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Posts Tagged ‘characters’

Well, I’ll admit it. One of the delights of the summer season for me is watching the tennis and cricket on TV. Some days both are on – and then I am faced with the excruciating dilemma of which to watch! Sometimes that’s an easy decision, according to who or which side is winning. Of course we all like to see our favourites or our home team win. But as I watch sportsmen and sportswomen expend their energies hour after hour on a hot playing field or tennis court, the sweat dripping off them, I find myself challenged by the effort they put into their game right to the bitter end. They might well know they don’t have a great chance of winning – but they keep trying, still determined to give of their best. And who knows? The tide might turn in their favour at any time and they might be able to fight back.

This determination to keep slogging it out challenges me in my own writing journey. I am halfway through writing my sixth novel. But largely because of a very busy past few months, I am only a chapter or two further advanced than I was around a year ago. Part of me can’t wait to get back to it and find out what my characters will end up doing and saying – but another part of me is definitely daunted by all the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ needed to complete the novel. You see, having written five novels already, I sense there is too much still to happen for this novel to fit into the word count usually required for books like mine. My main characters have grown and become more complex, with each needing space to resolve their personal and relational issues in a satisfactory way. So when I have finished the first draft, I know I will have to be brutal and throw out thousands of my precious words that I have slaved over these past months.

Yet I’m not planning to give up on this current novel. I’m in it too far to pull back. After all, my characters are real, so can’t possibly be left hanging in mid air! Besides, there are things I want to say through this novel, ways I want the storyline and the characters to impact my readers. And I am remembering too the words of Paul in Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I have believed God has had a purpose for each of my novels and I believe this is true of the current one too. So in faithfulness I will keep writing away, endeavouring to make my runs, hit my boundaries and slog those aces! And however much I complain about the difficulties, I have to admit it is so enjoyable and fulfilling as well – and I am sure many of the elite sportsmen and women I watch so avidly would say the same.

But how about you? What is God calling you to work at with all your heart this year? Whatever it is, may God enable you to press on with passion and determination – and may you find great joy and fulfilment as you hit those aces and make those runs in the process!  

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Already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if my latest novel ‘Jenna’ is really my own story. Whenever I hear this question, however, I honestly don’t quite know how to answer. At one level, it is not ‘my’ story at all. For starters, my character Jenna is in her mid-twenties, has dark, curly hair and lives in Adelaide – which cuts me out on all counts! Also, when the story begins, she is a youth leader at her local church – a role I have never had. Then she gets engaged to someone who … but I don’t want to spoil the story for any of you who plan on reading it!

And yet, at another level, ‘Jenna’ is my story. It is in fact lots of different parts of my story – little snippets from here and there taken totally out of their original time frame and context and melded together to form a new and unique narrative. But it is also various other people’s stories – again snippets I have heard or read about or watched unfold. And then around and through and above and below all that are the characters and events completely from my own imagination, with the result that it is difficult even for me, the author, to tell now where fact and fiction begin and end.

It’s true too that I am the author of my novels – the creator of these characters and this storyline. I bring them to birth – I give them names. Maybe I even ‘play God’ a little at times, creating the odd one or two in my own image, or part thereof, allowing them to respond to situations as I probably would – or at least think I would. And no doubt this is a natural thing to do – after all, I’m told we write best about the things we have personally experienced. So in this regard, is my character Jenna perhaps really me?

I think the wisest thing for me as the author is to stop worrying about all this. As I wrote ‘Jenna’, I felt I was putting into words something worthwhile and something God wanted me to say. And I hope and pray that everything I have written brings God honour and glory, as well as challenging and encouraging my readers – and yes, entertaining them. Recently I read again the words of Psalm 139:1-4:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord

God perceived my very thoughts as I wrote ‘Jenna’. God was aware of my motives and in fact knew every word I was going to write, even before I started. God was with me as I wrote, I am sure of that. And my task was to listen well and to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25) as the story unfolded.

I hope I did that. And I hope and pray my readers forget about finding ‘me’ in the story and instead discover something more of God in it all.

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Not long ago I was driving home from the city when a large sign painted roughly on a fence caught my eye:

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

I jotted it down at the next red light and then thought about it all way home.  It brought back memories of my own mother, whose life at times was quite overruled by worry and fear about many things and who, as a result, found herself limited in what opportunities she could grasp and what experiences she could fully enjoy.  It also reminded me of a poem by Davna Markova I was given many years ago:

I will not die an unlived life,

I will not go in fear

Of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

To allow my living to open to me,

To make me less afraid,

More accessible,

To loosen my heart

Until it becomes a wing,

A torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance:

To live.

So that which came to me as seed,

Goes to the next as blossom,

And that which came to me as blossom,

Goes on as fruit.

I want to ‘inhabit my days’ too, don’t you?  I want to be fully the person God intends and has gifted me to be and not to be limited by fear of what might or might not happen.   I don’t want to get to the end of my life here on earth and realise how much I missed out on because I was unprepared to take a risk or two and step out into new territory for God.  Only to ‘half-live’ our lives seems such a waste to me – and to be honest, almost an insult to our God who created us.

