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/