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Find Your Writing Voice Through Guide Poets

Finding Your Writing Voice
“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw

As writers, we tend to strive for originality. We don’t want our work to be a copy of someone else’s; we want to write words that are unique. But what if I was to tell you that you should imitate other writers? Would you believe me if I said that mimicry can help you write more authentically? The fact is, every one of us has authors who influence the way we write, and by studying those authors, we learn how to grow in the areas we care about most. Guide poets can lead the way as you find your writing voice.

So What is A Guide Poet?

A guide poet, put simply, is a writer whose voice resonates with your own. Think of your guide poet as a kindred spirit. In their works, you’ll find a style that matches the tone of your words or a way of thinking that speaks to you. Their writing will sound like something you would say. This isn’t just an author you like; it’s an author you understand and who you feel understands you, although you’ve never met.

How to Find Your Guide Poets

Choosing guide poets is a bit like choosing friends: it’s a mix of chance and intentionality. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start with your nightstand-The collection of books you keep ready at hand are a great indicator of your current interests. Make a stack of the books you always have nearby; the books you list off as your favorites and the ones you reread often. Even though not all of your favorite authors are guide poets, chances are your guide poets will be found among your favorite authors.
  2. Evaluate your collection— Look at each of the books in your stack and consider why you’re drawn to them. Do you like them just because they’re fun to read or you learned from them? Or, do they connect with you on a deeper level? If you find yourself underlining whole passages of a text or thinking “I wish I’d written that,” then you may have found a writing guide.
  3. Pick your guides–Ultimately, who your guide poets are boils down to who you want them to be. If you feel like you connect with a bunch of different writers, focus on the ones you’d most like to emulate. Find the ones who best match the goals you have for yourself and make them your models.

 How Your Guides Help You Find Your Voice

Once you find authors whose voices resonate with your own, who you feel connected to and want to learn from, it’s time to consider how they can help you find your voice. There are two main ways these writers can help.

First, Defining Your Voice:

Guide poets can help you decide what you want your voice to sound like. Your writing voice is the underlying tone and message that weaves through everything you put on the page. It’s the flavor that makes your writing distinct, and it stems from both the way you write and the reason you write. Guide poets help you define your voice by helping you recognize the aspects of writing you are most focused on.

When you read the work of the authors who influence you, take note of why you connect with them. Do you love the way they write characters? Is their message something you care about too? Make a list of the different characteristics you admire in their work and then compare it to your own writing. As you begin to find overlap between your style and goals and theirs, you can start to put into words the characteristics of your voice.

For example, studying my guide poets (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Joyce, and Annie Dillard) helped me realize that one of my main goals in writing is to take small, simple parts of life and show the value and wonder to be found in them. I realized I love books with lots of description, color, and light, and so these were aspects that I wanted to focus on in my projects.

Second, Developing Your Voice:

Guide poets can also help you develop your voice through imitation. By mimicking the aspects of your guide poet’s style which resonate with you, you can test out different parts of your voice. You aren’t giving up your uniqueness, but rather using similar authors to learn the skills you need to grow. In taking on the style of another, we can’t help but make it our own. That’s why a thousand different poems can be written in the same form without becoming the same poem. The guide poets simply become a shell, an outline, that we fill with our own color and design.

Here’s a simple exercise to try.  Give yourself 30 minutes to write as much as you can in the voice of one of your guide poets. By putting on their style for a moment, you’ll exercise your creative muscles in the areas you desire to develop.

 

At the end of the day, God has gifted each of us differently. Your story is distinct from all others; your voice is unique to you. The influence of others doesn’t take away our ability to find our own tune, but rather enhances our ability by offering us a chance to sing in harmony.  When we learn from guide poets,  we take what is offered to us and make it into something new.  In them, we find both mentors that guide us as we find our voices and friends who make the journey easier to travel.

So who are some of the guide poets in your writing journey?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Writing to Ignite by Darcy Hendrick

When you write Christian literature for children ignition is the goal. Writing literature that will ignite a child’s imagination, a zeal for learning, a love of reading, and a reverence for God is the mission. More than that, it’s a ministry. And engaging, well written literature that reveals the presence and purpose of God is a powerful tool toward that end.

