Three powerful Show-Don’t Tell-themes to put in your life-changing novel this season

show and tell Christmas themes

Anyone catch the snowball fight in Buffalo yesterday?

While I watched the Vikes struggle it out against the Panthers, the Bills and Colts had an epic pigskin fight in the snow:

Hubs said, “We could use some of that snow. It doesn’t even look like Christmas around here.”

Of course, we have a smidgen of snow, but admittedly, we are used to drifts and snow castles this time of year.

(this is NOT this year…this is from years past…)

So sure, you might tell us it’s Christmas time, but we’d like a little SHOW, er SNOW please.

Show me, don’t tell me!

The fact is, although the heart can be told something, sometimes it needs to see it to believe it.

I finished writing a novel last week—the epic finale to my Montana Rescue series. I was a little worried about it because I didn’t have my typical “truth teller” in the story, a wise old guy who drops in nuggets of wisdom. I had to rely on the transformation of my characters to reveal the truths of the story. But it occurred to me as I wrote that sometimes that’s the best kind of storythe kind that makes the reader take a second look, that makes them dig deep into the truths and appropriate them through the experience of the characters.

Like, oh, say, the Greatest Story Ever Told…the Christmas Story.

The ultimate Show-Don’t Tell, I Love You, and I’ll Prove It message from God. Jesus is the action and the words, the show, as well as the tell from God.

Our pastor said something this Sunday that is ringing with me: “Truth from heaven should affect our daily life.” It made me think about my life. Do I SHOW the experiences of truth in my life? Or do I just talk about it? And how does it affect my writing life?

If you want a powerful story, here are three themes we can take from the Ultimate Story to weave into our own.

  1. JUSTICE. The world is not fair. It’s a horrible lesson we learn as children. And it gets worse as we get older—we see the injustice in the world and it calls to us to fix it. But it never seems like we can do enough. Thankfully, this will end. God will enact justice upon our evil world. (Revelation 19:11-16). This is not the end. But what does that have to do with story? As inspirational writers, we need to remind the world of hope—that justice will prevail. Give your reader a sense of justice in your story, that taste of things to come.
  2. SACRIFICE. Thankfully, GOD is also not fair. Because if he were, we’d surely be doomed. This is what Christmas is about—God saving us when we didn’t deserve it. But it came at great sacrifice. There can be no redemption, no salvation without death. Even in your stories—your character must “die” to himself, to his will, to his pride in order to be transformed. Make your character sacrifice something of himself to show this death.
  3. REDEMPTION. BUT THERE IS HOPE. And that is the point of a great story. Do not leave your readers, or your characters despairing. Because we do not live in a tragedy when we have Christ. (Romans 10:13 – for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”). We show hope through the redemption of our characters. They should be different at the end than they were in the beginning. Think differently, act differently. Have a different life. Show us living in their happy ending. (we often say, have them DO something at the end they couldn’t at the beginning!)

As writers who want to make an impact on our world, we need to remember: We are the testimony. We are the purveyors of light. We are the vessels that reveal truth. Our stories should overflow with hope.

This season, give your readers a taste of what awaits us. (Romans 15:13 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.)

Your story matters. Write something brilliant!

Susie May

P.S. One of our epic morning chats during the Deep Thinker’s Retreat 2017 will be about how to put reader-engaging themes into your story! If you want to write stories that impact the world, we’d love to help you. (in February, in Florida!) Join us for the 2018 Deep Thinker’s Retreat Feb 23-27.

How the 4 Reasons People Read Help You Change The World

It was a rough weekend, wasn’t it?

Hard to process the ongoing tragedy, the idea of someone again so coldly, painfully hurting, killing so many innocent people.

It just takes the wind out of us, collectively, and privately.

I was watching the news last night, trying to process and pray for all the victims in the Texas church shooting tragedy when I got a text telling me a friend I’d known since high school had passed away. She was my age and left behind a son and a husband.

My heart is breaking, for our nation. For my friend’s family.

