Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Since my last posting, I’ve been wondering about what I would write next. While my novel is still progressing—Chapter 5 is now complete—there isn’t much to report. So, I won’t bore you with the trivial and banal, except to note that an inverse relationship appears to exist between the quantity of reading time and writing time. Normally, I can read a book in a week. With an increased emphasis on writing a novel, however, that pace has slowed to a crawl: three weeks. This last weekend, I finally finished Showdown by Ted Dekker. In the process, I came to a fresh discovery about writing, which I will share with you now.

Without being a spoiler, the one thing I will note is that Showdown is a 350-page symbolic story—one based upon certain events in the Bible. While the beginning of the book held my interest, the last half languished at best. The problem? Mr. Dekker's main audience consists of Christians, many of whom have sat in on more than one Sunday School discussion. While reading his book, I didn't have to wait until the end for the cliffhanger. Likewise, I knew the surprise before he finally revealed it. Here, then, is the lesson I learned: a book that starts out with a bang can quickly lose its power when readers know the story behind the story.

To be fair, I have often thought of writing a symbolic story based on an event in the Bible. Contrary to what theologians may say, some of the old stories need to be dusted off and carefully told in a new ways that do not detract from the original spirit, but at the same time connects to readers of our day. After reading Dekker's attempt, however, I am less convinced that some stories can be retold. There’s no surprise at the end, no “Ah-ha” moment that leaves the reader breathless. On the contrary (as I experienced), a reader may encounter a touch of disappointment. The book will either be placed on the shelf, never to read again, or possibly donated to the church’s library. Whatever the case, word-of-mouth marketing will never happen.

This is not to imply that retelling a Christian story should never be done. C.S. Lewis defies such shallow thinking. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is probably one of the best pieces written to date. The challenge is finding a way to do it without the reader knowing what you are up to. If a writer can’t pull that off, maybe he shouldn’t try; or, at the very least, maybe he should fictionalize the story based on the actual events, using actual names, dates, etc.

As a final note, I do not want readers to infer that I have formed a negative opinion about Ted Dekker. As a matter of fact, I have another of his books, Skin, in my "To Read" pile. As an author, he is truly gifted. While he may shudder at my suggestion, I liken his style to that of Stephen King. There is a certain flair and rawness to his characters that assures they won’t blend in with the wallpaper, and his skill at writing dialogue is well worth any writer’s time to read. In comparison to other Christian authors, he is certainly more edgy—something I think helps to spice up the genre. Thr3e, one of his earlier books, is a great read, combining several elements of suspense, character and surprise. However, for the reason mentioned above, Showdown just failed to measure up for me as a reader.


  1. Interesting, Stephen. I've had this happen for me, too, and there's nothing more irritating than wasting what little reading time I can eke out on a book with a transparent ending.

    I do believe a known plot can be saved. Exceptional writing will pull me along, as will a character presented so compellingly that I can't stop reading and rooting for him/her, even while I know things may end in tragedy. But that kind of writing is rare indeed, and something for us all to aspire to.

    Great post, as always, Stephen. You always give us such deep stuff to think about.

  2. It doesn't appear that I can. She has a block on her blog.

  3. Sorry -- I had forgotten that... which really sucks because I think you would enjoy her writing immensely.

  4. A very interesting take. I remember when I went to see Apollo 13 there were folks in the audience who didn't know if the all the astronauts would make it back. Being the geek I am of course I knew the ending, but I still found the movie entertaining and garnered even more respect and admiration for those astronauts and the mission controllers. The ultimate triumph of the Nerds.