3 Storytelling Techniques You Can Learn From The Bible

Regardless of your religious leanings, I believe that every writer should read The Bible. With an estimated 2.5 billion sold (and about 4 million additional copies given away) there is little doubt that The Bible is one of the widest read books. Why is it so popular?  Because the details of its messages are woven into stories that people can retell, relate to, and reread.

Here are just three examples of what writers can learn from reading The Bible.

Niv Women Of Faith Study Bible

1. Establishing conflict in your story?  (Example:  The Book of Job)

As an example of good storytelling this book really has it all. Readers see both good (God) and evil (Satan) which provides immediate conflict. Poor Job is the pawn between the good and evil. As the tension builds in this story, one by one all of Job’s friends and family beg him to turn away from his beliefs. But this hero holds strong to what he feels is right. The challenge in this story seems so much heavier than this average man. Thus it is more interesting as we watch him survive/overcome each obstacle. To show this theory outside of a religious context, imagine an experienced climber on a little hill. That doesn’t make for an exciting story. To increase interest maybe you pair the experienced climber with someone new to the sport. It’s a better plot, but still not gripping with tension. Ramp it up yet again by putting that same inexperienced climber on Mt. Everest suddenly left alone and you’ll immediately command your readers’ attention. Make sure your conflict matches the level of interest you want to invoke in your readers.

Bad Girls of the Bible2. Not everything has to be spelled out for the readers (Example: Matthew 15:29-36)

In this book, readers hear the story of how Jesus fed thousands with just seven loaves of bread and a few fishes. You’ll immediately realize that there are not details of how Jesus accomplished that feat but because readers have seen Jesus perform several miracles before this story, the minute details aren’t required. Readers accept the story (not on faith in religion) but because a precedent had been clearly established. The lesson for writers is that if you have established the skills in your characters then you always don’t have to go into every detail of how everything is accomplished. Imagine you have a character who can fix cars like Paul McCartney writes songs. Readers have already seen him working in a garage and successfully fix someone’s car. So the skill is established and when he stumbles upon a beautiful woman stranded by the roadside, it doesn’t take paragraphs of explanation to know that he is able to resolve the problem with just a few minutes under the hood. Fixing the car isn’t the focus of the story, establishing a relationship with the woman is. So remember that some characteristics need to be introduced but not cataloged. Writers often feel compelled to give readers everything. But readers have an innate sense of imagination, let them use it occasionally and it will help connect them to your story.

The Children's Bibles (Golden Press 16520)

3. Compelling characters aren’t perfect. (Luke 22:54-62)

Just before Jesus is betrayed, he warns Peter that even he will deny knowing Jesus three times before the morning. Peter swears he would never do something so horrible to his Lord. However, after Jesus is taken into custody, Peter finds himself alone. Three times townsfolk question him and ask if he is a follower of the Lord. Three times Peter says, “No.” It isn’t until Peter hears the cock crow in the morning that Peter realizes what he has done. The reader knows each time Peter makes a mistake and denies his faith. And yet, the reader is made to feel compassion for Peter, not shamed by him. It is because readers will recognize their own human flaws in Peter’s actions. Writers can establish this same bond between readers and characters by showing not only the good but the lacking. Maybe it is a strong jealous streak even when the hero knows his lover is completely faithful to him. Maybe it is the dieter who sneaks a bit of chocolate in the middle of the night. These flaws add depth to your character like the grain in wood provides uniqueness to each piece of furniture. Don’t bury those flaws, make the most of them.

So the next time you are stuck for how to present a character or situation, maybe a few minutes skimming the stories of The Bible will help provide direction. Don’t let the religious subject matter frighten you away from one of the most read books ever.

Find more examples of good storytelling in:

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New Blog Columns for 2013

I’ve been blogging about books (and a few movies based on books) for over a year now and I’m finally finding my way.  One of my goals for 2013 is to add some structure to this site and provide a little bit more than my weekly book reviews.  I’ll be adding some new columns with specific topics that I hope interest you. Not every column will be published weekly, but you can expect to get about three columns per week with my new posting schedule:

I hope you like these new featured columns. Please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter (@ZaBethMarsh) and let me know what you’d like to read on Finding Me In Words.

Column Title

Column Description

Day Published

From A Different Bookshelf These posts will involve an eclectic group of reviews on books that are outside the set topics of our other columns. You can find anything from business books to religion here. Not knowing exactly what you’ll find is half the fun.

Sunday

Reserve Your Copy Now Always looking ahead to what is coming out next?  This is the blog post for you as we’ll preview upcoming releases that should be added to your reading list.

Monday

Favorite Book Quotes Quick posts highlighting some of my favorite lines from the books I’ve read. See if these lines inspire you as well.

Tuesday

Something To Think About These blog posts will cover trends in book publishing and anything else I think you should know about that would be interesting to authors and avid readers. about my opinion on trends in book publishing and anything related to reading and writing books. I hope you find it inte

Wednesday

Where In The Series Are We? Remember that great book review you read on Finding Me In Words? Well, this column will give you an update on other books available in the series.