All I know is that this is not the end of the story.

I’m not going to debate theology on the question of where was God when life turned tragic. That’s a bigger conversation. Let’s talk about writing and story and why it matters when things like this happen.

People typically read novels for three reasons: Entertainment, Escape and Enlightenment. Historically, stories (books, movies, plays) rise when life gets hard. In the Soviet Union, reading and movie going was a huge pastime during the cold war era. Why? Because stories offer a glimpse at hope, meaning, even escape in the tragedy. In stories (well, most of them), although there is loss, there is also triumph.

Redemption.

Hope.

A glimpse at a happy ending.

I strive to put all those “E’s” into my stories. Still, the recent events have reminded me that there is another “E” that people need as they read: Enrichment. I love this word. (it’s so overworked, it’s lost its meaning) Synonyms include: preparation, regeneration, nurturing, elevation.

Enrichment is diving into the heart and soul of the reader and giving them something that matters. Truth. Hope.

I was in church yesterday, chatting with a woman who was frustrated with her book club because they often read books on the national best-seller lists, but that left her feeling empty, angry and discouraged. They even read 50 Shades of Gray, saying, this was part of being a “mature” reader.

Reminded me of junior high school when someone would say, “Don’t be a pansy. A little weed won’t hurt you.” Maybe not. But maybe yes. I have one body, one brain and little time. Why would I put something in my body designed to destroy it?

Being a mature reader doesn’t mean I have to put darkness in my head.

I can handle gritty. I can handle pain. I just want to be reminded of hope in the end.

I want to be elevated. Nurtured. Maybe even a little regenerated. Enriched.

Sure, this isn’t every reader. But in a world filled with hurt and darkness and tragedy, maybe we should try to do more than entertain (nothing wrong with that, by the way—I loved Thor!) and enlighten, and even help them escape. Let’s leave them with truth, hope and a reminder that there is a different ending to the story than the world wants to tell us.

Your story matters. The world needs it.

Keep writing.

 

Susie May

P.S. Are you the kind of person who wants to dig deep into your story, find the truths and metaphors and character journeys that will make your story matter to readers? That will entertain, enlighten, help them escape and enrich their lives. Then you might want to join us for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat this February in Florida. (February 23-27, 2018) Learn, brainstorm, write, get feedback…create a story that matters.

The Starting Point for your Character’s Inner Journey

I am up north at the writing cabin this week, getting ready for next week’s Deep Woods Writing Camp.

It’s gorgeous here, quiet and last night I was able to catch up on one of my television indulgences, Blue Bloods. In the season premier, wise police commish Frank Reagan sat at the dinner table and talked about the loss of one of the main characters in a freak accident (I’m not telling you who). He said, essentially, that we sit for a while at the table, sharing the journey with our fellow hungerers, and it’s during this ‘meal’ we make an impact. When we leave, our empty chair is noticed, and not easily filled.

We sit among the hungry.

The book business can be overwhelming. I do a lot of “sample downloading” before a trip, then read through the samples to find the books I’m going to relax with on the plane, or on a boat, waiting to dive, or even early in the morning, on the beach. I’m picky with my time, my content…I want a book that will entertain, help me escape and leave me feeling nourished. The books that linger with me are those that leave me strangely healed, at least for the moment.

Healed. It’s not like I walk around with gaping wounds, but like everyone, I have little lies, painful emotional nicks and scratches and when I read a book filled with truth, whether it’s a romance, or general fiction, or suspense, I feel as if I’ve been fed. Someone at the table has offered me a morsel of nourishment on the journey.

Why are we here? More importantly, why do we write?

We sit among the hungry.

I attended a women’s retreat last weekend, and the speaker pointed out Matthew 9:36. When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harassed. Helpless.

Hungry.

Hungry for grace. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for Hope. Hungry for love.

What have you hungered for? What has nourished you?

Grace? Hope? Redemption?

If you’ve hungered for grace—write a story about grace. If you ached for second chances—write a story of redemption. If you are hungry for hope…you get the picture.

