Author tools and hacks, book excerpt, featured, improvisation, Laura Bartnick, op-ed

EMBRACING IMPERFECTIONS IN OUR STORY

By Laura Bartnick

“Improvisation. That’s why we call creativity art, isn’t it?

I’m an author and also an author coach. Part of what I do is help an author grow personally in order to deepen the author’s storyline or character drawn inside the pages of their manuscript.

We writers embrace imperfections in our written characters’ thought patterns or behaviors so that the story can twist and turn just as much as real life does.

Like jazz, the development of a good story means the endings are kept strategically hidden in misunderstandings, physical barriers, or something in the past. I’ve discovered a group, Teaching Tolerance, which has developed a test for discovering anyone’s own historical or cultural bias, implicit bias. You can see here how you might use a character’s natural bias to direct his or her communications or meditation or self-talk.

Proverbs 20:5 alludes that the purposes of a heart run like deep waters, but someone with insight can draw them out. What is your character’s point of view?

Can a writer love the antagonist?A writer should learn to love the enemy of the protagonist. Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot? How could He?

Learning about your antagonist’s unique place of belonging or setting helps you shape his or her believable thoughts, recognizable appearances or dialogue with the accompanying accents and activities that would be true to the character.

From an unlikely source or through an accident that turns out well, insight emerges. Imperfections make your characters relatable. They string you along. When you love them through their story, you emulate God’s love for our imperfect selves born into an imperfect world.

Even settings can wrestle for hope.

Developing a setting can help hide or reveal your plot or your characters. The light we cast onto the flaws of our story characters is an act of kindness, though sometimes it is severe mercy.

Did Hagar run to the desert to escape, only to be visited by the God of her hated mistress, Sarah? “I see you,” God said. “Eat. Drink,” and, “Go back to your hated mistress. I have a plan for you. Your own son will make a great nation because I have ordained it.” “Me?” Hagar said. “Yes, Hagar, I see your need and your mistreatment. Yes, you,” God said. So, Hagar dragged herself back to Abraham and Sarah. In faith. And, God blessed her walk of faith.

When you draw on your own experience with fear or temptations, or from experiences of those close to you, you will understand that it is not impossible for the antagonist to be redeemed. If you determine to defeat the antagonist when thwarting the antagonist’s purposes, you must feel that grief. It was written that Jesus loved the rich, young ruler who turned away.

Imagine a master chef who creates a gourmet menu for a special entourage. She selects the best cuts of meat, the freshest organic grains to grind, the salad and herbs from her garden, and the cream from her cow. Someone sells her a tropical fruit, unknown to her, promising it will provide the hit. She shreds the fruit and tops the salad with it, only to discover that the fruit is poison.

“But everything I used was of the finest quality,” she argues to the police.

“Everything except that shred of poison you added.”

Use a shock point to hook the reader into how or why the poison was added, and by whom.

Empathetically draw the audience into the truth but do not dilute consequences. Make them meaningful.

A writer can find the image of God originally shaped in the arch-type enemy. This, a starting point for where a character departs, helps the writer make choices for the character. A writer can have the character diverge from her image of origin and from her calling by refusing to be rescued. When you know your bad character’s history and psyche, you will draw her story accurately.”

This excerpt is from Chapter 3, pages 65-67, Welcome to the Shivoo! (Bartnick)

Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s great party.
Humor, ingenuity, Laura Bartnick, literary

Oh, What Extravagance To Laugh

Laura Bartnick, Publishing Partner, Capture Books
Welcome to the Shivoo: Creatives Mimicking the Creator

A shivoo is a boisterous load of fun! The maker culture understands good fun. There was, however, a century or two in church history where humor was considered sacrilegious.

Bad luck wedding pillowHistorically, if rectors or ministers wasted their parishioners’ time by telling jokes in the pulpit, they were sorely reprimanded or even discharged for desecrating a holy calling.

Maybe the governing bodies had a point. After all, there is no verse of Scripture that instructs good Christians to be silly or to laugh.

A doctrine of good humor may be difficult to pull out of Scripture by chapter and verse. But there are parallels in the extravagance of good humor compared with the extravagance of God’s rich tenderness for us.  For, God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 2:4-5). Don’t we know that life without laughter is a living death?  Life without God’s powerful rescue through His Son’s work is permanent death. Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children (1 John 3:1).  What loving parent doesn’t thoroughly enjoy the learning curves of a beloved child in speech, in toddling, in playing . . . pretending, and in the ongoing wonders of discovery?

These days, getting the laughter rolling in a spiritual education class and also in the pulpit enjoys an allotted time-frame.

It is counter-intuitive to look on the funny side of the events rather than the logical and just side of things. There’s a special form of intelligence to brandish the one-liners rather than the guilt. And, that’s what God did for us by sending a counter-intuitive way out of the punishment that He Himself instituted (death for sin). And, a counter-intuitive personal sacrifice (His beloved genetic Son’s life for ours’, the created ones) is what became the model and essence of all goodwill.

I’ve used a lot of silly words in my book’s essays for the purpose of lighting up some ideas being conveyed. Does this technique make it fall into the secular box for you rather than into the “sacred speech” box?

WHERE IS THE HUMOR?

