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Honoring the Bible in our Fiction and Nonfiction Writing by Ava Pennington

 

fiction and nonfiction

Do you know who Colonel Harland David Sanders was?

I’ll give you a few hints…white suit, string tie, white goatee, southern charm, and the originator of a secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. Ah, you’ve got it now—the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, now known as KFC. But did you know that he was more than just a KFC marketing icon?

While you may recognize the Colonel as a real person, more than half of a surveyed group of 18 to 25-year-olds believe Colonel Sanders was a figure created by Madison Avenue marketers to represent KFC. They did not know he actually founded the company, and the white suit was not a costume, but his daily garb until he died in 1980.

Does this really matter? Perhaps not much. However, what does matter is that this is another example of the blurring between fact and fiction.

It happens time and again. What some know to be fiction, others believe to be fact. What some know to be fact, others believe to be fiction.

Three literary examples

The first is The Da Vinci Code, a novel written by Dan Brown. That bestseller has sold more than 80 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages. It also helped to revive debate over the possibility of an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, a relationship that has no basis in historical fact. Yet many people read this novel—a work of fiction—as true.

The second example is another popular novel, this one written by William P. Young, titled The Shack. In it, the main character encounters the triune God in the form of an African-American woman, a male carpenter, and an Asian woman. Some Christian readers castigate it for being irreverent in its manifestation of the nature of God. Others praise it for blessing their relationship with the Lord. Trouble can occur, however, when readers mistake fiction for truth as they determine their beliefs about the nature of God.

The third example is the Bible. For many, the Bible presents the opposite problem. People read the truth of the Bible, and dismiss it as fiction – ancient fairy tales created for simple minds in a simpler time. But the Bible is nonfiction. Its words are true and relevant to us today.

Can we be sure the Bible is true?

What about those who don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word? How do we address those who say that, at best, the Bible is filled with historical and scientific inaccuracies? That’s easy.

Archeological discoveries have repeatedly verified the historical accuracy of the Bible. Such finds have included the advanced civilization of Ur in Abraham’s day (Genesis 12), the collapse of Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6), and the power and influence of the Hittite nation mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but unknown in modern history until 19th-century discoveries.

When it comes to science, nothing in the Bible violates scientific laws. In fact, 2000 years before Christ, Job noted that the earth hung suspended in space (Job 26:7), while his contemporaries in other cultures claimed the earth rested on pillars or on Atlas, who carried the earth on his back. In the area of biology, scientists now know that four distinguishable cell structures support four kinds of flesh, while Paul clearly stated this fact in his letter to the early Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:39). Any supposed discrepancies between science and the Bible occur when unproven scientific theory is claimed to be fact.

Finally, the Bible has been proven trustworthy in its prophecies. From Ezekiel’s description of Tyre’s destruction to Daniel’s visions of succeeding empires to the prophecies of Christ’s life and death, the Bible has shown itself to be reliable – without exception.

People may be confused about other books, but there is no reason to be confused about the Bible. It is non-fiction: true, reliable, trustworthy, and relevant.

Application to writing

So what does this have to do with us as writers?

First, we need to be convinced in our own minds that God’s Word is trustworthy before we try to influence others. Don’t be afraid of exploring objections to the Bible—this is a book that can withstand any amount of scrutiny!

Second, it’s important for us to be careful of the words we use to describe the Bible and its content. Referring to biblical accounts as stories is a common practice. But for many children, this makes it difficult for them to differentiate between biblical content and fairy tales. One way to prevent this confusion is to preface our telling with the assurance that this “story” comes from God’s true Word.

Finally, even though we write fiction and nonfiction that is believable, we do need to ask ourselves if our writing could cause readers to misinterpret or misapply Scripture. We don’t have to quote Bible verses to prove a biblical worldview. But what are we honoring as we write our stories?

What books have you read that seem to blur the line between fiction and nonfiction?  
How do you determine the truth about what you read?

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Writing Quotes to Inspire You for the Journey

Writing Quotes

The Write2Ignite conference is over and you’re sitting in front of your computer facing a blank screen. Here are some writing quotes to help you reconnect with your passion and creativity!