And that ignition is the reason for Write2Ignite. We are a non-profit organization that seeks to enable that mission through  a website that offers resources, blogs that supply the writer with tips and encouragement, contests, and a two day conference with a full schedule of keynote speakers, workshops, the opportunity to meet with editors or agents, and to surround yourself with a community of like minded writers. Writers who share a passion for God and children, and good literature that draws the two together.

Write2Ignite specializes in Christian literature for children because that is our passion. Children who develop a love for reading at a young age are life long readers. De That is a high calling for those called by God to write for children.

And if ignition is the goal, what sparks the flame?

The simple truth is, it’s not that simple.

I have four sons. My oldest took to reading without coaxing. He simply loved to learn so a book in the hand was opened and devoured.

My second son showed no interest in reading but he loved his action figures. Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles in particular. So when I saw a TMNT early reader book I scooped it up in the hopes that the subject matter would entice him to open the book. It did! As a matter of fact those TMNT early readers made him realize not only that he could read, but he liked to.

My third son seemed to prefer a narrative told rather than read. That became obvious when, in his teens, he gravitated to youth theater where, to my surprise, he memorized scripts and eventually developed an interest in Shakespeare.

My youngest son devoured the Beanie Baby resource guide and could recite it with encyclopedic precision.

The path to an appreciation of the written word was as unique as my sons.

So what’s a writer to do?

Just as my sons read what they were passionate about, the writer should write their passion. Your interest in the subject matter, whether it’s science or sci-fi, mystery, comedy, or a Beanie Baby resource guide, will come through. And children who share that passion won’t have to be coaxed into reading, they’ll volunteer.

We write to an audience of one – our reader.

But as Christian writers we write for an audience of one – God. Our first passion should be our love for God and if we write what we’re passionate about, and we are passionate about our relationship with God, we will write literature that reveals the presence and purpose of God.

And we can trust God to put each unique piece of literature in the hands of the child who can be uniquely drawn to Him through it.

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Book Review of THE HEART CHANGER by Guest Blogger, Kathryn Dover

I enjoyed reading The Heart Changer by Jarm Del Boccio. Before I even started reading the story, I noticed on the copyright page the use of King James Version text as the basis for the story. This is rare and instantly caught my attention. This biblical basis is crucial because The Heart Changer is based on the account of Naaman given in 2 Kings 5.

In the passage, Naaman is instructed to wash in the river Jordon seven times by the prophet Elijah. He refuses to do so until his wife’s maid persuades him. This maid, named Miriam by the author, is the protagonist of The Heart Changer. The beginning of the story is somewhat gripping. The end is satisfactory but slightly abrupt: I was not expecting the story to end. Overall, the story flows very well with short chapters that keep readers interested, but it is not too difficult to put down if one has chores or homework to do. It is the perfect balance for students in school, both younger grades and teenagers. The mature language is also age-appropriate and can be enjoyed by a variety of ages.

While the plot contains some action, such as Miriam’s village being attacked at the beginning of the book, the main development is internal. All the characters, especially Miriam, exhibit visible growth throughout the story. Just like in life, the changes don’t happen instantly but occur gradually as the result of several events. The story is more realistic because Miriam’s growth happens slowly, and the ending leaves room for continued growth. Even after all she has been through, Miriam is still struggling with her “stubbornness” at the end of the story. Hence, readers can identify with her.

The title is an accurate description of Miriam’s growth and the theme of the story. She goes from have a “stubborn,” “anxious,” and “bitter” heart to one that is forgiving and set on Jesus. My favorite scene in The Heart Changer is where Miriam and Rana, the servant Miriam is replacing, are at first bitter enemies and become best friends simply after an encounter about Miriam’s faith. It shows that even the slightest contact with a Christian influence like Miriam can have a great influence on an unbeliever.

In addition, the setting is historically accurate. The details in the story show that the author researched her setting and time period. Minor details, such as pig being unclean meat, and references to real Bible characters and stories, such as Joseph, add depth and realism.

I enjoy reading books that take a seemingly insignificant character who plays a critical role in the plot and tells a story from her point of view. The Heart Changer stays within biblical parameters in a passage that allows for great poetic license. I hope for a series of behind-the-scenes Bible characters!

This book would make a great gift for the middle school or teen reader in your life! _________________________________________________________________

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

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Book Nook: By Way of Introduction

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. —Natalie Goldberg

Hello everyone,

My name is Karley Conklin, and I’m a new blogger for Write2Ignite.

I’ve been able to attend Write2Ignite on four different occasions, and I must say, it’s been one of the best parts of my writing journey. The first time I participated in the conference, I was a timid high school senior, with no experience and no idea what to expect. Despite my fears, the conference planted in me a grain of confidence. As I introduced myself to editors and agents, I began to see myself as more than just a dreamer. Professionals in the publishing world were offering me consistent encouragement and affirmation, and I left the event feeling certain I was called to write.

Since then, I’ve graduated college with an Interdisciplinary Literature and Christian Studies degree—which is to say that my writing has sadly fallen to the back-burner. Though I’ve yet to publish the middle-grade novel I wrote four years ago, I’ve still managed to keep my creativity simmering, through editing, through smaller writing projects, and most of all, through reading.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a lit major (and now part-time librarian) would be an advocate for reading as much you can. Even though I’m biased, I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn to write well. In every book, we find examples of what works and what doesn’t. We find lessons in the flow of language, the nature of plot and setting, and the magic of character development. Reading allows us to observe the art we hope to master, and observation is a powerful tool.

My blog posts in the upcoming months will focus on sharing with you the best books on writing I can find. Mixed in with these textbooks of the trade, I’ll add reviews of children’s literature to encourage you to keep honing your observational skills.

I look forward to learning and growing with you all and hope that you’ll share your thoughts with our Write2Ignite community.

Since you now know all about me, I’d love to hear a little about you. What’s one of your favorite books, one that has inspired you or challenged your thinking?

(Mine would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, but more on her later.)

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. Her fondness for books borderlines obsession, as she engages in not only writing and editing, but also in book-binding. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Decisions, Decisions

Here’s a sneak peek at conference presenters with descriptions in their own words. We’ll be posting a teaser page each  Monday. You still have time to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount.

Visit: https://write2ignite.com/registration-2019/

 

Kim Peterson – Deepen Your Middle Grade & Young Adult Novels

In this hands-on workshop, explore how to make your MG and YA novels more compelling. First, determine your novel’s theme and learn ways to reveal that message to the readers, making it memorable. Then, get to know your characters better by deepening characterization: explore your characters’ goals, what motivates them to pursue those goals, and how conflict grows your characters as they overcome obstacles. Finally, transport your readers into your
novel’s setting. Whether your characters visit the past, the present, the future, or a new land, learn how to create a place your readers want to visit often.

 

Nancy Lohr – Read Like a Writer

Just as athletes watch game tapes to study other athletes, writers need to analyze the work of other writers. You should read widely and read well both for inspiration and instruction. Whether intuitively or intentionally, writers need to read with a different focus and greater awareness than the average reader does. This workshop will examine various techniques for reading like a writer.

Attention Teens! Carol Baldwin – Creating a Sensory Setting

The Lord has given us five senses. So, why do we just describe things which our characters see? In this hands-on workshop we’ll touch, taste, hear, smell, AND see things that our characters may experience in different settings.

 

 

 

How I Turned a Facebook Page Into a Weekly Storytelling Medium.

I  give you a box with an “ON” switch in the palm of your hand.
I then tell you to close your eyes and think about a couple of those
publishing ideas you’ve been kicking around. While your eyes are still closed, I task you to choose one of those ideas…the one story you feel most people have the most excitement for.

You choose that one topic and then you open your eyes! Now you immediately flip the switch and you discover that what you’ve actually launched with that switch was…your own weekly magazine with content based on the idea you chose! This magazine you just published is full color, distributed all over the nation and has an audience that loving greats you each week, ready to consume more content related to your story.

If something like this is real, it simply couldn’t be free. And it’s not. What it costs is a little time, in exchange for your first 1,000 readers. Attend “How I Turned a Facebook Page Into a Weekly Storytelling Medium” and you will leave with a roadmap that reflects how Tony converted a Facebook business page into a weekly publication with an audience of readers from 0 to 5,000 people. No tricks or internet shortcuts, but proven steps applied to a modern reading platform.

Samantha Bell – Polishing Your Picture Book

You finally have the text of your picture book down on paper. You’ve heard every manuscript should be revised, but yours is only a few hundred words long. What more could it need? You’ll find out in Polishing Your Picture Book! In this workshop, attendees may bring along a copy of their works-in-progress. As a group, we’ll read as many as time allows. Then we’ll consider ways to polish the manuscript to get it ready for submission. Even if your story is still in the idea stage, you’ll learn valuable tips for writing your own picture book!  

 

 

Daniel Blackaby – Tolkien, Lewis, & Christian Imagination

Daniel Blackaby

How would you feel if your best friends called your book “almost worthless” or a “carelessly written jumble”? This was J. R. R. Tolkien’s review of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The two dear friends are forever linked together as fathers of Christian fiction and Art, but each had a radically different idea of what Christian fiction should be. Their greatest legacy was not to establish a narrow template for Christian writers to follow, but to demonstrate that there is no template. In this seminar, Daniel Blackaby will explore these two vastly different approaches and showcase the great freedom you have as a Christian writer. 

 

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10 Questions about the fantasy genre and YA literature:

 While not every publisher accepts fantasy manuscripts, strong interest in this genre exists among children, teens, and young adults well beyond college age. This interview is the first in a series to explore fantasys appeal to younger readers, and to look at connections between this genre and Christian faith. Q: Before we start, how do you define YA literature? A: Literature written specifically to appeal to an audience from teens to young adult, up to 30 or beyond. Single [YA fans] can often be older, still in early stages of developing their adult career, delaying marriage, etc. Whether a person fits into the “YA lit” audience may be somewhat self-defined. There’s no age limit for enjoying YA lit.

  1. Q: What draws young adults beyond college age who continue to be fans and love to read fantasy? A: Fantasy explores a number of timeless themes. It allows the imaginative reader to engage with the impossible, experiencing things beyond mundane life. Additionally, not all fantasy is primarily for YA audiences. Young adults can enjoy and appreciate stories from Ursula K. Leguin (1929-2018) or Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), but they’re often not as simplistic as garden-variety fantasy. And as stories get older, they become less accessible to younger readers, but remain beloved to the adults who grew up with them.

The Dune series (Frank Herbert) is also fantasy (though often considered ‘science fiction’) but is not YA lit. YAs may read it, but many of its themes are oblique rather than obvious. In an early scene of the first book, protagonist Paul Atrides, then a young child, is subjected to a test that would certainly be considered cruel. His grandmother, a high-ranking member of an ancient, mystical, and politically powerful order causes him to undergo intense pain (the Gom Jabbar “Test of Humanity”). This is a scene I have considered multiple times since I first read it, and it remains compelling.

  1. Q: Besides Harry Potter, what are well-known YA fantasy series?

A: I sometimes hesitate to label something YA, because the term to some suggests simplicity and lack of rigor, but quite a number of excellent authors have written for younger audiences. A primary example is C. S. Lewis, who explicitly wrote The Chronicles of Narnia as a children’s series, while many of his other works are intended for adults. His space trilogy offers an intriguing escalation of complexity. Out of the Silent Planet might be considered a YA entry, as on its surface it is a tale of adventure in a fantastical setting. Perelandra, following the same protagonist to a second solar destination, is more a vehicle for philosophical and theological reflection than an adventure. As for That Hideous Strength, I still need to go back and re-read it (probably several times) because it was well over my head as a young adult.

Stephen Lawhead’s early stories are unquestionably YA, though his later novels grow in complexity as he grows as an author. J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) is often considered YA, though the generational gap makes his writing less accessible to younger readers. Frank Peretti writes both kids’ stories (The Cooper Kids Adventure Series) and books for YA or adult readers (e.g., This Present Darkness).