Before we separate and relieve serious teaching and preaching of lightweight joking or wry and witty smart talk, we want to consider the importance that the Lord Himself puts on cultivating the fruits of the Spirit. Goodwill, love, kindness, graciousness, contentment, redemption, joy, all spring from the development of good humor.[i]

Humor is offered to us and experienced in the array of animals and animal antics we enjoy. Children also, whom God created, make us laugh in their innocence and also in their naughtiness, causing us to be less judgmental and less harsh. Christians are mandated to practice attributes of good humor. Besides this, God created Mark Lowry, Tim Hawkins, Chonda Pierce, Michael Junior, Ken DavisTaylor Mason,  Brad Stine, Rich Praytor, Thor Ramsey, Jeff Allen, and Aaron Wilburnwe can, therefore, absolutely conclude that humor is sacred to God.

Maybe the Lord assumed that human beings would not have to be supplied with chapter and verse to discover the importance of laughter. Instead, He taught us through His own creativity and example of creation so that we should pick up and ingest the ability to mimic His goodwill and good humor through personal experience and natural expression.

I love that God is an entertainer, and when we mimic Him, we become the best lil’ entertainers we can be ourselves. My fellow writer, Kathy Joy, is a humorist who couldn’t help but write me this note, “Glad to know Shiv-oo-lery isn’t dead!” after reading this book.  In The Melody of the Mulberries, historic author Tonya Jewel Blessing encompasses her story of a family’s search for forgiveness with the humor of discovering an aging, onery parrot in the Appalachian hills.

Because our Creator’s good humor is modeled for all people by His common grace, potentially all people are able to pick up and mimic God in good humor, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, joy and love. All the more then, Christians should open wide, be infilled with the Holy Spirit’s power and with access to the light of God’s written word, and spill it out like rain over others.

The Apostle Paul advocated for remaining in a state of joy at all times when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. In chapter four, verse 4 he states, “Rejoice in the LORD always, and again, I say rejoice!” Rejoice is the active voice of being full of joy. Paul’s mandate to those who are already full of love and knowledge? Hey! Put some notes of happiness into your hearts at all times because of Who the LORD is. Rejoice means “ACTIVATE JOY, PEOPLE! Recycle it. Again, now.”

And because we have confidence in the risen Savior––Who has promised us many benefits in eternal life––shouldn’t we mimic His ironic patience, entertaining goodness, and merriment in our every action and reaction? Proverbs 17:22 clearly equates a merry heart to good (and needed) medicine, using a spice of humor to describe the opposite. A broken spirit tends to dry up the bones.

PRAY FOR BUOYANCY

You cannot manufacture joy.  It is a divine gift that we must submit to, and one that we typically experience when we remain in the LORD’s fellowship. When David was severely disciplined for his theft, adultery, and murder, he repented and then prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”[ii] If you lack joy, ask the LORD to open the eyes of your heart. These are a creative’s marching orders: find God’s good humor.

Find the exclamation point.

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

You may have already discovered, sometimes incredible amounts of creativity are required to produce buoyancy in conflict. What did the Puritans do without television and radio and cell phones? Maybe they had lively parties with debates, singing and playing instruments, logging uses for medicinal herbs, creating educational material, cooking for groups, planting, harvesting, reading, developing businesses, quilting, writing, storytelling, and reciting. I’m not sure if they danced, but many Christian communities do.

We learn from tragedy, epic or otherwise, but tragedy is a genre of literature—believe it or not— which is considered entertainment. One of the fruits of the Spirit is longsuffering.[i] How can anyone suffer for a long while without some fits of humor to prop them up? Humor is absolutely necessary to human survival, and that is why the Creator gave some to each of us.

Caught me by surprise! throw pillow
Caught me by Surprise! throw pillow LOOK what you did.

When I met my husband, I discovered one of the most delightful senses of humor ever to cross my landscape. I fell in love with him. Gratefully! I had been too serious for way too long. Recently, he told me an old story about how some hungry hospital staff used to steal left-over breakfast items, the “safe” ones, from the top of the trash barrel to eat during the morning break.  The aide, my husband, arrived to scavenge just after the coffee grounds had been tossed on top of a plate of bacon. What did he do? What any low paid, hungry man would do. He washed off the bacon and re-plated it. As he carried his cache into the lounge, a nurse spied him. “I hope you’re planning to share that?” she asked. He shared it. . . in all good humor. My husband confessed this story recently to the nurse Monument to Joy mug frontinitially involved for the purpose of sharing a laugh about the old days—for bonding. For human cheer. What a gracious gift God gives us when He brings us funny people, and stories of situations like that. Some light-hearted communication can bring us great joy.

I think God enjoys silly human jokes.

The end of the book of Jonah shows that God enjoys pulling out a practical joke, or poking a bit of His own irony at Jonah.

I see the humor in Job’s memoir, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” The comment is so absolute and desperate and bland, I can’t help but smile.

Can humor haunt you, tag you, gag you when you are too serious? Can it open the shades and throw into a dark room the rays of light?

Yeah, it can for me, too.

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Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! Creatives Mimicking the Creator. This blog post is a selection from it.

[i] Gal. 5:23.

[i] Gal. 5:23 New King James Version.

[ii] Ps. 51:12 New International Version.