The Theme of the Story and What it Does

Theme of a Story

 

Remember how lots of stories ended with the phrase, “and the moral of the story is…”

We don’t hear much of that anymore. But the moral was the thing you were supposed to remember, the thing that gave the story its deeper meaning.

That’s what themes do for stories and novels.

How Theme Adds Meaning and Depth

The theme another layer of meaning to the story, similar to the way the moral added a layer to the children’s stories.

For example, Dorothy Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night explored themes of choosing career over family, and personal loyalty over anything else, and the consequences of these choices.

In the novel, one character is shown to have sacrificed her career for a family. She chose to elevate personal considerations over academic success.

Another character chose academic honesty over any personal concerns, even though it led to tragic results.

The contrast of people’s choices helps deepen the theme. It makes the reader wonder how he or she would decide in similar circumstances.

But that’s not all theme can do.

How Theme Builds the World

Some novels start with a character. Others a place.

Mine started with a theme.

Or rather, a bit of irritation.

I’d become aware of all the laws and regulations that are supposed to make us safe. But the reality is that disaster will strike or accidents will happen, regardless of the rules.

But some people don’t seem to get that. So they keep pushing for more restraints on our lives, all in the name of “Safety” or “Protection.”

Blech. Some of these laws I get, others are just silly or intrusive with little actual benefit.

So I started to imagine a world that traded all freedom for safely. What would that look like?

Village Construction

High wooden walls surround each village. The capital and regional centers employ stone as well. Guard towers are placed at intervals along the wall. Small villages like my heroine’s might only have one in the center.

The purpose of these tower is to watch for bandit or risker attacks, (as the residents all know these people are prone to attack the village at any time). Or to watch for fire, or any unsafe behavior. Unsafe people are called to court to explain themselves.

Volunteer Day

All must help preserve the safe environment, so once a month there is a volunteer day that all must volunteer for.  Children are put to work sweeping streets. Adults repair streets and village buildings, surrounding roads, or to the village wall.

Regulations about Travel

To leave the village area residents need to get permission from the village Ephor, who is the mayor and head of security. Overnight stays out of the village must be applied for and approved.

People can’t leave the village often, unless it is part of their job. This would include traders, guardsmen and road workers.

Traders need to inform the traders’ Guild Master of their planned route.

Regulations about Dress

Everyone the same, with occupation marked on sleeve. Helps indicate if people are in a place they should be. For example, the judge’s clerks shouldn’t be in the market in the middle of the day.  Monitor people’s movements cuts down on crowds, which are a potential source of danger in the form of accidents.

Regulations about Hair

Only professional barbers and hair cutters can use the sharp instruments needed. Everyone goes for the regulation haircuts as the prescribed intervals.

Regulations about Cooking

Only professional cooks and bakers can use the sharp instruments needed. The only bread baked in loaves is for public consumption in inns or at village events and is sliced by the professional bakers. Bread sold to be eaten elsewhere, at home or work, is baked in small rounds that can be bitten into or broken into pieces.

Regulations about Sewing

Most women learn enough during their schooling to do simple emergency repairs, such as replacing a button or mending a small tear. All other tailoring must be done by professionals, who are the only ones who can use the sharp implements needed.

Regulations about Marriage

Mates are suggested, but people don’t have much veto power. The idea to is ostensibly to create the most stable unions. In reality, it’s a way to exercise more control over the people.

Regulations about Schooling

All get a basic education (reading , writing, and minimal math.) They do learn much of the history of the country and the importance of safety, fairness and prosperity. As time goes on, each generation more fearful, as the emphasis on safety and avoiding danger becomes more ingrained.

Regulations about Occupation

Jobs are assigned, to maximize one’s usefulness to village and to control the unruly (big punishment to have unsafe jobs, like blacksmith or cook, worse to have job that takes outside like road worker or agriculture, or construction on heights.) Guardsmen are well-compensated with extra perks. One of the village elders carefully selects the bold for this job.

Over and over the village leaders emphasize that only highly trained professionals can do certain “dangerous” occupations.

Regulations about Housing

Only small fires are allowed in homes for heating. People are only permitted to heat water for tea, possibly broth in case of illness. No knives are allowed at home, except a tiny one as needed to cut thread or other minor jobs.