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind also fit under the YA heading, as do Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and subsequent works.

[A search for dragons and fantasy produces another long list of fantasy authors named by fans. A search for Christian fantasy series yields this list on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/4258.Best_Christian_Fantasy_books ].

Q: What about todays popular series (turned film or TV show), like Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games? A: Game of Thrones, the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin), may be more adult than YA. I have only read the first several chapters of the first book, but from the outset it delves into complex themes and difficult situations. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) aims at younger audiences, particularly considering the age of the main characters.

  1. Q: What features do young adults (through 30-somethings) appreciate most in the fantasy genre? A: For me, it’s two things: impossible things being possible and an alternate existence.

Q: Do these elements connect to Christianity? A: Many people who don’t believe in God still want to believe in the supernatural; this is one reason fantasy is broadly popular. People are dissatisfied with limitations in their actual lives and want to go beyond those. From wishing they could accomplish certain things to being seriously depressed and imagining other roles or abilities, they gravitate to the theme of wanting to be the hero.

Q: Is this a link to current interest in superhero stories? A: It can be, but there’s also just the idea of regular people performing heroic acts. One example is 300, the graphic novel turned movie loosely based on an ancient Greek historical event. No one in that tale has supernatural powers, but that feat performed well over two thousand years ago will likely continue to be celebrated for a long time.

  1. Q: What elements would discerning fans dislike in a YA fantasy book or series? A: A hero that can literally do no wrong. Some authors fall into the trap of creating impossibly good heroes, often to the point of writing “Mary Sue” characters. [Mary Sue or Marty Stu – a character inserted into the story that doesnt necessarily fit, an idealized (unrealistically perfect) figure, sometimes a self insert representing the authors opinions. https://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/characters/mary-sue/ ].

Another problem is significant, unexplained change in how characters behave from one book to another. A turn-off for me occurs when Terry Goodkind’s original protagonist, Richard Rahl, suddenly appears at the end of Pillars of Creation. That story had intrigued me right up until the end, as the first in the series that didn’t follow the original cast of characters. Then Richard Rahl showed up, saving the day, and speaking with words that, to me, did not sound like his own. Goodkind seemed to be using Rahl as a puppet, compromising the character’s integrity to make a point. This was particularly frustrating because the preceding book in The Sword of Truth series (Faith of the Fallen) was, in my opinion, his best to that point.

  1. Q: Of the most popular fantasy writers since 2000, which are most compatible with Christian worldview values? General themes that are common in much secular fantasy may include a “moral universe” (though not necessarily biblical), clear right and wrong, a creator, and an evil one. The Wheel of Time series features types for God and Satan (“The Creator” and “The Dark One”), and appears to suggest that there are clear standards for right and wrong, but some moral standards vary widely from culture to culture.
  1. Q: Give brief examples of fantasy content illustrating what todays readers find most significant in this type of story. A: The hero’s journey is always a big thing. Otherwise, someone who is marginalized suddenly becoming important, gaining a larger role in society, etc. Readers often see themselves in stories they read, and I’d argue that this phenomenon is more common in fantasy than in some genres.
  1. Q: How do todays fans see themselves and their experiences in fantasy novels or short stories? A: Most people are (or feel) marginalized in one way or another, disenfranchised literally or metaphorically. Characters in a story may not be intentionally limited by another party; their lack of influence may simply be a fact of their circumstances –e.g., growing up on a farm. But regardless of the reason someone lacks agency, people often want to move beyond their current situation.

Readers want to feel they are part of the journey – fighting against evil, whether supernatural in origin or just the result of people being people. They might not directly imprint on the main character (“this character is me”), but can imagine themselves as part of the situation (“this is somewhere I’d like to be, and something I’d enjoy doing”).

