Author: Emily Babbitt Page 1 of 3

The Challenge of Interpreting Culture

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.

The Power of Repetition

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.

Punctuation: Spice Up Your Writing

spice up your writing with punctuation

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.

Maintaining Focus While Social-Distancing

By Debbie DeCiantis

How can a social-distancing writer focus on 1) writing progress and 2) spiritual wellbeing?

If you’re getting plenty of alone time, writing should be easy, right? But you’re still living in unfamiliar circumstances, perhaps removed from routines or places that inspire you. If you’re surrounded by children or other adults who suddenly find themselves without school, play dates, work, and outings, togetherness (as welcome as it may be) obviously forces a whole new writing paradigm.

Social-Distancing for Writers

social-distancing for writers

This week has been a turning point for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Many governors have enacted stay-at-home-orders, New York is erecting temporary field hospitals, and American manufacturers have pledged to build ventilators and protective equipment. All of this made me wonder: what does social-distancing for writers look like?

As writers, we often gain our inspiration from traveling, visiting historic sites, attending cultural events, and spending time with friends. Those things are not possible right now. Coffee with friends is limited to a FaceTime call and Google Earth is the only safe form of travel.

Social-distancing may be easy for some. And while working from home in your pajamas and watching Netflix all weekend seems like a welcome break from the usual pace of life, one can only handle so many hours of mind-numbing indulgence. Here are some tips to help writers be good stewards of their social-distancing time:

Self-Betterment

Reading

Take time for professional development, research, or inspiration — read books you’ve been wanting to read, listen to podcasts from inspirational writers or speakers, and take advantage of free online learning.

Whether you’re interested in developing your writing skills, learning about the publication process, researching for your own writing, or gleaning inspiration from fiction, take this social-distancing time as an opportunity to catch up on your reading.

Listening

There is a podcast for everything these days — from true crime to daily news updates to radio dramas. Here are two of my personal favorites that tell true stories and encourage me to see the world as a place full of opportunity and ideas:

  • This American Life — One of the most popular podcasts in the United States, This American Life shares true stories from Americans. Each episode is laid out in a three-act format and focuses on one central theme. One of my favorite episodes is set in my town of Lynchburg, Virginia, and tells the story of seven black students who integrated into an all-white boarding school in the late 1960s.
  • Criminal — Not for the faint of heart, Criminal tells true-crime stories in 30 minutes. The soft-spoken, inquisitive host — Phoebe Judge — tells true stories ranging from kidnappings to murder mysteries. Each episode also features original artwork!

Online Learning

If you enjoy learning new skills or knowledge, consider taking a free online class or watching a Ted Talk. Depending on how you like to learn, there are a variety of ways you can learn online.

  • Sites like Coursera offer traditional online courses that provide a structured, classroom-style environment. You can take courses from some of the country’s top colleges and companies.
  • If you prefer a more laid-back learning environment, sites like SkillShare provide video-based courses on a variety of topics. These courses are taught by professionals in the field. Students can even share their work with each other for feedback. While this is not a free service, you can sign up for a two-month free trial to occupy you during this time of social distancing.
  • Ted is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing ideas about technology, entertainment, and design. Ted Talks are usually presented at conferences and are available on YouTube and the Ted website. Search the Ted database for talks on any topic that sparks your interest.

Writing

social-distancing for writersIf you do not already have a writing routine built into your schedule, this time of social distancing is an opportunity to establish a writing discipline. Pick a time during your day to just sit down and write. You don’t have to work on a project or even write with intention. Just take some time to put a pen to paper or your fingers to keys and flex your writing muscle.

I’ve found the best way to exercise my writing muscle is to do “sprints.” Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write without stopping to edit or review. This sense of urgency allows me to write without my usual self-censorship. Some of my best work has come from “sprinting.”

Self-Care

social-distancing for writers

My governor ordered a stay-at-home order until June 10, so I will be spending a lot of time at home.

Practice self-care for writers: meditate, pray, practice yoga, or go for a walk.

By the grace of God, I’m still employed and am working from home. Though my workday is as busy as ever, I no longer have to budget time during my day for the commute to and from work, and I’m home for my lunch breaks. This gives me an additional hour and a half each day! I’ve opted to practice self-care during the time I spend at home.

Meditation and prayer are two things I’ve focused on over the past two weeks. My favorite spot to meditate and pray is my deck, which faces a treeline. I put down my exercise mat and lay on my back with my arms by my sides. Taking time to notice the noises — my wind chimes singing, birds chirping, and bees bumbling — and enjoying time away from the barrage of COVID-19 updates has really improved my mood. This is also a wonderful opportunity for prayers, either silently or aloud.

social-distancing for writers

Light activity like stretching, yoga, or walking has improved my moods and posture and decreased back pain from sitting all day.

Yoga or stretching helps with the stiffness and pain that comes with sitting at a desk. If I’m feeling stiff, I’ll either do some basic stretches or follow an instructional video on YouTube. My favorite video right now is called “Yoga for Writers” from Yoga With Adriene.

This week, my governor instated a stay-at-home order, which only allows me to leave home for groceries, medical appointments, family visits, and outdoor recreation (with appropriate social-distancing). Thankfully, my apartment complex has a short walking trail, so I’ve been able to go for walks during my breaks throughout the day. I’ve found that I have more energy to continue my workday when I go for a walk during my lunch break.

These are suggestions based on what I’ve found works for me. I hope this was helpful to you! Tell me how you’re spending your time social-distancing in the comments or on social media — I’d love to hear from you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:13

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén