Monday, June 6, 2011

The Cruciformity of Storytelling- A Novel Matters Video

Video text:
Preachy. An explication the storyteller strives to avoid. But how to circumvent “preachiness” while simultaneously weaving a strong moral argument into the fabric of the story?

Katy wrote an article posted on our sister blog, She Reads entitled
Eyes to See. In it she points to the storytellers need to consider broad and deep the life teaming around us in order to become arrested by things previously unknown or misunderstood. This, I think is an excellent first step: the action of willfully putting aside our own way of understanding the world in order to truly see the world as others do. Only when the storyteller confesses her blind ignorance can she begin to see the heart of the story she is trying to tell.

Out of this step come neat things begin to pour out of imagination. The storyteller finds a new hero. A broken one. Oh, not the pretty blonde with a winning smile and a broken heart. Not her. Rather, the storyteller whose eyes are open finds the outcast. The ignored. The powerless. The reviled. And in these dark places sees startling beauty. Not the need for redemption, instead she sees the tendrils of glory already present. The places where redemption has already broken in and found a miniscule toehold. Inside this dark-bright crawl space, the storyteller sees the hard nugget of true story.

Pouring from this step, comes the next, where the storyteller abandons her message in order to explore the message God has already written into the life of the beloved outcast. The story is no longer what the writer thinks it must be, but is transformed into the story that is the one the teller has no power over. The story that will not bend to an outside agenda—r egardless of how benevolent that agenda seems.

From here, the story populates with characters who swirl around the beloved outcast. Each of these characters, regardless of their role in the story’s structure, live out (model) a different aspect of the beloved outcast’s story. Together they fill out the complexities of their dark redemption-in-progress. They link together in surprising ways in order to demonstrate all the moral choices available. The storyteller does not pluck out those who embrace darkness, rather she seeks to understand the choice in order to bring its fullness to the page.

And, after this tapestry of character and story are in place and the story emerges, the teller sees herself staring back from the pages. She sees the plumbed depth of her own humanity, need, weakness, and desire. And having seen this, understands the story she will tell is one that makes room for everyone to find themselves. It is a story of inclusiveness and humanity. It is an act of love.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oh, my. Bonnie, so lovely to see and hear you. I can't believe how... okay, this is going to sound weird... but how beautiful and how articulate you are!! I actually sat in front of my laptop completely transfixed by all those amazing words just rippling out of your mouth. Then I had to go back and read the transcript in order to process everything you said.

I'm still in awe. Seriously. I mean, I know writers are supposed to be good with words and everything, but there's some sort of faulty wiring between my brain and my mouth. I could never do what you just did.

Anyhow... I loved everything you said. Particularly the bit about characters revealing the various facets of moral choice. And every other single word you uttered as well.


Meg Moseley said...

This brought tears to my eyes. It's all beautiful, but the two words that gripped me every time I read them were "beloved outcast." Look at the contrast between those two concepts. I can't articulate exactly why, but I know I'll be thinking about it all day. Thank you.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

The eloquence you speak with, Bonnie completely captivated me. This is so utterly beautiful!

So many things I will come back here to quote in the future. I love the part about the storyteller abandoning her message in order to explore God’s message.

This is a powerful message, made even more so by the reading of it.
~ Wendy

Marian said...

That makes sense. Now to apply it.

Anonymous said...

I love this format! I felt like I was sitting across the table from you.

I think I may have experienced what you described the other day. I'm working on a collection of short stories. Well, I battled against one of the stories. It got bloody and ugly for a few moments. I've never struggled so hard while writing. But when it was done I knew that it was truth. It startled me a little.

Thank you for putting words to our lives in this art!

Bonnie Grove said...

Karen: Aw shucks, woman. You make me blush. So glad you enjoyed the post. It's was hilarious to make, really. So many bloopers. I think if NM keeps making these (hint, hint ladies!), we'll have to show a bloopers reel at the end of the year. :)
All fiction (and I think "Christian fiction" suffers from this in particular), we need to keep in mind that there IS a smorgasbord of moral choices out there. Our goal isn't to turn a blind eye--it's to shine a light.

Meg: I too have been thinking about the beloved outcast a lot lately. Once you've pulled some thoughts together, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wendy: Thank you! I'm learning to trust the story more and more--and in this, I'm learning that I need to reach for the story that I don't believe I can actually write. The one that is bigger than my ability. In this, I think, is my hardest lesson of letting go of what I think the message of any story should be.

Bonnie Grove said...

Marian: Ah the application of it all. It takes a lifetime to perfect, I suspect. But that's the fun, too. :)

Susie: Being startled by your own work! That HAS to be an amazing feeling. When it shakes the writer up, rattles your cage in unexpected ways, you KNOW you're onto something bigger than what you started out after.

Jan Cline said...

