This last week I read an interesting passage in I Kings 22. At the time, the evil Ahab was king of Israel and Jehoshaphat, who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, ruled Judah. Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to help him attack Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat said he would help if Ahab first sought the counsel of the Lord.
Ahab asked his four hundred prophets Jehoshaphat's question and received a resounding, "Yes. Go, for the Lord will give it into your hands."
Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there a prophet of the Lord we can ask?"
At this point, Jehoshaphat demonstrated a sense of discernment. He considered the given advice and recognize a possible problem. Later in this event, we learn the Lord did not want them to attack, thus validating Jehoshaphat's concerns.
1. To perceive by sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend: They discerned a sail on the horizon.
2. To distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate: He is incapable of discerning right from wrong.
The ability to discern requires experience, time, practice, desire, motivation, and etc. Consider a child who is given a plate of cookies and a plate of spinach. Will the child be able to make a nutritional choice? While the child may pick up a spinach leaf, his choice will not be based on nutritional value.
Developing an ability to discern is important to any career. Today we'll focus on the writing career. What does an aspiring writer need to do to gain a discerning eye.
1. A successful writer is able to discern which comments, criticisms, or compliments are beneficial. When receiving a crit from a partner or judge, the writer must remember the human component involved. This partner/judge may know writing techniques, but she may not like the story. To discern a crit: Susan May Warren suggests the writer should look at the average score or comment made by the partner/judge. From there, look for what ranked higher and lower. Those are the components worthy of addressing. The leader of an ACFW critique loop said, "If two or more people point out the same issue, take heed. If only one, mostly let it be."
2. A successful writer is able to discern the quality of his own work, by reading it out loud and listening to the sound of the words. Is it clunky to read? Are there boring, long narratives, or choppy pages and pages of dialogue? Backstory infesting beginning pages, grammar issues, and etc. Even successful writers will find these issues in their manuscripts and quickly weed them out.
3. A successful writer is able to discern whether a story line will sell and support a whole book. If you are not sure, share your book idea with someone. Verbalizing the idea out loud helps our own ears recognize issues and opens the doors for questions from the person we share our idea with. Can the questions be answered? If not, reformat the idea. Practice doing this for each book you write until mastered.
4. A successful writer is able to discern if the chosen subplots match the overall story, deepen the overall story, sprout new story sequels, and dominate or steal from the overall story. Three of these four are good.
5. A successful writer is able to discern if the research is applicable to the story, is complete, proves or disproves the story. It will do me no good to research life in 1829 if my story is about the stock market crash.
6. A successful writer is able to discern if they are ready to start writing a story. Even SOTP writers need to start with something. Stepping onto a frozen lake without testing the ice maybe foolish. You could fall in.
7. A successful writer is able to discern if the main plot has deep enough roots to provide a satisfying story. Many tall trees have been toppled by a gentle breeze. Do you have characters who are struggling, heroes who may not be perfect, lies, truths, tragedies, triumphs, resolutions, satisfying endings?
8. A successful writer is able to discern when to push forward and when to rest from their work. The Ecclesiastes experience needs to be mastered: a time to eat, a time to rest, a time to work, a time to...
9. A successful writer is able to discern a proper order. Not all stories need to follow a timeline, although most do. Are the subplot segments threaded through the story at the best time to cause the greatest impact? A radio segment discussed a hot dog eating contest. The winner consumed thirty something hot dogs in ten minutes. Following the discussion the same station aired a commercial: what to do if someone is considering suicide. Yeah. This is not what I mean by best time to cause the greatest impact.
Why can successful writers like Tracie Peterson, Terri Blackstock, etc crank out great books year after year?
What is their secret?
What are they able to discern?
What should number 10 be?
photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.