Write2Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class is coming up Sept. 19! In just two weeks, author Joyce Moyer Hostetter will be presenting three sessions to help attendees learn more about fiction writing. Plus, the Write2Ignite team will be leading three workshops to help you apply the skills you learn during Hostetter’s sessions.
Last year, I had the joy of attending the Write2Ignite Conference at North Greenville University with my mom. We loved meeting other writers and hearing from the lineup of speakers! While I’m sad that we aren’t able to meet in person this year, there are some benefits to this Master Class being on Zoom.
I’ve been working from home for 21 weeks. This prolonged period of isolation has given me time to reflect on happier times in life: adventures and excitement in college, friendships forged in high school, and time spent reading with my mom as a child.
Those were the good days — Mom reading to me and my brother as we snuggled up in my parents’ king-size bed, piled high with pillows and blankets.
Though we were capable of reading titles like Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children and Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew, we preferred to have Mom read them to us. We’d go to the local used bookstore weekly to find new titles and were excited to find the numbers missing from our collection.
Some stories — even if written during a different time — are applicable to every generation of teens because they help with interpreting culture.
First published in 1967, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, has inspired readers for more than 50 years. Hinton, just fifteen years old when she began writing the book, was inspired by her high school experience.
“Looking back, I realize how important it was to me to have another life at that time. To be someone else,” Hinton wrote in the introduction to the novel’s platinum edition. “To deal with problems I had to face, and write my way to some sort of understanding and coping. … I desperately wanted something to read that dealt realistically with teenage life.”
As one of the first novels to be labeled a young adult novel, The Outsiders received (and continues to receive) backlash because of its reference to gang violence, underage drinking and smoking, strong language/slang, and portrayal of dysfunctional families. However, this novel proves to be a paradox, as it is simultaneously banned from school libraries and used in English classrooms across the country.
First edition of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders focuses on main character Ponyboy (Pony) Curtis, a fourteen-year-old orphan growing up as a “greaser” — named for their greasy hair — in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Throughout the book, Pony struggles to find his place in a world divided by class. As greasers, Pony, his brothers, and his friends struggle to make ends meet and often find themselves at war with Socs — wealthier teens from the other side of town.
Keep in mind that Hinton wrote this book in an effort to “write (her) way to some sort of understanding and coping” with what was happening in her own life. Published when she was just seventeen, The Outsiders is not an adult’s interpretation of teen life in the ‘60s — it is one teen’s attempt to make sense of the world around her.
I first read Hinton’s book when I was a teenager, around fifteen or sixteen. Up to that point, I’d mostly read Christian fiction, books assigned to me in school, and dystopian fiction (a popular genre in the early 2010s). The Outsiders impacted me in a different way than anything I’d ever read before because it was honest; Hinton didn’t shy away from difficult topics like domestic abuse and classism.
Hinton’s rawness and ability to face difficult topics head-on inspired much of my writing as a teen; writing about my world helped me cope, just as writing The Outsiders helped Hinton.
I’ve been thinking about this book for the past decade, wondering why it impacted me the way it did, and I think it boils down to culture.
“While it is not strictly true to say that fundamentalist (Christians) ‘condemned culture,’ full stop, perhaps it is fair to say that their attitude toward culture — their basic posture — was one of suspicion and condemnation toward any human activity not explicitly justified on biblical grounds and engaged in by fully converted Christians,” Andy Crouch wrote in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
This statement, along with an entire chapter examining fundamentalist Christianity’s posture toward culture, made me realize something: many fundamentalist Christians are quick to condemn anything not mentioned as holy in scripture — myself included.
Culture, for many Christians, is viewed as something that you can remove yourself from. Derived from a passage from John 17, the belief that Christians should be in the world, but not of the world is often interpreted as meaning Christians should not engage with culture. Later in John 17, Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Executive Editor of desiringGod.org David Mathis suggests that this phrase should be interpreted as Christians being sent into the world with a mission rather than “being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.”
We cannot hide from culture — it is all around us, whether we choose to actively participate in certain activities or not. Hinton didn’t participate in gang fights or underage drinking and smoking as a teen; she was dismayed by her observations of culture. Writing The Outsiders was her way of making sense of the world around her.
It is worth noting that while The Outsiders does include the unsavory parts of teen culture in 1960s Oklahoma, it also includes positive elements of redemption, friendship, and sacrifice. It interprets, not condones, culture.