Thursday

From the Fiction Stacks Friday’s fiction reviews are the traditional posts you have come to expect from Finding Me In Words.  I hope you continue to discover new authors and great books because of this column.

Friday

Writing Career Corner If you are a writer you should be spending most of your time writing, but when you do step away from the keyboard this column will helpooks because of this column.ve come to expect from Finding Me In Words.  I hope you continue to discover new authors and gre focus on books to help you with your craft and your business.

Saturday

Book Review: Iron Crowned by Richelle Mead

Since I’ve read a lot of books by Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, and Charlaine Harris I’m going to take Niki’s recommendation and read Iron Crowned by Richelle Mead

The Obsessive Bookseller

3Title: Iron Crowned

Author: Richelle Mead

Series: Dark Swan #3

Rating: (4.5/5 stars)

The Overview:

The Review:

I’m sure at this point you’re all tired of hearing me gush about Richelle Mead, but I just can’t help it. Everything she does winds up on my favorites list, and the “Dark Swan” series is no exception. Although book #3 was a tad slow to start, it soon launched into an event-filled story with plenty of action, love, and humor. The momentum it gained near the end had me cancelling plans simply so I could sit down and finish it (sad, but true).

As mentioned before in my review of “Bloodlines” (book 1 in a different series), Mead’s writing style is always incredibly character-driven. What I love about this series is that it also has a great deal of action and world-building to go along with the first-person style. I…

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On Writing

Writing Career Corner

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have any desire to be a published author someone has probably recommended that you read Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Having spent the last month digesting it, I now understand why.

Whereas most books about how to write try to give step by step instructions, King’s semi-autobiographical writing manual is about finding out what works for you. The sad part is learning how to write is like trying to lose weight. In losing weight the key is diet and exercise regardless of all the quick weight-loss experts out there trying to sell you the magic pill. King explains that being a writer requires reading a lot and writing a lot. That’s a lot of time you’ll have to spend alone with nothing but a blank page and a lot of self-doubt to get you through.

King gives a nice introduction to how he got started in writing. And there is something that makes the unpublished author in me happy to know that King didn’t just wake up one morning as a millionaire author. He spent a lot of poor, bleak years learning his craft. This might explain how his writing appears to be effortless now.

In the middle of this non-fiction book, King gives some clear cut writing advice. Like how it is best to just plow through your first draft with your writing door closed and not worrying about what other people will think about it. He discusses some very academic keys to good writing like avoiding adverbs and understanding three key parts of a novel: narrative, description and dialogue. All this is good advice and probably won’t be anything you haven’t heard before if you have ever taken a writing class or talked to a college professor about trying to write a novel.

I think what makes this book work for me is that it is written with the same clear, concise voice that King uses for his fiction work. You forget that you are reading a manual on writing and you feel like you are a ghost watching a master at work. Instead of King sitting at his desk pounding out a novel, you can imagine yourself sitting in your laundry room trying to write your first novel with only your spouse cheering you on. King honestly admits that while everyone can write a novel if they sit down and work at it, not everyone is going to turn out to be a great writer. Most won’t ever be able to earn a living off of it. But that shouldn’t be why you want to be a writer. If you want to make money from writing, there is probably quick and more consistent money in it if you write software user manuals.

Having written more than my share of software user manuals, I can tell you that it doesn’t give you a sense of well being but it will pay your mortgage. And yet I, like millions of other people, want to write a novel. Oh, I dream of making it big and owning a house in Maine down the street from Stephen King, but the reality of it is I want to write because I can’t shut off the stories in my head. (I believe that either makes me a writer or crazy. You can decide which one.) When I finish my novel, because there is always one in the works, I’ll consider myself a success if I can make my husband laugh and my best friend cry. If money follows that’s just gravy. Since I share that vision with Stephen King, that writing isn’t about making money, I sort of feel validated. It’s okay if I never get published for my fiction work. I write for me. That is probably the best advice King gives. Write for yourself! Write often. Read as much as you can get your hands on. You might not make a lot of money, but you might just make yourself happy.

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The Long Marketing Shadow of Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven’t yet figured out what all the hubbub is about this book. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James wasn’t nearly as bad as its critics would have you believe nor is it as great as its fans praise implies. It’s a decent romance offering that has one big foot in the erotic fiction genre. But it is by no means the first of such books, nor the best. That doesn’t mean that avid readers, authors, and publishers should be quick to dismiss it. There are plenty of great books out there and Fifty Shades might just help them get noticed.

People seem hung up on the fact that Fifty Shades started as Twilight fan fiction. Get over it! One could make the case that Twilight is nothing more than fan fiction for Romeo and Juliet. How an author is inspired for a story doesn’t matter. What matters is that an author writes a story good enough to keep people reading. How an author shares their story doesn’t matter either. No one would criticize an author for taking a piece they are working on to their critic group for feedback. Fan fiction just provides a large critic audience via a different medium. Fan fiction doesn’t make an author any more or less serious about their work. It used to be that storytellers could only use their voices as bards to communicate their ideas, but our world is filled with possibilities for communication. None of them is any more significant than another; a good story is a good story regardless of how you find it.

