We Christians, especially us evangelicals, are very keen on programmes and courses. It sort-of suits our desire to package things. And we all of us like to receive pre-packaged things, whether it’s a ready meal or story. Life would be impossible without them, especially the Western consumer lifestyle.
I can’t help feeling something has been lost though. This is God we are packaging, the Ultimately Unpackable. I suppose it’s good to always have something in the freezer that you can bring out when necessary, a gospel ready-meal, systematically covering the basics of Christian truth. A reader myself, I like a book, even though it’s a packaged summary, because it’s at least a start. (I’ve even written one for just that purpose.)
But the danger with a power-point-type presentation of the gospel is like every other power-point you’ve ever seen, it passes through the mind without ever being internalized. All the boxes are ticked, you’ve had the training, but in another way none of the boxes have been ticked.
Jesus told stories which were totally incomplete accounts of the gospel. He probably had many reasons for this (not being stoned to death in a religious hothouse might have been one). But his stories are like the smell of coffee. They set you off on a hunt for the source.
Does our love for the pre-packaged make us compartmentalized in our thinking? Identikit in our practice? Unnatural in our growth? Interesting.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of The Sump of Lost Dreams, the third book in my comic novel trilogy. A fantastic feeling after several years’ gestation.
The three books are about, in turn, the presence, the power, and the persistence of grace. These themes are stripped of all Christian language, deeply buried under layers of comedy and fantasy and nothing is brought to a conclusion. The books are supposed to be like the smell of coffee or fresh bread: fun in itself, and setting you off hunting for the source.
They’re part of ‘slow mission’ because (a) they’re my ‘thing’ and everybody’s ‘thing’ has to fit somewhere and (b) because we can’t live on bread alone; we need stories like we need protein.
Re-writing: a checklist
Here (for my reference mostly and because I’ve got to put it somewhere) is my checklist for when I come to re-write the first draft. It’s my best thoughts on what makes a fine novel.
- Premise. Does it drive the book? Are any parts of the book extraneous? Does the premise resonate though the book, even if is not stated explicitly? Is it moving? Does it move me?
- Background. Is it consistent? Accurate enough? Does the chronology work? Do seasons pass? Special occasions happen?
- Plot. Is it believable? Organic? (one thing develops naturally from another)? Is it taut, pulling the reader along or does it go slack in places? Is it satisfyingly tied up or are there loose ends or dead ends? Does the tension in each scene rise and fall away like a wave?
- Characters. How well do I know them? Do they have distinctive voices? Do they change? What would strike the observer about them? Are they operating at full capacity? Are they struggling? Do they get somewhere?
- Texture. Is the dialogue funny, terse, unexpected? Is the writing unobtrusive? Do descriptions drag? Do the eyes skip over parts?
- Overall. Does it delight? Move the heart? Grip? Make people late for appointments? Force them buy it for others? Compete with Netflix and Sky Sports?