Bonnie, this message is an eyeopener for me. I have struggled with finding realism in my characters. I think it comes from my own hiding. It's always about going deeper and throwing off the fear of reality. My new blog moto is "a heart out of hiding" and now, hearing you say all this, it makes even more sense.
Thank always a great post.

Meg Moseley said...

I'll try to explain why I love that phrase, "beloved outcast."

Adam and Eve? Beloved outcasts.

Zacchaeus? A beloved outcast.

The prodigal son? A beloved outcast.

The woman at the well? A beloved outcast.

The thief on the cross? A beloved outcast.

Even Jesus, when He cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" was a beloved outcast.

When you combine those two words, you show the pain of sin and the beauty of redemption, all in one person. It's not profound, but it sure does make me want to dig deeper.

Christa Allan said...

Your voice is as soothing and passionate as your writing.

I feel like I just sat down at an all you can eat buffet...but I have to start one choice, one bite at a time.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Ah, I love you Bonnie.

Bonnie Grove said...

Jan: I so understand what you mean by "hiding". We hide from ourselves all the time. Poking around feels strange at first, then liberating, then becomes the only option. I'm still working toward the goal of absolute truth to myself. Glad for the company.

Meg: Very nice. And very true. The beloved outcast also speaks, I think, to the very human idea of tribe-making and exclusiveness, rather than throwing the doors open to each other and inviting people in on their terms. If God is love, then where is our beloved community? Who have excluded? How do we let that person in?

Bonnie Grove said...

Christa: Thank you, my friend! Anytime you want to chew something over. . . :)

Ariel: Mwah! Back at ya.

Kathleen Popa said...

This really was amazing, wasn't it? Working with Bonnie is an inspiring, mind expanding experience.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, I loved this! Loved seeing you, loved what you said. I think the manuscript I just completed -- a difficult 2-year project -- was that kind of story for me. Hard? Whoa! I can't even tell you. But I think I went deep, and didn't hide from the light. But I'm glad it's finished.

Megan Sayer said...

I wasn't going to say anything because it was just a bit embarrassing to admit, but I'm probably not the only one. I was really struck by the beauty of your voice Bonnie, and found is so distracting I couldn't take in anything you said!

Oh, and you sound VERY Canadian, and I feel quite pleased that I'm really not crazy in imagining that Canadians talk different.

So there you go. Thank you. 'll read it soon and make sense of the content too : )

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy: I feel the same way about working with you. You ALWAYS keep me thinking.

Sharon, I agree, you hit this note well in your just finished project. The authenticity rings clear on every page. Mwah

Megan: You are very kind to say such sweet things. Interestingly, my voice makes my husband sleepy. If I read to him for more than a minute, he's out! Funny thing about my Canadian accent. I don't think I have an accent. A few years ago I was in California at a writer's conference and all the Americans were saying, "I love your accent!" I kept saying, "Thanks! I don't have one." Seems I do.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Yes to the bloopers reel at the end of the year! That would be hilarious.

Megan, you totally weren't the only one... please refer to my comment...

Marian said...

I know this is not exactly on topic, but I have a question and I know you ladies at Novel Matters have a lot of collective wisdom and have maybe experienced something like this....
I haven't had time or motivation to write lately so my novel in progress has just been sitting for several months. Today I finally started writing again. To do that I had to read what I have written. I've written about 80 pages and I've plotted out the whole novel...according to "The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing."
I hate this novel. I would never choose to read a book like this. It's almost sappy and the characters are shallow and I don't care about them. And, there is a baby in this book. She keeps getting in the way with her diapers and crying and sleeping, but she is essential to the plot. What would you advise in a situation like this?
Maybe I could change the tone. Is there a market for comic melodrama?

Bonnie Grove said...

Marian: It's nearly impossible to know what there is a market for out there anymore. ;)
At the end of the day, you're the master of your manuscript. What does your gut tell you about your story? Deep down, you know what you need to do with it. Getting to that might take some digging, might take some time, but it's worth the effort. I think the fact that you hate the novel is telling you something. It is difficult to do this kind of assessment. We're cheering you on!

Latayne C Scott said...

Marian, I am proud of you for being disciplined enough to use the Marshall Plan. And I wonder if the problem you're feeling with your WIP could be helped with some of Evan Marshall's advice: Put everyone into danger. Raise the stakes earlier. If the baby is in the way, put the baby into peril. (We all understand I'm talking about a fictional baby, right?) Give every character or situation which is annoying you a higher price tag.

Let us know how you deal with this problem. And blessings on you.

Latayne C Scott said...

Precious Bonnie, you on whom I have only laid my eyes that one time. I like others could hardly hear your words for just looking on you.

I hate to say that it reminds me of something I've written (wish somehow I could quote someone else, but...) I wrote a poem years ago about leaving a place I dearly loved, and one line in it echoed as I watched your video:

My eyes are greedy. I cannot see enough.

Steve G said...


Funny thing is, I feel that way too!