  1. Q: What do you see as the future of the genre? Is it trending in a particular direction in terms of content, types of settings and stories, themes, etc.? A: I honestly have no idea what the trend will turn out to be, but I wouldn’t mind if werewolves, vampires, and zombies were forgotten for a couple of decades. That said, I would like to see more genuinely new, creative entries rather than continual “remakes,” or resurrecting old series. The fantasy genre, to me, is all about going somewhere new and different. I can enjoy a particular destination for three books or a dozen, but when I pick up a new author, I want to experience something different enough that I see it as its own world. I am more convinced now than I once was that stories should have definite ends. Plenty of serial works (from TV shows, to book and movie series, to webcomics) have gone from stupendously amazing to “jumping the shark”[refers to criticism of the sitcom Happy Days.
  1. Q: What classic fantasy books are, in your opinion, the best models for fantasy writers?

A: None of them and all of them – don’t follow one particular novel. Read multiple, diverse things and see what grows out of that. Someone writing about 1950s America can go to a library or archive to view film footage or read books and newspapers in order to research the setting. When you write fantasy, you can’t research your setting in the same way; instead, you have to create the world. Research by a fantasy/sci fi writer is twofold. One component is the work you do creating a fictional fantasy world. The other part is reading existing stories (not only novels). In my experience, I get many more ideas when I’m actively reading than when I’m not.

When it comes to creating your world, as when you’re writing the actual stories, try to do a little work every day. Add things to your world that you’re not going to use – this creates flavor, a living, breathing world for the characters to inhabit. And you might find yourself using some of it anyway. Some authors will start the world-building process by drawing a map; others by creating characters.  Of course, not every story needs a map, but every story does need believable characters. Seek authenticity in how characters react to situations.

[ #Write2IgniteConference2019 will feature Worldbuilding workshops by Edie Melson and Daniel Blackaby! https://write2ignite.com/category/2019-conference-updates/

  1. Q: What caveats or suggestions, if any, would you give to parents of tweens and teens who are drawn to reading and/or writing fantasy literature?

A: Read some of it yourself. Talk with them about it, not to lecture, but to initiate discussion. Say things like “I thought this was interesting,” or “I didn’t quite get this.” Ask them questions, and be genuine. Parents who try to prevent their children from being exposed to something specific can’t afford any gaps in their defense; if kids want to make an end run around you, in most families, they’ll eventually succeed. I would not personally suggest restricting kids to reading only Christian literature. There are plenty of excellent Christian authors, but if your only criterion is “author and publisher must be Christian,” quality varies. Some publishers focus on iterations of the same tale, requiring that every story hit certain bullet points: a common example is “someone not saved gets saved.” While a story that fits a formula can be good, restricting oneself to only stories that fit a certain formula can stunt a reader’s growth.

An avid reader as a child, Paul DeCiantis grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The latter cemented his interest in the fantasy genre and helped form his preference for book series over stand-alone entries. Other favorite series include Stephen R. Lawhead (The Pendragon Cycle; The Song of Albion), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), and Frank Herbert (Dune). He has been writing off and on since finishing high school. He finds his pre-graduation writing embarrassing, but greatly enjoys the creative bursts involved in world-building and hopes to finish some of his current projects. Professionally, Paul has worked in Information Technology doing some form of Technical Support, including four years in the U.S. Army. He earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (North Greenville University 2009), with concentrations in Linguistics and Literature. He believes knowledge of literature is an expansion of language, as simple references to commonly-known tales can conjure up whole worlds of information in the hearer’s mind. (Consider phrases like “strong as Hercules” and “Cinderella story.”)

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“Christian Overtakes Faithful”: The Allure of Vanity Fair in Children’s Writing (in the Era of the Selfie)

     

Shortly before they enter Vanity Fair, Evangelist meets the pilgrims to give them a prophetic message about the dangers they will face there. Bunyan’s narrator follows this warning with the reminder that Christian and Faithful cannot avoid this test of faith, for “their way to the [Celestial] city lay through this town”; leaving “the way” was not an option, but biblical instruction, with Evangelist’s parting exhortation, helps fortify them against temptation:

“Let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you, and above all, look well to your own hearts, . . . ‘for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’; set your faces like a flint; you have all power in Heaven and earth on your side.”

