Friday, May 25, 2012

And the Novel Matters Because...

So, we're still askin' - why does the novel matter? God knows why (and I'm not being flippant). He should get credit for coining the most elementary of writing techniques: show, don't tell. Such a smarty-pants, He is. He knows so well what will get our attention.

The stories of the Bible are basic and life-changing, whether parable or true account. They are short and to the point, imparting truth and morals without preaching.  I don't remember being dissatisfied with a lack of details as a child. Indeed, we were discouraged from what was considered 'embellishing' scripture.  As a fiction writer, my curiosity now pricks at familiar stories that raise more questions for me than they answer. I find myself applying story-developing techniques, not to embellish, but to glean the most from the story. I speculate as to what the character felt, saw, imagined or concluded.

When we read (and write) fiction, we practice putting ourselves in another's shoes.  We develop empathy for characters, whether fictional or true to life.  This makes the stories of the Bible come alive as it did for me recently as I read again the familiar account of Saul's conversion. 

Saul is a young rising star. He has always gone by the book, jumped through all the hoops, and God is rewarding him for his diligence and righteousness.  His confidence explodes as he now wields the power of life and death over sinners.  He senses God's approval of him, endorsing and rewarding his actions.  Heady stuff for a young man. He's on the express elevator to the top.  Even his peers agree.

Then, on the road to Damascus, he is plunged into darkness.  He hears a voice, but it's not saying God approves of him.  Quite the opposite. Self doubt and confusion bring him to his knees. Is everything he's worked and devoted his life to a sham, or is the evil one trifling with him?  How could he be so wrong? It's not fair.  Fear sets in.   He has enemies in the church and he is at his most vulnerable. In his tortured, confused mind, he imagines the friends and family of those he imprisoned and killed to be close and plotting for his blood, or at least, celebrating his downfall. What if his companions abandon him now?  He would be left at their mercy. He grows despondent suffering from severe depression and doesn't eat or drink for 3 days. A once-great man, he is now completely humbled and degraded.  Life doesn't make sense anymore. His future is gone.  He gives up.

Ananias hears about Saul's condition and perhaps he revels in it. News travels like wildfire.  It's payback time. God is faithful.  He has our back!  But when God tells him to go to Saul to heal him, Ananias reminds God who he's dealing with. Are you sure you want to do that? Since God told Saul that Ananias was on his way, it would be like walking into a trap, and Ananias isn't exactly known for his guts. Perhaps he second-guesses the vision.  Was it really from God, or just a figment of his imagination? Eventually he realizes that it's too true to doubt.  Since God has never actually spoken directly to Ananias in this manner before, he has no choice but to obey. Ananias kisses his wife and children (for the last time, he wonders?) and heads out without telling them where he is going.  He feels a measure of peace in obedience which is better than defying God.  As he nears the street where Saul awaits, Ananias wonders whether his fellow Christians, especially those who have had loved ones imprisoned, will consider him a traitor and doubt his love of Jesus when Saul is back on his feel again.

Anyway, you get the picture. This is the way my mind works, sticking to the scripture and putting flesh onto the characters. Reading and writing fiction makes them come alive, and this is why the novel matters to me.

Do you feel that reading (and writing) impacts your understanding and appreciation of stories in scripture? We'd love to hear.


S. F. Foxfire said...

I've recently begun reading the Gospel of John again, and after a trial of faith Jesus has come to life in new ways I never imagined He could. He's the most compassionate and complex, driven and paradoxical character I've ever come into contact with. And the kicker? He's real. :]

Fiction has given me a weird and wonderful way to incorporate what I struggle with personally into story. It gives me a way to work it out, think about it, pray on it. I find that through fiction comes truth, which is strange and confounding, but oh-so beautiful.

Last night I came to the account where he draws in the sand, and when the men all throw down their stones and leave the adulterous woman, Jesus says something to the effect of, "Dear woman, where are your accusers? Do they condemn you?" She says no, and He says, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more." This display of bone-deep mercy and soul-knotting compassion stopped me in my tracks. Why don't we do that today? I definitely want to find a story with this level of awesomeness to write now.

Anonymous said...

Debbie, what a beautiful "fleshing out" of an old familiar story. Yes, being a writer helps me expand on the stories I read in the Bible, rather than just reading over (and seeing on one dimension) some of the most intense stories ever written. Imagine what life was like for Jeremiah. Or Hosea. When you flesh out their stories and put yourself in their shoes, what a depth is added to Scripture. It's seeing it for how it was meant to be seen.

Jan Cline said...

Whenever I read the stories in the Old or New Testament, I see them in my mind like a movie. This is the way I read AND write. I think God would have us speculate on the accounts we read. He gave us imaginations and curiosity and the ability to work things out in our minds. I think we fill in the gaps of the stories to make them come alive.

As I finish up a novel loosely based on the life of my mom, I see how hard it is to mix fact and fiction when it comes to someone close to you. Does anyone else have that issue?

Cherry Odelberg said...

"A measure of peace in obedience." Once again, the novelist is so truthful. "A measure of peace," story of my life. Will we ever reach complete peace until the final page?

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks for your comments! Don't we also experience the stories more clearly in different seasons of life?
I was reading in Acts 3 when the lame man was healed, and I had such a clear picture of the man prancing and hooting and clapping, with Peter and John laughing along with his infectious joy. Then, the man knocks the breath from them in great bear hugs because he is unaccustomed to his new strength. And I was laughing along with them :)

Megan Sayer said...

Debbie that's a great unpacking of that story - wow.
I've found a similar thing with empathy, not so much with bible stories, but with people in my world. When you catch buses there are all these different people on them and they talk loudly in front of you and you can't help but overhear their conversations, and so much of what they say makes you stop and think "what must that have been like for you? What did you do next?" or images will pop up in my mind of what it must have looked like being there, being them, dealing with joys and tragedies that otherwise I'd know nothing about.
People are just so interesting!

Marian said...

Several weeks ago I met a woman in a bookstore who said she never read fiction because it was a waste of time to read something that wasn't true. I tried to reason with her. "Fiction is full of truths." "Fiction is a look at life." "Fictions helps you examine the questions of life." She closed her ears and walked away as fast as possible.

Laurie said...

All my years of reading have helped me with a bible study based on the book of Acts that I am writing and posting on my blog.