10 year anniversary); Montreal, Quebec & Quebec City; Alberta, Ca and the northern range of rocky mountains in the Banff Nat’l park area.

    We also went for two weeks to New Zealand and toured the LOTR sets, including Hobbiton and the rocky outcropping hill used for the Edoras scenes. We flew up to glaciers, went canoeing, climbed rocks and hills, swam in the cold water streams, took an overnight boat tour in the Milford Sound, and visited beaches and a rainforest, and volcanic lakes, and mud pits.

    We have also driven 2400+ across country (there and back again) from San Antonio, TX to the Seattle, WA area, and we have visited Yellowstone Nat’l Park, The Colorado Rockies, and the Garden of the gods, Pike’s Peak, and explored the Denver downtown.

    We’ve been to Florida during conferences, traveled to Gatlinburg, TN to the Smoky Mountains. We’ve tour Washington, DC and visited Mount Vernon, The Capital, The White House (before the stooge), and the National Mall and its Art Galleries, Smithsonian Institute, and the National Archives (no we didn’t steal the Declaration of Independance). We visited Boston, MA and saw where the first congress building was, visited Feneuil Hall, saw the mock Cheers Bar (no we didn’t have a drink), visited the Boston Harbor where “tea was…ahem…made”, visit Annapolis, MD, stood aboard the USS Constitution replica ship, and rode water taxis.

    Dude, I’m tired. Living adventures has its perks, but I am enjoying the hot coffee, tea, and air conditioner, and no bug environment.

    We do take little day trips to see the local sites and walk the trails and woods, but I am feeling rather “Hobbitt-ish” wondering “Don’t adventures ever have an end?”

    I think I have enough fodder now for a few rip-roaring tales, and a few pictures to go with all that.

    God has definitely blessed me. But I do know this, none of it is as good as coming home, and none of it ever will measure up to the eternal home we who believe in Jesus, have ahead of us.

    That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT]

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Hey Brian,

      Wow, that’s quite a life! I’m glad that you have a Hobbit hole to return to after all of those travels and adventures. I’m sure that storehouse of experiences will serve you well as you write.

      I love that verse from Corinthians, thanks for sharing. Praise be to God! And what wonderful adventures we will have when we reach Heaven.

    • Brian Stansell

      Thanks, Chris!
      Appreciate your article, sir!
      I began writing Sci-Fi as a young kid and am glad that “not being an astronaut” didn’t disqualify me from thinking about characters who might be a starship pilot. 😉
      No matter how high I jumped on the neighbor kid’s trampoline, I just couldn’t get the direct experience I needed for writing about zero gravity. Didn’t help that I may have landed on my head a few times… ;P
      I guess I can now write about…head trauma? ><)
      But seriously, I get it. One must find a way to research enough to get the feel of authenticity, to be able to write credibly about something.
      With Satellite Maps software one can visit almost anywhere on Earth and get a reference point in a moment in time, even from a street level view, but this does not satisfy a true taste of the place. Its sounds, its climate, its smells and its flavors or odors. That may be where listening to the people who have walked in the places and experienced the non-visuals can help provide the atmosphere needed to credibly re-create from a distance. Reading auto-biographies helps in those cases or connecting with someone "safely" from another culture, with permission and transparent oversight from a safe guardian. (Not going to send a kid into a bar or advise them to pick up random online "chat pals". We do live in a fallen world, after all. Predators abound and naivete is cruelly punished. Matt. 10:16.)
      A "5-Senses" journal is a great idea if one travels. Capture the sense-perceptions of a place, but also time of day, weather conditions, light and cloud images, the moment in history point that is "here today and gone tomorrow" descriptions. Those put a reader in a place that feels real, and creates that fictive bubble that Ted Dekker talks about in his courses.

    • Christopher Babcock

      Absolutely, Brian! I’ve fallen out of the habit, but I did a writing course in middle school that forced me, as part of my homework, to make 5 daily observations/questions about my environment. It was a great exercise that stimulated my creative thinking. A “five senses” journal sounds like a great idea.

  7. Abigail Rambeck

    Great article! I’m definitely the type who needs an extra push to step outside her comfort zone. One thing I’ve done that has certainly enriched my writing is theatre. Acting out a story onstage gives you a whole new perspective on what makes stories work—especially when it comes to characters.

    This post is poking me now, though, reminding me that I’m a fail safe homebody and that I could stand a few adventures. Maybe I’ll ask my friend to give me some fencing lessons after all. 😄

    Reply
    • Brian Stansell

      Hi Abigail,
      That is wonderful! Acting gives you so much experience as a writer! I took drama in many classes from HS, to church plays, to college courses (both Acting and Directing), and university performances and plays. It gives you a great sense of immersing yourself into the character’s mindset, sound, motion, and motivations and gives you great rounded perspectives on fleshing them out in your writing. That will give you some very great experience to write with authenticity. One of the things I personally find helpful for me is performing my individual scenes and characters into a recording device (cell phones have Voice Memo) and then listening to how both the narrative prose flows and paying attention to the emotional tone and timbre of my character’s voice. What emotions are evoked, that I may not have even been conscious of when simply writing out the words they say. By employing audio, I can hear the nuances better and see/hear the character as a whole person, rather than a flat voice responding to deliver a line. Try it sometime and I would love to hear what you learn from doing that. There is a Forum Topic […pause for a shameless plug… ;)] called “Audio Cinema” on Story Embers, you might want to try out. The first two posts in it are “The Challenge”. Go simple at first. Employ your family as characters for fun, if they want. Would love to hear you there. Blessings to you. Perhaps this might be a simple way to step out of a “comfort zone”? 😉

    • Abigail

      I agree completely! Being in theatre has given me even more help than usual since I am also a scriptwriter.

      I am definitely going to check out the Audio Cinema. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds really interesting! That’ll be a step out of my comfort zone for sure.

    • Christopher Babcock

      Thank you Abigail! That’s super cool, I should probably try some acting at some point even if my audience is only my siblings. I imagine it would also be super helpful for knowing how to write facial expressions and body language.

  8. Dave Randall

    Hi Chris and greetings from Maple Grove,
    This is one of the best things I have read on writing in the past couple of years! Yes, I don’t just write gospel music and silly kid’s songs, I am a storyteller. I have always enjoyed working on becoming a better writer, and often read things like this to pick up nuggets. Such good insight from one so young! You have helped shape a thought or two for me. I thank you!
    Cousin Dave

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Hi Dave!
      Thank you, that means a lot! Maple Grove seems like a world away, but our thoughts are still with you all. I didn’t know that you are a storyteller as well, that’s pretty cool. I’d love to discuss the craft someday!

  9. Justine

    What a fantastic article, Chris! Food for thought, and inspiration!

    In Ted Dekker’s course on writing, “The Creative Way,” he also discusses how the creative works tends to become a working out of the lessons that we are learning/have learned as well. And no doubt, in all of our “CPR” we will grow as individuals as well as writers, encountering new things to think about and work through.

    Keep writing, I look forward to reading more of your work!

    Reply
    • Christopher Babcock

      Thank you so much, Justine!

      I didn’t know Dekker had a writing course, that’s pretty cool! I’ll have to check it out.

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