Yet sometimes when I’m confronted with a particularly daunting challenge, I do feel that old fear I observed in my mother rising up in me as well.  And it’s then that I have to take a deep breath, remember I am being held in the incredibly loving arms of God and step out in his strength, knowing God will never let me falter and fall.   After all, I have the Word of God on that.  In Psalm 34:4, David testifies:  I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears, while in Psalm 27:1, he states confidently:  The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?   

I want the seed of the gifts God has given me to germinate fully, to blossom into something beautiful that will touch and encourage others, and to bear much fruit under God’s hand, just as the poet expresses above.  I might not be the most gifted or the most widely read novelist on this planet, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and say that at least I tried.  At least I took up God’s challenge to write, pouring my heart into the characters and storylines I created, labouring as best I could to reveal more of the heart of God to my readers.

And who knows?  Maybe, by God’s grace, there will even be the ones and twos whose lives have been touched and changed as a result.

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As a novelist who is constantly trying to grow and learn, I like to read how other authors handle the various challenges the whole writing process brings.  Some write only when they are ‘in the mood’ and the inspiration is flowing.  Others say that if they worked that way, they would never write anything.  These are the more self-disciplined among us – the ones who can set themselves a target of writing so many words per day or per week.  Some are very organised and totally plan out their novel or other work before they start.  Others are what are known as ‘seat of the pants’ writers who have only a vague idea where they are heading when they begin.  And still others like me fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

When I begin a novel, I like to have a clear concept in mind as to what my story is about – what general challenges and joys my main characters will experience and what central issues the story will grapple with.  But I also like to leave room for my characters to develop, to make their own choices as to how they will handle this or that situation or even what sort of a person they will become.  It is an interesting journey, watching these characters grow and change.  As a result, life as an author can be fascinating and exciting – even totally absorbing and energising.

But it’s not always like that, in my experience.  In fact, many days I sit staring at my computer screen, wondering where all that flow of creativity and joy of bringing my characters to life could possibly have gone.  Should I discipline myself on these occasions to write anyway?  Or should I conclude that my ‘writer’s block’ has won out for the moment?

Well, at times I do go off and do something else for a while.  Yet at others, I know I simply have to ‘hang in there’ and push through this difficult stage.  And that’s why some words Paul wrote to the Colossians impacted me recently – words that on the surface seem quite a contradiction.   As Paul is endeavouring with all his might to help believers stand firm in their faith in Jesus Christ and grow in understanding and love for one another, he writes:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:28-29).

So I get the picture that what Paul was trying to do wasn’t easy.  Yet in the midst of it all, he was being energised by a power beyond himself.  He was definitely ‘struggling’ and putting in a lot of effort of his own, but the energy that sustained him was not his alone.  Instead he was receiving and relying on ‘his’ energy – that is, Jesus Christ’s – to complete the task he had been given.

So on those days when I struggle very much with my writing, I try to keep my eyes on Jesus, knowing he called me to do what I’m doing and will ‘energise’ and empower me to complete it.  God is bigger than any writers’ block – his energy and creativity are inexhaustible!  And I’m so thankful for that.

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Whenever I meet or hear from someone who has enjoyed reading one of my novels, I find myself quite blown away.  Each time, I feel so privileged that words I agonised over a few years back now still touch people’s hearts and hopefully even impact their lives as well.

Recently I met someone who had just finished reading my novel ‘Laura’. Her mind was obviously still full of the characters and storyline, so our conversation went something like this:

‘I found your book so encouraging, Jo-Anne. I absolutely loved your character Laura – but I loved her brother Jamie too.’

‘That’s great – so did I!’ I smile, delighted.

‘I think you could write a sequel and explore Jamie’s journey.  Margaret was doing the best she could – and I can understand why Ken acted like he did.  Then there was Elisabeth – now who was her partner?  What was his name again?’

[A moment’s silence before my new friend thankfully remembers it herself.]

Oh that’s right – Paul.  And Ian and Greg – well, they were just there, but I really loved Jamie.’

I have had such conversations before – conversations in which I valiantly try to remember who on earth this or that character actually is!  I endeavour to hide my confusion and embarrassment, however.  After all, how can I own up to forgetting someone I myself have created and fleshed out and journeyed with for months?  Yes, there are the more notable ones I loved and will always remember, but am I currently writing my sixth novel – which means I have created a cast of well over a hundred characters at this point in time.  I simply can’t store all their names in my head – and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m getting older!

Some say novelists act like gods, in that they are in a position to create whatever characters they like to populate their own little fictitious worlds.  That may be the case – but they are nothing like the God I know.  I forget my less memorable characters at least, but I’m so glad God doesn’t forget us, however memorable or otherwise we are!  God says straight out in Isaiah 49:15: ‘I will not forget you!  And Psalm 139 tells me that God knows everything about me – when I get up, when I go out, even what I’m thinking and what I’m about to say.  I may forget those I have ‘created’ and what they did and said – but God knows me intimately and will never forget me.  And I’m so glad of that.

How about you?

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