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Redeeming Bible Villains–Jezebel

This post is continuing with the theme of finding redeeming traits that might make characters based on Bible villains more three-dimensional.

Of all the villains in the Bible, Jezebel is one of the most fascinating. Even among those who aren’t avid Bible readers, mention of her name conjures images of wickedness and seduction.

Her name appears in the Bible twenty times, although one refers to the Jezebel of Revelation 2:20. This Jezebel, though also a seductress, does not have quite the wicked reputation as the Old Testament queen.

When Jehu conspires to kill Joram after being annointed king of Israel, Joram asks if he’s coming in peace. Jehu answers, “What peace, as long as the harlotries and witchcraft of your mother are so many?” (II Kings 9)

Unlike Cain, to whom the Lord gave leniency, Jezebel was sentenced to death by her own servants and eaten by dogs. 

I love these Old Testament stories, with all their twists, turns, and gore. But to write a Jezebel–how can she possibly have any redeeming qualities?

At first, I considered the possibility that perhaps she didn’t WANT to marry Ahab, and she might have been at least somewhat obedient there. Yet I Kings 21:25 says:

But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.

It’s hard to picture her not enjoying being a powerful queen, manipulative and murderous. This verse has the same feel to it as Adam’s blame in Genesis–the woman made me do it! 

So, admittedly, these might be a stretch, but here goes–

  1. She was zealous in her idolatry. In how many other instances would a woman marry a king and not be expected to adopt his faith? Especially in Bible times where women wouldn’t have had the freedoms we relish in today. 
  2. She was effective in her evangelism. In I Kings 16:31-32, we see that Ahab not only fell into worshipping Baal, but he also built altars to worship in Samaria, which he surely knew was an atrocity to God. In this, I picture her as perhaps a smooth talker–the seductress side of her winning him over. And perhaps, that alone would be a redeeming enough quality for a Jezebel-type character, charismatic enough that readers are swept into the seduction.
  3. She accepted her death with dignity. Although there was no dignity in being eaten by the dogs, Jezebel did face her fate head on. Unlike the warden in The Shawshank Redemption, who ended his life in the final moment before the authorities came for him, Jezebel put on makeup and adorned her head, and waited for Jehu. She even asked him, as Ahab had, if he came in peace, knowing full well the answer. 

There you have it.  Redeeming qualities of Jezebel. On to the next villain!

 

 

Can You Be Great and Humble?

I think somewhere deep within all of us is a quest for greatness. We want to be recognized, honored, and patted on the back for our accomplishments. Part of wanting to be published surely relates to that. After all, I’ve worked SO hard on this masterpiece. So many hours that could have been sleep, so many rewrites and revisions. Someone should really give me some appreciation, right? It’s so hard to keep that attitude in check.

And yet I read verses like Proverbs 3:34, and feel an immediate twinge of guilt for ever entertaining such thoughts.

Surely he scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.

Now I wouldn’t call myself scornful. And I definitely want His grace. But as I approach the moment where I start sending my work out for scrutiny, I’m sure the temptation for scornfulness will come with the rejection that’s sure to follow.

After all, haven’t all the “greats” suffered rejection?

This led me to ponder what I truly want from publishing. I can’t deny the surge of excitement that would come from seeing my name in print, from walking into Barnes and Noble and finding my name on the shelf.

But then, I consider the what if–suppose rejection doesn’t follow. How can I keep myself humble?

Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913, said this:

We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.

And to be great in humility comes from purposing to be like Christ.

Maybe I just worry about silly things. The answer always comes back to living a Christ-centered life.

So, with that in mind, of course we can be both great and humble, in Him.

Let it Go (the emotion, that is…)

Confession. I have not yet read The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure it’s a lovely book. Everyone I know is talking about it. And I haven’t read it for the same reason that I’ve never made it all the way through A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook. My chest constricts just thinking about it. Tears well up in my eyes and I start wandering the room for chocolate. I’m not a fan of sappy.

