What's the big deal about a bunch of dried of bones? Why do they matter, anyway?
Well, because when it comes to archeology, they're the very things that tell the story.
Fossils, when given enough study and when put in the proper order, come alive. They tell us untold stories about a version of the world we never knew.
Today I want to talk about the fossils of novels: how we can discover, develop, and breathe into them to find the larger story we're writing.
If you're anything like me, you love a book with beautifully written layers. Rachel Hauck's The Wedding Dress is a great example of this for me. (By the way, if you haven't read The Wedding Dress, you need to stop what you're doing right now and buy it. Rachel's racking up all kinds of awards for it, and I can tell you that personally it's made my favorite books of all time list.) She does an incredible job of combining a catching plot, colorful characters, and beautifully written, lyrical prose with the depth of a metaphor.
Usually, when I read a book and finish the story feeling unsatisfied, it's because that book has failed to register with me on a deeper, emotional level. I may have liked the characters and been interested in the plot, but my heart just didn't connect with it. Have you ever had this experience? It's unfulfilling at best and frustrating at worst.
So let's talk about finding the bones of our stories. First of all, fossils are not easy to find. They aren't just lying around on the sidewalk. They are buried beneath layers and layers of soil, and they take a lot of toil and effort, time and energy, to unearth. The same is true of fiction. Many writers skip past the digging it takes to create a truly amazing, layered story because doing so is both tiring and overwhelming. Sometimes we feel like giving up. Sometimes the dust of the soil burns our eyes, and our arms grow tired from all the digging.
If that's you, keep on keeping on. The deeper structure--the heart of your story--is worth the effort it takes to find.
I don't know much about archeology, but I do know that dinosaur bones don't look the way they do in museums when they're first found. Some of the bones might be broken from time. Some may not seem to fit. They are fragile and in need of preservation before being displayed.
The same holds true for your novel. Once you start to find the deeper pieces of your characters' struggles and the deeper motifs you want to work with, it's easy to get excited by your discoveries. But before long, you start to get frustrated. The bones seem to be falling apart. You may have a hard time fitting them together. Yet in the end, this is all part of the process.
So how can you develop the bones of your story? Well, for starters, look for moments that shine and sparkle. Do you use figurative imagery--maybe even accidentally-- that can be expanded and developed throughout? Perhaps even as a metaphor? Does the character have a deeper flaw or secret you've yet to reveal (or maybe even admit to yourself)? It all starts with recognition.
Once you find a gem buried in your story, spend time investing in it. Think through how you might be able to challenge your characters with that image or idea. Think of all the possibilities it offers for your plot. How might you expand that metaphor or deeper character arc by developing it further throughout the entire story? Could other characters get involved in the same issue or usher your main characters along?
Breathing into Fossils
The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Some days, it's tempting to believe all my ideas and stories are nothing more than a pile of dry bones lying in a valley. Can you relate? At best, God has commanded me to prophesy to the bones, and I have, and miraculously, they've come together: bones, sinews, flesh. This makes me excited. But then I realize something's still missing. Something very important.
Ultimately, only God can breathe life. This passage, however, demonstrates a beautiful concept: sometimes He uses us to do that very thing.
Maybe you have a story. Maybe you've even found the deeper bones of it. Maybe you've done the work to dig them up and polish them, and maybe you've carefully pieced them together.
Maybe, like me, you're looking at your novel and asking, "What's missing? I've found the bones. I've prophesied to them. They've come together. Why aren't they standing? Why aren't they going anywhere?"
If that's you, it's time to heed the word of the Lord. It's time to prophesy to those bones again. It's time to declare words of life over your ministry and calling. It's time
to believe, to really believe, that these bones will live-- and not only live, but produce a great army, taking back what the enemy has stolen, for the fulfillment and enrichment of the hearts and souls of the children of God.
It's time to declare an army of beautifully written stories to arise from the very dust where they were left behind.
I want to challenge you today to not only dig deeper into your story, but to also dig deeper into yourself. Have you given up on the life of your story, counting its bones forever dry? Have you lost sight and faith in the life-giving power of the spoken word of God in your heart, your ministry, your life? You don't have to settle for lifeless work any longer. I believe God is saying He wants to do something fresh in our lives and writing, but we must rise up and speak His words of life into these valleys.
How can we put these principles into action in our everyday writing routines and lives so that we keep from growing dry?
Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.