CYA News Vol. 3, Issue 9: How to Write A Book, Pt. 3 / Jesus Freaks

Posted: August 1, 2011 in Books, CYA News, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I was glad to see folks enjoying the last few blog posts.  I hope you guys know that I write this stuff for you.  I’d be pretty conceited if I spouted this nonsense because I thought you should live the way I do.  My whole focus for writing to begin with is to relay my own personal experiences with things and maybe, just maybe, someone else out there might pick up a nugget or two that will help them as well.

As an FYI, for the next issue we’ll take a break from the book writing topic and pick it back up the following issue.  This book-writing series has many facets to it, I want to make sure to still give time to other topics along the way.

The Outline is Crucial, but it Also Isn’t
I’ve read a ton of different books on writing and was surprised to find that the outline seems to be one of the most disagreed-upon topics.  I wouldn’t call it controversial because to me the whole argument seems rather silly.  From what I can tell, the debate seems to boil down to personal preference.  One person will construct a detailed outline before ever typing the words, “Once upon a time…” while another will start with a single thought and just go.  Even the heavy hitters differ on this point.  Best-selling author Thomas F. Monteleone has never done an outline whereas Ted Dekker will generate a 40-page ‘story document’ for each book that describes every major plot point and provides background to every setting and character.

As I mentioned before, The Thief and the Red Mandolin started with a single character and his evil mandolin.  No outline, no pre-planning.  I started with that idea and went with it.  For Istburn, I had a lot of ideas that I captured (remember last issue?), but I never organized them into a structured outline.  In fact, I really haven’t done much of an outline on any of my books save for Project R and I really went all out on the planning for that book.  I had character sheets, scene cards, turning point for each Act detailed, the works.  The final results of this are still to be seen since Project R has taken so long to finish (even though it’s my shortest novel to date), but my frontline readers have given me pretty positive comments.  I’ll have to see how readers react to it before giving you the final verdict.

With what I’ll call the free-flow method, you just pound away at the keyboard and to Hades with comprehension.  One main advantage that this provides is that it allows you to get going.  You pick your idea and plow away.  Afterward, you go back through the whole thing during your rewriting and clean house.  I personally prefer the rewrite period over the initial draft writing, but again that’s my own opinion.  Another advantage of this method is that can be less constricting to the creative flow.  Essentially, it’s the literary equivalent of picking up your machete and hacking away at the jungle.  You will probably find that diamond mine eventually.  You may take out a good hunk of the local real estate in the process, but you can also find the golden idol, the damsel in distress, and maybe even kill a few Nazis along the way (sorry, got carried away with the Indiana Jones references).  The point is that the free-flow method can help you unearth a lot of really awesome ideas as you develop the story, but be prepared for a lot of work in the rewrite.

The biggest advantage I’ve seen to the outline method is that it gives you a target off in the distance to shoot for.  Mandolin went through a metric crap-ton (or maybe it’s tonne) of rewrites before it was ever sent to CreateSpace.  I probably could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I had given some thought to the major plot points and the ending when I started.  Now, the final result turned out pretty well, but it was a bear getting it right.  With Project R, I actually haven’t had to do the all-expansive re-writes that I had to do with Mandolin or even what I had to do with Istburn.  It had the smoothest initial draft of the three books I’ve written (the long rewrite is more due to delays from outside of writing than the book itself).  The trick with this one is that, once you have all your elements layed out, go write the stinking book!

So, what would I recommend for you?  Well, that depends.  If having a template to fill in and a solid structure beforehand appeal to you, then I say do it.  List out your characters.  Give them each a history, a description, and a motivation.  Detail you settings.  Establish you turning points for Act I, II, and III and write out your scene cards.  Write a summary of your ending before you ever think of a beginning.  However, if you have no idea how to outline or the idea of preplanned structure bothers you, by all means, grab the idea by the horns and charge ahead, Dr. Jones.  Again, be prepared to fix a lot of stuff.

Personally, I will adopt a sort of hybrid system in the future.  I liked having characters and settings identified beforehand as well as some of the major story elements in Project R.  But, I also like the freedom to turn all of it on its head and strike off in a tangent if the mood strikes me.  Those hidden treasures are too good to pass up.

Weekly Showcase: Jesus Freaks by dc Talk
dc Talk’s music has always been interesting and full of powerful messages.  But, this week I want to talk about the book Jesus Freaks which they wrote in conjunction with their (arguably) most famous album to date, Jesus Freak.  This article will be a little dated since the book was published a while ago, but I still feel it’s worth mentioning because it highlights a topic that still occurs to this day, but nobody talks about.

Jesus Freaks is a compilation of stories about those people who have given their lives in service to their faith.  It’s a powerful, and convicting book about the dedication that people have in the face of the toughest persecution; the kind of stuff that the rest of us may never see.  It serves as a reminder that we are called to, essentially, be aliens on another planet.  The example given to us by the folks in Jesus Freaks is that we should be ready if the time should come for us to decide if it’s worth our very lives.

Martyrdom these days tends to get a bad rap because it is often tied to belligerent dogmatism.  We only have to look to 9/11 to see the evidence for that.  But, what I view as true martyrdom, in relation to Christianity, is someone who dies in service to their faith, it was not something they sought.

In the Gospel, Jesus Christ asked the disciples to follow Him and through those words he does the same to us.  He told them it would be difficult and to be prepared to even die to defend that faith.  Never anywhere does it say that He wanted them to die in His name.

I honestly believe He would prefer that people who truly lived out their faith stayed alive for a long time so that more and more people could be impacted by their lives.  God doesn’t go out to recruit martyrs, He is in the business of recruiting people who really want to live.  Becoming a martyr is simply a possible outcome of that choice, not a goal.

Next week: The Infamous Summer of Selling Books / Deus Ex

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