I know, I know. So many good books I’ve missed out on because I don’t like to face that raw emotion.

Then there’s my temper. I teach teenagers. I’m paid not to lose my temper. And with that, I’ve learned to let things roll off my shoulders. It takes a lot to make me mad these days, which makes it really hard to write a dramatic scene in a novel.

Yet, I’m working on a scene where I need to vamp it up. And I’m stuck. I guess I’m going to have to grab some tissues and force myself to read a few of those sappy books.

Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice, wrote this article on writing about raw emotion. His first thought was to draw inspiration from music. That, I can do. I can actually listen to songs that evoke that sort of emotion as I write. I’ve never been a playlist writer, but I know that writers are. Bunting suggests using repetition and restraint to convey the emotion. I like the thoughts, but I felt like the article could have given a few more examples. So I Googled on.

Nevermind that when I searched (when should a character let emotion go) and found Elsa, or (when should a character break down) and found Twilight

But finally, I came across this little gem: Character Rants and Breakdowns–Let ’em Rip by Beth Hill. I realized how much of the problem is me–holding back my own emotions, so I hold back the emotions of my characters. Writing and reading is an escape. Catharsis is acceptable on the written page, and it will lead readers to compassion for my characters.

This reminds me of Romans 12:15, one of my favorite verses on compassion.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

It’s exactly what readers want to do. Now, to push my sleeves up and make them feel that scene.

The Truth Comes Out in the Details

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First, a quick shout out to my readers. I appreciate each and every one of you and thank you for playing a small role in my quest to be published. Cavernous is still going strong. 

I wish I could remember who told me this. It might have been my good friend Kimberly Grenfell, a.k.a. Devon Winterson

It’s the small details that make the story.

Lately, I’m finding that more and more to be true. But a lot of times, we miss out on the small details because the big picture in a story is so exciting/overwhelming/larger than life. 

The above picture is a favorite from years ago, one of my first documentations of my daughter’s uncanny ability to destroy a room within a matter of minutes. If you examine closely, you can see that her destruction follows a specific path from my kitchen through my living room to the front hall. It might be easy to retrace that path and come up with the story of all the things she’d done along the way.

If memory serves me right, I was folding the laundry right beside her and came out to this mess. It took about ten minutes, tops. I walked out, gaped, snapped the picture, and shook my head at the chaos.

My in-laws joke with us sometimes. They say, “Y’all blame everything on little Dana.” And it’s true–if there’s a mess in my house, she’s the first one I’m going to turn to. But just for kicks, I zoomed into the picture to see if I could figure out what she was thinking when she made the mess. 

I saw: My son Matt’s shoes, his little cardboard/aluminum foil “creation,” paper plates, the foam letters he loved to play with–maybe, just maybe she wasn’t the only culprit. The details tell a completely different story than first glance. And I think that’s true in novel writing, too. I always start a chapter with brainstorming and freewriting, which generally leads me to a skeleton scene that consists mostly of dialogue. What I’ve learned is that the fill-in details I choose to add can completely change the tone or intensity of a scene. They can make a likeable character suddenly heinous or a villain seem tolerable.

I’ve been focusing on ways I can make my writing more believable and character emotions more compelling. In my quest, I stumbled on this blog post from Author Magazine from the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association: Believable Fiction.

I love this quote:

Our lives are not led in the physical—that is, we are not pinballs bouncing from event to event. We are not a collection of limbs and organs generating a series of thoughts, but rather a series of thoughts compelling a collection of limbs and organs. What readers always seek in fiction is what it feels like to be alive, not what it looks like to be alive, because the feeling is in the end the only reality we ever know, because the feeling reality, which exists within the invisible self, is all we have that is ours and ours alone.