The lessons my exploration of this theme taught me could be summed up in two thoughts.

When you are afraid of something, you’re in bondage to it.

It’s impossible to keep everyone safe all the time through rules or laws.

Think about novels you’ve loved. Chances are, they had a theme that resonated with you. Share which ones they were in the comments!

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Story Writing

 

Writing a story isn’t as simple as it seems.

I realized this when I tried to follow of the writing advice I’d been given.

Write a short story, I was told. You’ll learn a lot, get some feedback. It’s a better way than trying to write an entire novel and then finding out it’s not any good.

But writing short stories proved to be hard for me. Much harder than writing a novel.

I wasn’t sure why.

So, I thought I’d take a look at what makes writing short stories different from writing novels.

After doing some research, I came up with nine differences.

  1. A short story, to state the obvious, is short. It’s generally thought to be 1,000 to 20,000 words. If your piece is between 20,000 and 40,000 or 50,000, it’s a novella. Under 1,000, and you’ve got flash fiction.
  2. Novels unfold their stories gradually, usually in three acts. Short stories focus on one main event.
  3. Novels have many characters. Some, like War and Peace have over 100. Short stories focus on one main character, with an opposing antagonist and a few supporting characters, at most. Some short stories have only one main character, and his antagonist is not human. Things like disease, weather, or the government take on that role.
  4. Novels can have a much longer time frame, and some cover generations. Think James Michener’s Centennial or Edward Rutherford’s Russka. A short story, by contrast, often takes place in one day.
  5. Novels have subplots and twists. Short stories don’t. They only have time to focus on the core conflict, with maybe a twist at the end.
  6. Novels often give the back story of their main characters. Short stories give very little back story. What they give is highly condensed and only what the reader absolutely needs to know.
  7. The pacing in short story has to be much faster than in a novel.
  8. Novels give the writer the time to weave more complex stories that have many facets that all work together. Short stories must stay simple and focused on the main event.
  9. Novels usually has more meaning and can delve deeply into a theme. Short stories may have a theme, but only one aspect of it is displayed.

Maybe this explains why I enjoy reading novels much more than short stories. With a novel, you can get immersed in the plot and characters. I love the complexity and the subplots. With a story, it seems you’ve just gotten into it and it’s over.

And maybe this explains why I have a hard time writing short stories. My mind goes to the complex rather than the simple. That “focus on one core conflict” is hard for me to do. I just can’t stick to one idea.

Which do you like better, either to read or to write?

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[VIDEO] How to Write an Award Winning Novel

We’d all love that, wouldn’t we? Writing an award-winning novel. And not just any award, but a prestigious one.

Here’s a little video with a seven step guide. Some of these made a lot of sense to me. None of this is rocket science (how’s that for a tattered cliche?), but they are well worth remembering.

He makes good points about failure, and how to respond to it.

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Fresh Book Marketing Ideas

Any of us who write know the challenge of marketing our books.

Not only are there literally millions of books available via sellers like Amazon, but the prices have gone down. Way down.

Now eBooks routinely sell for $1.99 or less.

Go ahead…do the math. How many books would you need to sell to pay the mortgage? Or even just go out to dinner?

And with all those millions of books out there, how will readers find yours?

The Best Book Marketing Solution

Nearly every indie author who enjoys good sales says the same thing.

It’s all about the list.

If you’ve got a good email list, then you’ve got a head start on your marketing.

So how do you go about building said list?

Start With a Blog or Website

Most authors have web presence, either a simple blog or full-blown website.

If you don’t have one, it’s easier than you think to get one up and running.  Software like WordPress makes things simple. Here’s a long (but informative and helpful) article on how to get a WordPress site up.

But why bother with a blog or website?

Because this is the place readers can connect with you. And these days, it’s all about the relationship. Making connections with readers is your chance to get and keep their attention.

Build That List

Once your blog is up (and don’t forget to post to it regularly, at least once a week), now you can start building your list.

And now for the question of the day….how do I get people to join my list and stay on it?