Disillusionment with worldly pleasure emerges in Ecclesiastes, with its refrain “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Christian and Faithful encounter Vanity Fair, Bunyan’s embodiment of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Visitors are constantly called to sample the city’s merchandise and recreational activities to gain public approval. The pilgrims’ refusal infuriates the residents, who accuse them of either being mad or deliberately undermining society with their claim that instead of the fair’s wares, they will buy only “the truth.”

Testing in Vanity Fair begins with mocking, which both men answer gently and persistently. When some residents begin to recognize that their townsmen are lodging “baseless” accusations, the enraged majority incite more extreme persecution: imprisonment, torture, and a trial with life at stake.

How can we communicate the concept of vanity to children? What in a child’s world may be examples of vanity? Materialism is one form. Being targeted by advertisers to want the newest game or toy is a concept we can help children understand, analyze, and start applying critical thinking to. On a less superficial level, we might discuss what children value most and what things are really irreplaceable, using the example of a house destroyed by fire or flood. Toys can be replaced, but a special photo, craft, or original comfort item, such as a favorite blanket, may not be.

Sheltering children from bad news is a luxury, but is it the best biblical model? Children in many parts of the world face uncertain and harsh conditions: famine, religious persecution, war, or displacement as refugees. In the U.S., weather-related disasters, shootings, and other high-profile events confront us in news broadcasts, in newspaper headlines, on magazine covers, and in Internet photos. Knowing how much of this reality to share with children of different ages is difficult. Informing them of dangers and losses that children experience in places like Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq may help them resist the Vanity Fair mindset which leads our first-world culture to seek increasingly self-indulgent lifestyles.

This is not to say that an occasional visit to a county fair or theme park is bad. Stories for today’s children need to include scenes of fun activities while building core values of healthy home and family life; interaction with and care for people; acquisition of important skills and knowledge; and especially, knowledge and love of God. Yet in this world, children as well as adults will “have tribulation.” They may experience loss of a home, a family member, a diseased or injured limb, a pet, a friendship, a favorite toy, a neighborhood or school due to family moves. They may face dangers including bullying or cyberbullying, molestation, substance abuse, gender confusion, and depression. Children may be victims or perpetrators. In a perfect world, they would never experience any of these evils, but we do not live in that world.

We think of today’s world as more dangerous and violent than Bunyan’s 17th century, but that’s probably not the case. In a time when public executions existed; when Bunyan himself was jailed multiple times for preaching; when lack of his income endangered his family and his wife begged his judges to release him; when meetings of “dissenting” believers were subject to sudden invasion and arrest by authorities, with trap doors for pastors to avoid their being seen entering or leaving the buildings;* children witnessed firsthand governmental and societal conflict as well as problems like poverty, disease, natural disaster, and crime.

Bunyan’s allegory incorporates elements necessary to form the character and commitment of a follower of Jesus Christ:

  • Clear, effective communication of doctrine—biblical truth attached to each episode of the story
  • Values (attitudes, behavior, responses to temptation or attack) based on the Bible principle
  • Repentance and confession when characters sin, forgetting biblical instruction
  • Encouragement (“edifying”) at key moments to prepare characters for trials to come
  • Coping skills to help characters whose natural response might be fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, or denying faith in order to fit in or avoid persecution

Bunyan leads his characters to understand, define, and demonstrate “HEART-WORK”—the difference between saying and doing, head knowledge versus heart knowledge. Christian and Faithful don’t just “Talk the Talk” of faith (like Talkative, the character they leave behind before Evangelist prepares them for Vanity Fair) but “Walk the Walk,” as they will need to there. Faith, not just a slogan or a proposition, must be lived out, as they do in this climactic chapter. By remembering everything they have learned from the Bible, Holy Spirit interpretation, and previous trials and errors, they not only maintain their integrity during the “testing of [their] faith” but also show the faith so persuasively that some in Vanity Fair become believers.

Do we help children acquire knowledge, coping skills and values, preparing them to respond appropriately to temptations, difficulties, and tragedies? Not every story will treat these hard subjects—but some must.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014.

http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573