I wonder if my brainstorming might be more effective as a series of thoughts compelling our characters rather than characters generating thoughts. In other words, the thoughts come first, including a decision about the emotions I want to convey. Then, the actions to show that emotion–slamming things for anger, dropping things for shock. Next, the objects from the setting–the papers that are shoved off a desk, the priceless artifact that’s dropped. Finally, the character attached, who is the kind of character that would behave in such a way. Hmm… Guess I’ll experiment and let you know. 

 

Write from the Heart, Write on the Heart

reading bible

A friend asked a few days ago what drives me to write Christian young adult fiction and not mainstream. Though I’ve touched on this topic in another post, one thing I didn’t mention is my deep concern that many people claiming to be Christians are not reading their Bibles anymore. They’ll say, “Oh, I saw that in a blog post,” or “I read about it in a book.”

For me, there’s only one Book, THE Book, that serves as the source of my faith. Blog posts and commentary are only manmade opinions, just as this one is. And if I’m to have a platform, that’s it. Read your Bible. More than that, write its words on your heart–Memorize Scripture. Anything I write now, or in the future, will have that message somewhere within its pages.

I drew inspiration for my work-in-progress, Cavernous, from several different sources. One was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which to me, is one of the scariest concepts–the banning of books.

In Cavernous, several US states have seceded to form their own country, the Alliance of American States. Adrian Lamb, the leader of this new nation, has printed his own Bibles, keeping only the Scripture that suits him. And sadly, many of the so-called Christians in the Alliance have not read the Bible enough to even detect that parts are missing.

Just like firefighter Montag in Fahrenheit 451, who becomes the “back-up copy” of the book of Ecclesiastes, my protagonist, Callie, carries Scripture in her heart. Thus, she’s able to resist Alliance brainwashing, since she knows what pieces are left out.

This morning, I read from Deuteronomy 11.

13 ‘And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ 16 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.

18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.–Quote from NKJV, accessed from BibleGateway.com

 

Verses 18 and 19 could well be my mission statement. Lay up God’s words in your heart and soul, keep them in front of your eyes, teach them to your children, speaking of them continually, write them where people can see them.

Through the Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes program, my husband, children, and I have participated in an event called “Centurion of Scripture.” The goal is to memorize 100 Bible verses in a year. It seems a daunting task until you push up your sleeves and start learning verses, but after that, it’s actually pretty easy. Think about what a better life we’d all have if everyone wrote the words of God on their heart.

Don’t Your Characters Ever Get Tired?

I was critiquing a writing piece a few weeks ago and the person had an action-packed chase sequence. It wasn’t terrible, but the sequence happened over a three day span and the characters didn’t make any stops to eat or sleep.

Which was… UNBELIEVABLE. Let me tell you, if someone was after me and I had to run, my almost forty-year-old body is in trouble. I can make it about a quarter of a mile before I’m panting like a dog on a hot summer day. I’mresourceful–I might be able to trip my stalker and knock them into a mailbox or something, or grab a large brick from someone’s flowerbed and aim where the sun don’t shine. No way a story written about me could justify a character going through a three day chase scene like that.

The point is, it’s important to think about the reality of a character physically being able to handle the challenges we put them in.

I remember reading about the jump Tris made in Veronica Roth’s Divergent (which I loved), and being a little disappointed in the impact description.

Roth writes:

I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me, and I wheeze, struggling to breath again. My arms and legs sting.

The physics teacher in me felt like there might be some rope burn from the net, maybe a few bloody scrapes.  Maybe she’d wobble her first few steps or something? I mean,  I know that “hottie” Four frees her from the net, but then she goes on the tour, and there’s no physical remnants of her dauntless acts.

So, the other day I had a conversation with my sis-in-law about an upcoming trip we’d like to take with the kids–an eight mile hike. She advised me to prep for the trip, cautioning that it would be difficult for an average person to just jump in on a hike like that without any training.

Makes me think about the characters in my story–a teenage girl, on the run, hiking four or five miles off-trail. I’ve added all these setting details, but I’ve basically just taken them from point A to point B. They rest, they sleep, but I’ve forgotten to add those touches of realism–aching feet, blisters, sheer exhaustion–that would keep my character from seeming larger than life.

