Wednesday, February 28, 2007

JC: Got Change?


Got Change?

Hmm. Let me check.

Two quarters. A dime. Two nickels. Three pennies. That makes…
Don’t tell me! I can do it myself!

…seventy-three cents!

Told you I could do it.

A person’s change (and how long it takes him to count it) reveals a lot about him. What does seventy-three cents in a grown man’s pocket say about him? Probably that he writes Christian fiction for a living.

Change in a novel reveals a lot about it, too.

Too little change means that if by some miracle the story did get published, it is destined for the table in the bookstore that has a sign, Three Novels for a Quarter.

Too much change too quickly in a novel will set a reader’s head to spinning until it explodes. That’s why librarians favor literary novels. Fast-paced thrillers leave such a mess on the bookstacks.

So how much change is enough? Too much?

To some degree the genre in which you write determines your pace. While gone are the days when an author can take fifteen pages to describe the room, generally literary-style novels have a slower pace of change while thrillers are getting so fast some authors panic if their chapters are longer than a page and a half.

What’s an author to do?

Here’s a benchmark that’s been helpful to me. Ken Follett—a suspense fiction author who doesn’t shy away from setting a scene or describing a character—suggests that there should be some element of change in a story every four to six pages.

It doesn’t have to be major change (“My wife is an identical quintuplet and they all have amnesia and I don’t know which one is mine!”) followed four pages later with another major change (“Aliens just ate my Lexus!”). The change can be a small turn in the story (“I can’t get my zipper up!” Hmm. Then again, that may be a major change…). Anyway, the important thing is that you frustrate your character and torture your reader.

Change is a staple of storytellers. It’s also an essential element in Christianity.

Aha! If that little juxtaposition didn’t set gears to whirring in your Christian novelist head, maybe you really should call ITT Technical Institute the next time the commercial airs.
This is what excites me so much about storytelling. Change and the gospel message are two sides of the same coin!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Cor. 5:17)

I’m talking about Once-I-Was-Blind-Now-I-Can-See change. Before and After. The building block of every Christian’s personal story. The old is gone, the new has come. I’ve died to myself and risen to new life.

Isn’t that exactly what any good story does? It starts with before and ends with after. Even those written by secular authors.

To quote Isaac Asimov (an author who has written more books than most people have said they’ve read):

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but as it will be…”

Or can be, in Christ. That’s my seventy-three cents worth.

Jack Cavanaugh is the author of many books, including Death Watch

2 Comments:

At 6:59 AM, Blogger PH said...

Thoughtful post, Jack. What comes to mind are John Updike's novels. He's a master at character and setting,but from the start he uses even setting and descriptive writing to create a sense of erosion and deterioration. When we develop purposeful change, it doesn't have to be external; often the crisis in the protag's life is internal.

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great post! Thank you.

 

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