The graphic sex in Fifty Shades of Grey will get people talking about this book. A few people who haven’t seen the inside of a bookstore or library in a few years may find themselves purchasing a copy. And that is a great thing for all authors and publishers right now in an age of declining book sales. Anyway you can get a new reader (a new customer) to come into a bookstore, library, or online book shop it is good for all authors and publishers. Once people admit that they like reading, there is the opportunity for truly great books to be discovered, for new authors to find a following, and for publishers to sell a lot of books. So three cheers for Fifty Shades.

To avid book readers I say: Please read it. Talk about it to anyone you know who hasn’t read a book as an adult for the simple pleasure of reading. Tell them why you loved it. Or hated it. Get that non-reader to read. Have a discussion about it. And then ask that former non-reader to read something else that you can discuss with them. Share your love of reading.

To authors and publishers I say: Help Fifty Shades and James have their moment in the sun. You should be so lucky. Then wait patiently to see if the long tail of marketing theory holds true. Your books could be discovered by James’ readers; either because it is somehow like James’ or because it is nothing like the Fifty Shades series. Whether you want to admit it or not, you might just have Ana Steele and Christian Grey to thank for your next book sale. Fifty Shades could be the best, cheapest, and most sustainable marketing plan you’ve ever had.

To aspiring writers I say: Be inspired. Maybe you loved it and want to create something similar but with your vision. Or maybe you hated it and know that you can write something better. Be inspired by anything, share it with anyone, and improve your craft and skills any way you can. Good stories will pour out of you if you have the conviction to write.

For inspiration on how the long tail of marketing is going to work from Fifty Shades of Grey here are a few of my suggestions:

  • If you like the sex but want more plot:
    • Read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake or Merry Gentry series as they will entertain you with complex plot lines and hot, passionate sex.
  • If you want to explore the darker side of sex:
  • If you want romance but really want to tone down the graphic sex:
    • Read anything by Brenda Joyce. Her Francesca Cahill Deadly series will provide plenty of mystery with hot romance that won’t embarrass you to read in the same room with your mother.

From Fifty Shades and with three suggestions, I’ve just opened the door into the following genres:

  • Paranormal Romance
  • Mystery
  • Historical Romance
  • Erotica
  • Horror
  • Contemporary Romance
  • Science Fiction

Let the reading begin…

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Paris is in Love with Eloisa James

Paris in Love: A MemoirParis in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have always wanted to move to Paris? Hated the idea of moving to Paris? Love to cook, or just love to eat? Are married with children, or without? Love to travel or hate it? Love dogs or detest them? Or if you know someone with a terminal illness or not, you’ll want to read “Paris in Love.”

Eloisa James, aka Mary Bly, a best-selling romance author and professor of Shakespearean literature details her year of living in Paris with her husband and two children. This memoir, written in Facebook-like tiny essays, chronicles their year living abroad with the same humor often found in her books, but also with a serious beauty that only a lover of books, literature, and language can bring to life on paper.

I admit that I both laughed out loud, practically read it aloud to my husband, and cried during this year with James. James suffered her own cancer scare soon after her mother passed from the disease. This is not a memoir that focuses on illness. It is overstuffed with life. And learning to live with the hand that life deals you.

You’ll close the book understanding what life is REALLY about and hoping that you’ll have just a slice of time in your lifetime comprised of what James has experienced.

God Bless all who read it, and thank you James for writing a wonderful travel memoir that is so much more!

PS: Be sure to go online to get a digital tour of James’ favorite museums, restaurants, and shopping as she offers a wonderful selection of websites at the end of book.

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Goodreads.com Independent Book Blogger Awards!

Goodreads.com is sponsoring the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

Within each of the 4categories, 1 winner will be selected following two (2) rounds of judging.

Round 1 Judging (Public Voting): Each Entrant’s name and a link to his/her blog will be posted online at http://www.goodreads.com and judged by registered Goodreads users from 12:00 am EST on April 10, 2012 through 11:59 pm EST on April 23, 2012 (“Voting Period”).

Voters are limited to one vote per person per category.

Voters will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite Independent Blogger during the Voting Period by reviewing the Posts each blog, using as a suggested guide the following criteria:

  • quality of writing (well-written, cohesive, succinct, without spelling or grammatical errors),
  • quality of analysis (illustrates blogger’s knowledge and comfort with the topic at hand),
  • visual design and presentation (design and layout of the blog should be aesthetically pleasing without detracting from the focus of the content),
  • audience tone (dialogue reflects intended audience), and
  • reader discussion/impact (relative concentration of the types of discussion that the blog prompts among its readers, regardless of whether the discussion is positive or negative in nature).
Independent Book Blogger Awards

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!