  1. “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”  ~ E.L. Doctorow
  2. “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” ~ Mary Heaton Vorse
  3. “If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
  4. “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~ Toni Morrison
  5. “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ~ Jack Kerouac
  6. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov
  7. “You don’t make art out of good intentions.” ~ Gustave Flaubert
  8. “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” ~ Charles Dickens
  9. “Our passions shape our books; repose writes them in the intervals.” ~ Proust, The Past Recaptured
  10. “I keep little notepads all over the place to write down ideas as soon as they strike, but the ones that fill up the quickest are always the ones at my nightstand.”  ~ Terri Guillemets
  11. “Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”  ~ Samuel Johnson, 1791
  12. “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” ~ Samuel Johnson
  13. “Let your accomplishments excite you, but don’t let them placate you. Let your rejections teach you something, but don’t let them paralyze you.” ~ Linda DeMers Hummel
  14. “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” ~ Tom Clancy
  15. “A good writer is an observant reader. Abandon any notions that reading is a luxury—the writer reads in order to write.”  ~ Linda Busby Parker
  16. “When you can take parts of yourself and give them to your fictional characters yet make them different from you, you will have succeeded in one of the most daunting journeys you will ever take as a writer.” ~ Rachel Ballon, Breathing Life into Your Characters
  17. “Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life.” ~ James Norman Hall
  18. “The first draft reveals the art. Revision reveals the artist.” ~ Michael Lee
  19. “Anyone can write one book, and perhaps even sell it, and in the rarest of circumstances become famous from it—because lightning does strike. To make a career of writing, though, you must take up the burden of making lightning strike regularly, where and when you want it.” ~ Holly Lisle
  20. “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”  ~ Samuel Johnson
  21. “There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.”  ~ William Makepeace Thackeray

Which quote resonates with you? Why? Tell us in the comments!

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Editors – Should an English Teacher Edit Your Book?

Editors & editing

Write2Ignite 2019 is history, but now your work begins! We hope you’re primed and ready to tackle a new project or pull out an old one that needs editing and polishing.

No matter how well we write, we all need someone with an objective perspective to critique our books. That’s why writing critique partners and groups are so valuable to us.

Still, we need to be careful. How do we process the feedback we receive? What is the background or experience of the people offering their critique?

We need to be especially intentional about the people we hire to edit our books. Are they familiar with the contemporary publishing industry? Someone with an in-depth knowledge of English or even classic literature may not be the best individual to edit our books. Which brings us to English teachers…

English teachers as editors?

At first blush, an English teacher sounds like the perfect editor. But the grammar and punctuation rules a teacher may follow might not be the same as those used by editors familiar with contemporary books in your genre.

For example, most of us were taught that sentence fragments are inappropriate. Yet they’re in frequent use today. And many classic literary works are heavy on flowery descriptions which contemporary fiction readers tend to pass over. As Elmore Leonard once said, “When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

Additionally, English teachers frequently encourage creative substitutes for the word “said.” However, in today’s publishing world “said” is better to be as invisible as possible. An even better choice is to replace it with physical beats. For example:

“No way!” Mary exclaimed.

As opposed to:

Mary slammed her fist on the table. “No way!”

Another example is the use of punctuation. From the perspective of an English teacher, semi-colons can be correctly used in fiction. However, in contemporary publishing, semi-colons are often discouraged in fiction. Why? They tend to pull the reader out of the story.

All that to say English teachers can be great editors as long as they also understand the current publishing environment.

Of course, they can be terrific at critiquing plot flow and character development. And they would also serve well as beta readers to provide feedback on whether your book held their interest.

So, definitely seek out critique partners and editors. But don’t make your choice based on titles or vocations. And when it comes to hiring an editor, connect with the individual to determine if they’re the right person to edit your work.

Bottom line: understand your genre’s standards and ensure your editor understands them, too!

