My Writer's Journey
"The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord, and you also will testify."
- John 15:26b, 27a -
- John 15:26b, 27a -
Novel writing is like creating a fish. I started with a fishbone. It all began with the desire to write a story. Inspiration hit me when I took on the 40 days of discipline to wake up at 5:00 am and do yoga. This was to manage my chronic back pain.
After 40 days, I had forty lessons written in my spiritual journal.
“Now you can start writing your book,” my angel had inspired me. “Use each chapter to contain each of those lessons. What's your setting?”
“The desert,” I said. “Christ journeyed forty days in the desert before He started his ministry. I can use the desert to reveal the inner struggle that each of us must face. I've always been drawn to the image of the desert, mortification, the temptation of Jesus and how He overcame it.” The wisps of memory of the three months I spent inside the Carmelite Monastery brought a smile. In there, I drank from the font of wisdom of the contemplatives and the desert fathers.
“But I also want the mountain,” I added, remembering St John of the Cross' Ascent to Mount Carmel. I like the idea of God being on top of the mountain where He can vanquish all the evil within me, like Frodo bringing the evil ring to Mordor. But I also want it to be an adventure. Like Indiana Jones with all the plot twists and chase.”
“So You want it to be an epic adventure,” my angel said.
“Yes, with my hero as the victor, who has super powers. I love those humans with godlike powers. The Greek mythology, Marvel and DC comics, Six-million dollar man, The greatest American hero, X-men, TV series heroes.” I was rambling.
“And he will achieve all these powers when he vanquishes the Tempests of the desert and climbs the summit.” My fish bone had taken on flesh and cavity.
“But can I also make it into a love story?” I said. I'm a sucker for happy endings. Love Disney fairy tales where the prince always ends up with the princess. I grew up with teenage pocketbook, Mills and Boon, Harlequin, and Barbara Cartland.
“Whatever sends you the giggle and thrills,” he said.
I beamed. My fish now had heart and lungs.
“I want you to enjoy the whole process of writing. Just prance away. Bring your character to where you want him to start and lead him to your happy ending. In the middle, let him do what he wants and you can play around with all sorts of plots twists. Just don't get everything so twisted your reader will get lost in the maze and would demand for an airlift out of it.”
So I did as my angel told me. Suddenly a whole new world opened up to me. And God started to talk to me through my characters, teaching me the lessons I learned and adding their own take of the lessons.
They had layered my fish with muscles and skin. Sometimes, in the middle of my writing, I’d cry when I hear the voice of my Lord in the mouth of my hero.
“You do know your hero is a mirror of you and your struggles,” my angel said.
“Then how come on occasions, he refuses to do what I tell him to do? Refuses to go where the road would lead him directly to the mountain?”
“He likes to explore and see if he could navigate the pit or touch that fire and not get burnt.”
“Test his powers, hmm?” I said.
“Just like you.”
I held out my hand to him. “Stop layering my character to become me.”
“But you are the voice of your character. Why do you think he is so real to you? That's your voice talking to God and to the demons inside and around you.”
The more I listened to my hero, the more convinced I became.
“Now, you have to stop making him explain all these stuff to his readers. He's a character not a narrator or an emcee of your stage play. Let him do his thing and describe it as it is. Your readers are not dumb. Dig into his motives. What was he thinking when he jumped off that cliff? Just that one thought. Don't let him expound and extemporize like he knows he has an audience out there waiting for his every move. He's being chased okay? No time to dig deeper into his motives than the first instinct he had. You can make him ponder when he's lying on the grass, gasping for breath or hiding behind the rock.”
Less is more, I reminded myself.
“And nail that lesson in your head. You want your readers to own your story. Don't delve into specifics otherwise they won't be able to relate to your character. Look at the parables of the Master Storyteller. It is subject to anybody's interpretation and open to the movement of the Spirit. Minimal musings and pondering. Just descriptive narration if you want to capture a larger audience and speak to different time periods.”
I nodded and remembered my struggle at describing every curtain that hang on the wall and flower in the vase. God spoke through Sol Stein, author of the book On Writing and said, "You're a writer, not an interior decorator."
“And child,” my Lord said, “enjoy the process of writing. You don't want a character who's always on the run. You want him to take a deep breath, enjoy the scenery, interact with his heroine and companions. I want the same for you. That's pacing for you and your hero so you don't end up dead even before the story ends.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
So I had fun cutting and pasting pictures of my characters, images of movie stars who would resemble them and browsing Travel magazines and identifying the places I imagined where he'd end up.
“I like this pace, Lord,” I said one day while running on the trail.
“Remember, you are more than a writer. Don't let this new ministry consume you. It's supposed to add thrill and adventure to your life. Here’s a useful tip,” my angel said. “Always have your beginning and ending before you, so you don't stray away from your story design.”
Was he talking about me or my character? I shook my head. I'm reading too much of his layered language.
“Like I said, layer but keep it simple," he said.
I nodded and worked on the scales, fins and tail of my fish. Soon it’ll be ready to swim.
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