So what does this mean for us as Christian writers of children’s and young adult literature? It means that we should write truthfully about what is happening in the world. As Christians, we are on a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard it. The gospel helps us make sense of the world, but it does not take us away from the world — not until eternity. It gives us something to hope for and values to live by.
Every generation of teens will face different cultural trends that they need to make sense of. Right now, we’re seeing protests against police brutality, calls for racial equality and LGBTQ rights, a receding economy, and fear from the global COVID-19 pandemic, all during a tumultuous election year. How can you help your children, teenagers, or readers interpret current events?
As a writer, you have the challenge of interpreting culture through the lens of the gospel for your readers. Don’t shy away from the messy parts of life — teens experience a lot of things that they need help interpreting. Reading your work may be what they need to understand and cope with their worlds.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
I hadn’t been to church since February, and I was starting to feel disconnected from God. During my first week back in a sanctuary, God spoke to me through a literary device — repetition.
My church stopped hosting in-person services at the beginning of March because of COVID-19, and I’d missed a few weeks before then because of a bronchitis diagnosis.
Last week, I was visiting my parents in Upstate, South Carolina, and had the opportunity to attend church with them. The crowd was sparse, and each family unit was spaced 6 feet apart, but it was communal worship — something I hadn’t experienced in more than 12 weeks.
I’d seen my parents cry in the church from time to time, but I’d never really had a strong emotional response during a service.
The band began playing a song by Elevation Worship called “The Blessing,” which is straight from scripture. It shares a blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
I didn’t feel blessed that weekend, despite my safe travels to South Carolina from Central Virginia. I didn’t feel blessed because I was (and still am) working from home with no idea of when I’d be back in the office. I didn’t feel blessed because my husband, a police officer, was working the night shift during a weekend filled with violent protests.
But when the song climaxed, one of the worship leaders began repeating the words “He is for you” over and over again — and something happened.
Repetition is a powerful literary device that can be used in poetry and prose.
As a writer, I know that repetition is a powerful way to make a point. As a person who has attended counseling for anxiety, I know that repeatedly speaking truth to yourself is a powerful way to change your thought process.
It felt like God was speaking to me through that song, trying to get a point across, to reshape my thinking. He was telling me that He is for me, that His blessings aren’t always extravagant. More often than not, they will be quiet reminders of His presence. How fitting it is that God, the author of all things, spoke to me, a writer, through a literary device.
The song continued:
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you
The repetition continued, with the singer repeating the word “you” throughout the bridge, reminding me that I am a recipient of God’s blessings. My impression of blessings has always been that they are an extravagant act from God. Yet in scripture, we learn that blessings are small acts of love from God — from the gift of a child to the provision of food and safety.
This song challenged me to look at God’s blessings in a new way. God blessed me that weekend by giving me the opportunity to worship with other Christians, and he blessed me by protecting me from harm during my travels from Central Virginia to South Carolina.
God’s blessings aren’t always extravagant. They are often displayed through friendships, safety, and provision.
He protected my husband who served on the frontline of a riot on May 31 and brought him home safe to me the next morning. And he blessed me with the companionship of my sweet sister-in-law the night I had to send my husband back to work, despite continuing protests in our city.
God spoke to me through a literary device, which is a powerful writing tool. While this instance of repetition was used in poetry (a song), repetition can be a particularly useful tool for writing children’s literature.
Take this passage from Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish for example:
One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish,
Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish.
This one has a little car.
This one has a little star.
Say! What a lot of fish there are.
Yes, some are red, and some are blue.
Some are old and some are new.
Some are sad, and some are glad,
And are very, very bad.
Dr. Seuss is well known for his whimsical, rhythmic writing. He uses a combination of rhyming and repetition in his work to create memorable writing that delights children of all ages.
Repetition is also used in literature, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two of Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Dickens adds stress and emphasis to the positives and negatives, bringing attention to the polarity present in his time.
God used the repetition in “The Blessing” to touch my heart and draw me back to him. I believe he can use your writing to touch others, and repetition is just one way you can emphasize your message of hope through Jesus Christ.
Emily is a member of the Write2Ignite planning team and works full time as a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. Learn more about Emily here.
Understanding how and why to use different punctuation marks adds personality and readability to your writing.
The English language has many interesting components to work with, and one of my favorite ways to add personality to my writing is through punctuation! In grade school, you learned about the different end marks: periods, exclamation marks, and question marks. You probably also learned about commas, colons, semicolons, and hyphens.
There is a whole world of punctuation that adds personality and readability to your writing.