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It’s Not Self-Promotion

Marketing & Promotion

I was excited when my first book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, was published several years ago. But my delight at the release of this project was tempered by the need to market it through a website, blog posts, newsletters, Facebook author page, Twitter, book signings, and other activities.

A conversation with an acquaintance highlighted the tension inherent in promotional activities. “Why are you doing book signings?” he asked. “If God wants your book to sell, then it will sell. You should trust Him.” His voice was tinged with reproach and his meaning was clear: a mature Christian should trust God rather than fall prey to the sin of self-promotion.

Marketing and promotion. I confess I’m uncomfortable with this part of a writer’s job. I dislike doing it and I hate that others—even family members—might mistake my actions for self-aggrandizement.

After all, I’m a Christian. The Bible tells me to be humble, to put others first, and—in the vernacular—to not toot my own horn. Proverbs 27:2 says to “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”

Still, publishing is a business, and that includes Christian publishing. In these days of staff cuts and diminishing budgets, most authors can no longer expect their publishers to roll out the red carpet to market their books. Even before a book is contracted these days, a traditional publisher wants to know what specific marketing plans you have for the project. If you’re not willing to promote your book, they probably won’t be willing to publish it.

My goal is to glorify God with my life. That includes my writing, which I believe is a gift He has given me. If this is true, then my goal must also be to glorify God in my marketing, just as I sought to glorify Him in writing.

This is not about me. I never want my marketing efforts to be self-aggrandizement. I don’t want to be the one waving her book high in the air, shouting “Look at me! Look at what I’ve done! Buy my book!”

Rather, I want to promote my books because they represent work God has done in and through me. He gave me an ability to use words for His glory. And He opened doors to publication in order to bless others. This is about what God has done. That’s what I want to say. I want to shout, “Look at my Creator! Look at my Redeemer! Look at what He has done! Look what He can do for you!”

The Bible tells us, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31 NIV).

If, in order to do that, I need to “put myself out there” then that’s what I do. But I do it in the hope that others will be blessed by the work He gave me. And they, in turn, will proclaim what God is doing and has done for His glory.

So, yes, I will continue to tell people about what I’ve published. Not because I want to draw attention to myself, but because I believe what I write will be used by God to touch others for His glory. And if that’s what I truly believe, how can I not tell others? How can you not tell others what God has given you for His glory?

What has God given you to bless others? What are you doing with your gift?

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Wallowing or Ministering?

The party was in full swing. I had arrived early and was determined to be the last to leave. That wouldn’t be difficult, since I was the only person there.

I can party with the best of them. And I’m especially adept at hosting and attending my own pity parties. It’s easy to feel sorry for myself, especially when I’ve been wronged or falsely accused. My natural inclination is to be defensive or sulk at the injustice of my circumstances, all the while wallowing in self-pity. Either way, the party’s on.

The writing life is also not exempt from pity parties. Disappointment over not meeting with the editor we requested at a conference. Discouragement over not getting an agent or a book contract. Doubting opportunities will arise since they haven’t yet.

Then I think of Joseph. If anyone had a right to a pity-party, it was Joseph. First, his brothers sold him as a slave. Then his new master falsely accused him of sexual misconduct and threw him into a foreign prison. Joseph had no clue as to how long he’d be there—perhaps until his death. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, he worked as a trustworthy representative of the prison keeper.

Even more surprising, Joseph looked past the injustice of his own situation to help someone else (Genesis 40:6-7). He noticed the dejection of his fellow prisoners and inquired about their situation. Joseph didn’t realize it at the time, but in assisting his fellow prisoners he was preparing the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan for his own release.

Joseph is a powerful example to me—a reminder to look beyond my own disappointments so God can use me to minister to others.

So as you prepare for conference season, are you willing to see beyond your own disappointments? Will you look for someone else who needs encouragement? Will you trust God’s timing in the face of doubt and discouragement? Consider asking fellow conferees about their writing journey. You might even find a new accountability or critique partner!

When we put others’ needs ahead of our own, God works miraculously in our life…and then through our life to touch the lives of others. And who knows? Perhaps someday God will use the person you encouraged to encourage you!