Because if you hunger for it, so do others.

(and by the way, giving your character a hunger is the starting point for understanding his/her inner journey!)

Your job in this world, and especially as a novelist, is to pass the potatoes–to nourish those at your table with the nourishment you’ve been given.

Your seat at the table matters. Your story matters.

Go, write something brilliant.

Susie May

P.S. We are all about going deep in a novel, to understanding not just the plot and characters, but the life-changing themes a novelist layers into their work. If you want to learn how to write books that change lives, then you’re a good fit for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat in Florida, Feb 23-27. We just opened registration. Payment plans available. Click HERE for more details.

The two things every writer needs to succeed (and it’s not talent or marketing!)

My husband has a girlfriend. And I really like her. She’s cute and even I enjoy spending time with her. Her name is Lilly.

She’s a 1978 vintage Alfa Romeo Spider.

 

Okay, that was a little tongue-in-cheek but he is spending a lot of time restoring her, from the inside-out. And that included a weekend trip to Iowa get a junker Alfa for parts.

Which left the remote control in MY possession on Sunday. Since the Vikings don’t play until tonight, I roamed the channels searching for something to fill the gap until the Outlander season premier.

I landed on Hacksaw Ridge. Yes, I’d seen it before, but something about the courage of Desmond Doss, the medic who saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa stirs my own courage. Makes me want to save people, or at least clean the kitchen.

But it also made me think about being a writer, and the fact that it takes great courage to expose our hearts and get our work out there for the world to scrutinize.

In fact, the courage of Desmond Doss grounded me back into my long held belief that writers must have two essential tools if they want to succeed.

  • Conviction
  • Grit

16 years ago today I was in Russia, watching with horror as the news played out the events of 9-11. I was a missionary, an ex-pat living in far east Russia and in that moment, I just wanted to go home. I ached over the tragedy in our country and grieved with my fellow Americans. But I was held in Russia by my conviction that God had called me to be a missionary. That conviction rooted me to my cause over two terms of service, through illness and danger and injury and fear. It kept me from flying home when I was on my knees, overwhelmed. It gave me a purpose and a vision and a focus.

 

We came home a year later, and God changed my focus to writing. But he never lifted my conviction. In fact, he deepened it. He transferred it to writing and to teaching writers—expanding my reach to 11 countries and into the lives of other writers who are like minded and convicted to write life-changing stories. (you!)

A writer has to be convicted that they are called to WRITE. To tell a great story. To write a story that matters. Because it’s not easy. It’s lonely, it’s exhausting, it’s sometimes thankless (hello Amazon reviews!) and in the beginning, not very profitable. But writers write because they must. They can’t escape it. They are convicted that they must write.

But what about Grit? “Just one more, Lord, just one more.” Desmond said this over and over as he dragged the injured to safety, and admittedly, although I’m not in peril, I sometimes say this when I begin a scene. “Just one more scene, Lord.” Because half-way through the story, I’m mucking about in the middle, hoping that my plot is working, my conflict and motivation are realistic and my characters likable. And when the book is done…I need to write another one. Because that is what career authors do…they write. And write. Just one more…

I recently watched this fascinating Ted Talk on the power of passion and perseverance. (aka, conviction and grit!) I encourage you take a look over your lunch hour: https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Grit keeps you moving forward when the world tells you to give it up. Grit settles deep inside you and says, keep going…you’ll surprise yourself. Grit says, it is worth it. Grit believes. Grit gets it done.

Conviction and Grit. It’s the stuff heroes…and writers…are made of. Don’t give up. Your story matters!

Write something brilliant this week!

Susie May

P.S. If you’re the kind of writer who likes pushing yourself to new depths in your writing, who likes the power of brainstorming and enjoys the beach in February, you’ll fit right into our annual Deep Thinkers Retreat! Registration is now open—get the early bird discount price of $50 off until November 1st! (use coupon code at checkout: EarlyBirdDT18)

Hope to see you there!