So many tiny little details to think about when writing a story.

Going back now to reread the whole thing and look for places to add sore elbows and feet 🙂

 

Deepening POV

I started reading a book a few weeks ago, from the recommendation of an online friend. It’s called Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. I highly recommend it.

Short, sweet, and to the point, Nelson highlighted several of my common mistakes and gave me insight on how to not only fix them, but to avoid them altogether.

In the first chapter, Nelson describes the different kinds of POV and gives clear examples about what they are and what they aren’t. But chapter two gets to the meat of the book–explaining how deepening POV eliminates narrative distance. It made perfect sense. I have to cut myself out of the book so my characters quit tripping over me. Really hard, since I’m writing a first person novel, but it’s basically stuff like instead of saying a character watched something, just say the something happened.

Deepening POV, according to Nelson, will solve two of my biggest issues–what to do about those pesky italic thoughts  (no italics for deep POV. Simple answer), and how to get a reader to completely absorb themselves into my character instead of being detached.

Chapter three advises against the use of phrases like I wondered, he thought, she thought, etc.  In chapter four, she recommends not giving the name to a feeling. For example, instead of saying I’m angry, I stomp my feet and slam my glass on the table. Let feelings be given through action. Great advice.

Chapter five hits home, recommending to “ditch prepositional tells.” I love prepositional tells. My writing is peppered with them, and I have to keep forcing myself to cut them.  I love her idea to give dialogue in context, so the prepositions aren’t needed. This is one place I really need to grow–establishing characters in a setting/scenario/context before having them in an emotional scene.

Chapter six delves into another of my personal habits–filtering through he saw/she saw. I can always stand to write more direct.

In chapter seven, she gives advice on how to write linearly, step-by-step. This practice has really helped me muddle my way through that dreaded middle portion.

I spent the most time in the last chapter where the author makes some remarks about deepening POV specifically in first person. Her overview makes all the tiny errors that hold my writing back from where it needs to be glare out like a beacon.

What I love most about this book are the little exercises, and that it’s short and focused on this one particular  practice of writing.

Great little writing help book! http://www.amazon.com/Rivet-Your-Readers-Deep-Point-ebook/dp/B007PUMQ1O/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1396837713&sr=1-3

That’s a great first line!

So… a few weeks ago, I was named Area Coordinator for the Eastern Kentucky branch of ACFW. Whoo hoo! Other than the only other Christian writer I know of in the area  is the girl who teaches across the hall from me. Lots of work to do!

Today was an amazing day. A friend and I joined three writers at a quaint little bookstore/bakery to find out a little more about what needs to happen in an ACFW chapter. I can’t stress enough what a difference this organization has made in my life. The free classes, the contests, the encouragement–like anything else, you get what you give, but I’ve received some fantastic feedback and feel closer than ever to my goal of someday publishing.

One thing that stands out to me from the day–

As we got to know each other, we laughed and told stories. One of the ladies kept exclaiming, “That sounds like a great first line!”