Are you wallowing or ministering?

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Benefits of Growing Your Email Distribution List

Email ListsPlatform.

We hear it so often we want to scream, “Enough, already!” Yes, we know we need a growing platform. It’s why we spend hours on social media, trying to grow our lists of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter and Instagram. And it’s why we wrack our brain attempting to come up with clever posts and memes that will generate lots of likes and hopefully go viral.

After all that work, oh look! I gained 5 friends and 3 followers! Or perhaps I have 3,000 followers, but the Facebook algorithm displayed my post on a mere 25 feeds.

So what should you do? Give up?

Don’t give up on social media. But do rearrange your platform priorities.

Here are five benefits of growing your email distribution list:

  1. You own your list.

Social media platforms such as Facebook own their site. They can—and do!—change their algorithms to suit their needs. So although you may have 3,000 “Likes” on your author page, Facebook might release your post to the newsfeeds of 50-100 of your followers, if you’re fortunate. To ensure all your followers see your post, you’d need to “boost” it (aka pay) for your post to be seen.

  1. Email is more popular than social media.

More people have email than are on social media. Which means you can reach more people by email than by all the social media accounts combined.

  1. Email behavior is trackable.

You have a wealth of information available through your email newsletter provider. Open rates, click-through rates – it’s all available. This information will help you craft future emails that are more targeted.

  1. Segmented lists mean more personalized communication.

Based on how you segment your list, you can personalize your email communication. This will encourage increased open rates. Or you can personally target subscribers who have not opened your recent emails to encourage renewed interest.

  1. Email newsletters will help grow your social media accounts.

Include links in your emails to your social media accounts to help grow your followers!

So as you work to grow your platform, don’t stop your efforts on social media. But do make building your email newsletter distribution list your new priority!

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Do You Live With Expectations or Expectancy?

Expectations or Expectancy

Have you recently experienced frustration? Plans didn’t go your way?

Maybe that meeting with your dream agent didn’t go well. Or the pub committee declined your project, despite enthusiastic championing by the acquisitions editor. Maybe you planned a full day of writing while the kids were in school, only to have your third-grader come down with a stomach virus.

That seems to be happening more lately. I’m irritated by circumstances that interfere with my plans and expectations. But what if the cause of the irritation is not external at all? What if I’m the cause of my own frustration?

Someone once said “the level of your frustration is directly related to the level of your expectations.”

Read that again.

Ouch.

So the real cause of my own grief is most likely…me.

Unrealistic expectations. Expectations grounded in reality as I want it to be, rather than the way it is.

Ancient Israel had a similar problem. Their expectations of the coming Messiah were based on cherry-picked prophecies. The sad result was that they didn’t recognize Him when He did come. They were so busy looking for a victorious military leader that they missed the Suffering Servant who came to redeem humanity.

So what’s the answer?

I believe the answer for a Christian is to live expectantly. And that includes Christian writers.

To live expectantly is to live in eager anticipation for how God will work in our life, without setting specific expectations or demands on what that will look like. Living expectantly allows us to recognize where the Holy Spirit might be moving in areas we would not normally look for Him. And it communicates that we are satisfied with whatever the Lord does, allows, or gives—without comparing it to our own agenda or shopping list.

Those who live expectantly have the privilege of living out a truth understood by martyred missionary Jim Elliot: “God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him.”

Remember Theodor Geisel? Does his name ring a bell? If you write for children, it should. But you might know him by his pen name: Dr. Seuss. If you’re not familiar with his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, you’re most certainly familiar with his other books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Dr. Seuss also fell victim to expectations. During one interview, he was asked how long he expected The Cat in the Hat to take to write. His answer? “I figured I could knock it off in a week or so.” How long did it actually take to write? “A year and a half.”

So you see, we’re all vulnerable to unfulfilled expectations, even the great Dr. Seuss!

Will you join me? Together, let’s put aside our expectations and live in daily expectancy for how God will show Himself active in our life, including our writing life. And as He does, share your experiences with others to increase their own sense of expectancy.