Please welcome this weeks guest Sydney Avey for The Journey. She answers the question: How have you seen God work in your writing journey?
Attend any story craft seminar today and you won’t leave the room without being admonished to “show don’t tell” at least once.
Writer: Anneliese felt scared.
Reader: Do tell.
Writer: Anneliese’s eyes froze in their sockets. Her heart tried to beat its way out of her stiffening chest.
Reader: Did I remember to lock the door downstairs?
In our desire to communicate the gospel it is tempting to put reasonable words into the mouths of our characters, words that engage the brain with explanations and answers, words that push a message to the mind rather than reveal a truth to the heart.
In making the choice to write character-driven fiction, a more literary style, I wanted to get inside the heart and mind of a person who has no firsthand experience with faith. I wanted to hear her words, not mine.
I set out to write a book in which the characters interact realistically—some of them enjoy a glass of wine, use salty speech on occasion, and feel lust at appropriate times. I wanted to present the discovery of faith as a mysterious and natural part of life. In doing so, I run the risk of being too Christian for some readers and not Christian enough for others.
Revealing truth that triggers emotion often involves a verbal outburst. Mild curse words that offend some readers may actually help others identify with a realistic situation.
For example, in the heat of outrage Roger judges his boss to be a most unattractive anatomical part of a donkey. A substitute term would be “jerk.” The Biblical term would be “thou fool.” This normally mild-mannered man would have to be spiritually mature to understand that branding even the most scurrilous villain negatively is a sin, but first he would have to know he’s a sinner. I chose the stronger word because I wanted to reveal the depth of passion Roger felt when he saw Dee being mistreated. And, it is realistic. That’s how some business people talk.
Law versus Grace
Moses handed down the law against taking the Lord’s name in vain in the Ten Commandments. I believe we have extrapolated this commandment to cover a long list of what we consider curse words.
It hurts our hearts when we hear others use offensive words. I worked with a man I respected in many ways, but his constant use of profanity upset me. He was not a Christian, so I had no right to expect better. I had a choice: avoid him or confront him. Because I cared about him, I confronted him.
I knew my friend did not intend to offend me; his cursing was a habit. I also knew he highly valued the English language; he was a writer. I pointed out that his constant use of profanity made it appear that he was at a loss for better words. That had a huge impact and he cleaned up his act.
A sermon would not have had any effect. It was a call to higher ground by a colleague who cared enough to point out a lack of integrity that could hurt him professionally that resulted in a behavior change. A call to higher ground can invite a step onto the path of faith, but it’s a gradual process.
Walking the talk
Writing in ways that reveal the heart sometimes means our characters don’t edit themselves. In the heat of passion, they may use less than lovely self-expression. (Torrents aren’t necessary, but dear to my heart are some poetic phrases my Dad used when he missed a nail and hammered his thumb.)
I find I’m stronger spiritually for staying true to my God-given purpose—to encourage the questioning heart. At the same time, I’ve learned that if I listen to my publisher and my readers, I can approach the necessary balance between the sacred and the profane. The joy I feel when readers say they learned something from my story outweighs the reality that some will not read it because it contains a few mild curse words.
My path has more twists than other genres. I have to decline more marketing opportunities than I raise my hand for because they seem more appropriate to popular genres like romance or cozy mystery. I’ve learned not to jump in front of God but to allow him to open doors. What joy when He does!
As readers, if we cocoon ourselves in fiction that promises never to offend, we may miss opportunities to grow. As writers, if we sanitize every interaction we may narrow our audience unnecessarily. As a Christian, I’ve learned to respect that reader tastes vary and to be grateful for the audience God gives me.
Sydney Avey and The Sheep Walker’s Daughter
Sydney’s journey from daughter and granddaughter to mother, grandmother and finally family matriarch has equipped her with stories to tell about how generations interact. “The best of what we inherit from the people we came from is the legacy we hope to leave, “Sydney says.
The Sheep Walker’s Daughter is fiction, but it draws from her own experience; a family secret about heritage; curiosity about family legends; dismay over past events. The Sheep Walker’s Daughter examines the paths we choose in life and how we respond when we see opportunities for change.
The Sheep Walker’s Daughter