I think about first lines all the time, stress over them, in fact. But this woman, within a span of about 30 minutes, had already turned our simple conversation into several great ideas.  So, a new challenge for myself and anyone who reads this. Every day for the next week, just listen to everyone around you. Pay attention to their quips and greetings, and find as many great first lines as you can.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you to Kimberly Grenfel, aka Devon Winterson, who invited me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour, where I answer four questions my writing process.
And where did the last two months go? Oh, yeah, right. No snow days and working like a fiend! So much for New Year’s Resolutions! LOL. I will try to be more dedicated to researching and making blog posts. I have actually read a couple of great books to blog about over the last couple weeks.
My Writing Process . . . answered by author Monica Mynk:
1) What am I working on? – Cavernous. Its a YA dystopian Christian fiction where Callie Noland’s world falls apart when her mother goes missing and turns up in handcuffs on national TV following a presidential assassination. In the aftermath, seven US states declare themselves seceded and create a new, somewhat unstable government.  Callie is snatched from her father and hurled into the new government when men claiming to be federal agents bring DNA results that seem to prove that he’s not really her father. Okay, yeah. I really need to work on the blurb. But that’s the general idea. Will Callie compromise her faith to blend into this new government safely or even to escape and get back to her father?
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? – As far as I know, there are not many people out there writing YA dystopian Christian fiction with a political/social media spin. The ones I’ve found are either older, like 1984, or more fantasy/sci-fi oriented. My dream is that this story will be the Hunger Games/Divergent of Christian fiction an inspire faith in young ladies everywhere. One of the accusations of YA dystopian novels is that the characters are sometimes underdeveloped. The romances are not fully evolved, etc. I’m hoping to do better at that.
3) Why do I write what I do? – Honestly, I’m not sure. Some of the things that show up on my page end up surprising me. I have this dark side that doesn’t physically manifest itself, I guess LOL. I write Christian fiction because I am a Christian and I don’t want to ever be pressured into including something in a book that isn’t up to my spiritual standards. I want to write books that my kids will read and be inspired to deeper faith.
4) How does my writing process work? – I always start with the idea, which usually comes from an observation or dream, and write until I have about 10,000 words of gibberish. Then, I sift through the garbage and try to find my story. After that, I outline a general timeline, which will certainly change eight or nine times. I research for a few days and then push up my sleeves and write a few chapters. Usually I find things I need to go back and explain, so what ends up being my chapter one is about six or seven chapters earlier than my original chapter one. I try to avoid prologues.
Once I have a full draft, I try to find holes–places where adding another chapter will enhance the story. My full drafts tend to be around 50,000 words and I want 70,000. Then, I add things to deepen the POV and details to make the characters and setting pop off the page.
I am working with a freelance editor/writing coach for my current story. This really helps because she finds the big flaws in my story and rewrite them before it gets too far in. I also participate in several writing sites, primarily Legendfire, and Scribophile 
Next Monday, on March 24th, I’m supposed to have three other writers give you their own “My Writing Process” answers. I asked several people who couldn’t do it for various reasons, so if you’re a writer and you’d like to participate, feel free to tag along. All you have to do is link back to my blog, answer these four questions, and then find three other writers do the same in the following week.

Resist the Urge to Explain

I learned a new phrase this week, from a wonderful lady who has agreed to become my writing coach and editor. As a bonus, she’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, so it’s nice to have someone who can work with me in that capacity, rather than someone from the secular world who would question some of my plot decisions because they don’t know how people act in church.

In just a couple conversations, she has helped me identify what holds my writing back from a professional level. One particular thing stands out–to resist the urge to explain.

I never realized until this week how much of a problem this is in my writing. Here I thought I’d been avoiding the dreadful info dump, and since then I’ve seen cases of it in every chapter of my WIP. I’ve been working hard on trying to master showing, not telling, and now I feel silly for not noticing how easy it is to eliminate with this simple advice.

For many new writers, explaining appears in the form of was/were:

Sarah yawned. She was tired.

Readers will understand she was tired from the yawn, so no need to explain. But I was doing this much more subtly (at least it was subtle to me–probably stuck out like a sore thumb to everyone else). Oh, wait! I just did it again!

I’ve since been researching this idea and found several good blogs on the subject.

From The Blood Red Pencil: http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2011/05/resist-urge-to-explain.html

From The Book Doctor: http://thebookdoctorbd.blogspot.com/2010/11/rue-resist-urge-to-explain-how-much-is.html

http://learnedaboutwriting.blogspot.com/2008/05/ten-point-revision-strategy-rue.html

And just Google it. There are many others.

Now I just wish I had time to sit down and edit every chapter. I can’t wait to eliminate my RUEs!