Over a decade ago, I found a book called ‘The Plot Thickens’ by Noah Lukeman. It had so many amazing ideas to help authors develop and thicken their plots. Literally.
I’m pretty sure I photocopied every single page of that book, and then scanned it all into my old computer, before returning it to the library.
But there was one part that really, deeply hit home.
That was where he challenged us as authors to evaluate why we write. What’s our reason for doing it at all?
Some of us might have noble reasons, or helpful reasons, or practical reasons.
But he gave me one image I never forgot.
He said to pick the one person you want to write for. Today, we might talk about ‘ideal reader’ or ‘target audience.’ Find out who they are, and create your stories for them. Because they are the ones who are hungry for such stories, like you are.
The image he gave me was this one: what if a child in hospital picked up your book. What if they’re in a whole lot of pain, and it’s a bleak evening, and no one is coming to visit. What if they can’t put your novel down, and for a while, you make them forget their sadness and their dressings and the tubes blowing oxygen up their nose.
What if you could take them away to somewhere wonderful.
I loved that. I’m pretty sure I highlighted that on my photocopied sheets.
That idea of enthralling a reader, especially someone in the dark, someone alone, and maybe in pain. To step through the wall of their world and pull them through a door into Narnia where they are healthy again, able to run and fly and fight like the best of them.
So I used that. I drew on that when I wrote my first novel. I thought I loved my childhood, and I channeled my own questions and hopes into a story I would love to read. I imagined that other boy in hospital who needed to escape.
Reality sucks, sometimes. And a lot of the time, the reality we think is reality, isn’t. Which sucks worse.
Looking back, I realize that my childhood was not as idyllic as I thought. I now realize how lonely I was. How routinely disconnected from family and friends because we moved all the time. How I was parentified before I knew what was going on, forced to mature incorrectly because of my parents’ narcissism. How I was traumatized by theological fears that kept me in a constant cycle of terrified confessions and obsessive scrupulosity.
This isn’t a boohoo sort of thing. Plenty of things happen to all of us.
I look back at that child then, who is my inner child now. I’m learning how to re-parent myself, to be kind, to invite that child out into the light. We all have to learn this kind re-parenting that we do to ourselves.
What I now wonder is if, in some detached way, I saw that I was that boy in the hospital. Lonely, alone, and in pain, but had no way of telling anyone.
So my stories were a way for me to start figuring things out.
Today, as I write my novels, I’m putting my characters through all sorts of dark and dangerous things. I’m gifting them exciting and beautiful experiences. I’m weaving in ways to explore and build friendships.
All the sorts of things I want for myself. The kinds of adventures my inner child needed to grow up into a healthy adult. The kinds of adventures my parents should have helped me to have.
Today, I have a little girl, and am building a completely new life. Perhaps every parent goes through this. I realize how differently I need to say things, share things, and guide her. She needs to be empowered to have her own adventures, and she needs to know that we, her parents, hold firm boundaries and free expression because we love her unconditionally. Maybe she will have an easier time learning to love God and truth, and realize how unconditionally, and relentlessly, God loves her.
With our community at LegendFiction, we don’t write to evangelize. We write to enchant. To enthrall. To excite.
To share experiences.
There might be plenty of faith-infused, or faith-inspired stuff in our fiction. But that’s not the goal. The goal of fiction is never to convince. It’s to invite into an experience, and let the author feel along with us in the dark, feel along the Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth.
Perhaps, by the end, they’ll reach the same conclusion we will. Or not. They might just enjoy the journey.
Maybe we write for ourselves.
Maybe we write for others.
Maybe we write just for the fun of it.
But for me, one thing seems certain. We can’t take ourselves out of the craft and crackle and crusade of writing. We’re going along for each journey.
Should our writing change us? Could our characters prompt us to be deeper human beings? Can these routine sessions of pretending to be other people open us to see the world better?
Yes. I think so.
But maybe the only place to start is to imagine someone else in pain, and that for a moment, we can bring them relief.
Who knows what happens with that relief? Creating that space to help a child imagine again, when all hope seems lost, and the dark closes in.
Who knows what might happen when they pull through, and do something with their lives?
This is a call to write. To create. To get it done.
Use all of it to teach yourself how to be a writer. Maybe it will be good, maybe not. Doesn’t matter.