To get them to join, offer something for free. You could offer a short story. Or an excerpt from an upcoming book. Or an alternate ending to one of your novels. Or a look ten years into the future showing what happened to your characters.

You get the idea.

Once people are on your list, you need to communicate with then so they remember you.

This is crucial.

Because some day you’ll send out emails announcing your new book. And you want them to open those emails with excitement, ready to buy.

And hopefully, once they’ve read your new release, they’ll leave favorable reviews.

You might be thinking, wouldn’t it be easier to advertise?

Maybe. If you have unlimited funds and can compete with big publishing houses. And even then, if you have no reviews, not too many people will take a chance on an author they’ve never heard of.

You’d need, hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to make any headway with advertising.

Think again. How many books would you need to sell at $1.99 each to pay for $200 of advertising?

The list is probably looking like a better idea.

If you need more list building ideas, take a look at this article. It truly offers some great tips I haven’t seen anywhere else.

What other fresh book marketing ideas have you come across lately?

 

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Resurrection and Redemption

It’s the Easter season. A time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and new life.

So I thought I’d look around for some books with themes of resurrection and redemption. Books about new lives and starting over.  Books that tell stories of great loss or destruction and the triumph that comes through overcoming.

You know what? There’s lot of them. (Warning: there may be some spoilers).

We’ll start with one of my favorites.

Persuasion

Jane Austen’s Persuasion isn’t one of her better known books, but I found it as enjoyable, if not more so, than some of her more famous works.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliott, who was persuaded to give up her unsuitable fiancé. Twelve years later, she’s still unmarried, still attached to the man who won her heart.

She’s reconciled herself to remaining an old maid. Then her former beau comes back into her life. In spite of herself, in spite of his justifiable feelings of resentment, the two come back together.

Suddenly, the pain of the last twelve years has been redeemed and Anne finds herself in a new life. We’re led to believe that she lives happily ever after. (Not something we can say for everyone else in the story.)

Rite of Rejection/Revelation/Redemption

Sarah Negovetich’s trilogy grabbed me to the point I had to read it straight through.

The story opens with the heroine, Rebecca, getting ready to go through a coming of age ritual. All sixteen year olds are screened by a machine, to determine if they are suitable members of society, or criminals in the making.

Rebecca, the good student, was sure she’d be Accepted. Instead, she was rejected and sent off to a penal colony. For life.

Her world has fallen apart. She’s devastated at the idea of living in a lawless camp populated by criminals.

She does what she must to put a new life together. She joins a misfit band and acquires a fiancée she’s not sure she loves.

But she’s willing to do anything to get away from the label of Rejected. Along the way, she deals with betrayal and loss. And learns that the price of freedom and redemption can be extraordinarily high.

How Shall We Love?

Precarious Yates’ story of Cornelia takes the reader on an amazing journey. Cornelia’s intellectual parents raise her to ask questions and research everything she wants to know. As her family fractures, she starts to research how we should love.

How she finds answers, builds a life, and reconciles with her father takes her in unexpected directions. There’s no pat answer in the end. Just the joy of her new life, and the hope of redemption.

What other books have you found with redemption or resurrection themes?

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The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 2

This week I’ve got the conclusion of The Secrets of the Mud Room. Enjoy!

The neighbor kids had their own ideas. When we were small, their thoughts centered on toys. One thought she kept all the lost baseballs and roller skate keys there in one big mound.

Some of the other kids had other hopes. “Do you think she has my slinky?”

“Or my yo-yo?”

“And mebbe all the marbles you’ve lost?” another asked, poking his little brother.

As we got older, other ideas came to mind. One girl was convinced that Aunt Sharon was a zombie hunter and the mud room was where she stashed her victims.

An older boy said he had it on good authority that Aunt Sharon was a Russian spy. That mud room held her signaling radio, weapons and James Bond gadgets. “Or else,” he said with a smirk, “she keeps her handcuffs and whips in there. The ones she uses on your Uncle Otis.”

I couldn’t see that. Aunt Sharon chasing zombies? Or spying like James Bond? Not her. Not the woman who wore pink curlers in her iron gray hair at night.

Not the woman who never, ever spanked me. Not even when  I was five and tried to climb into her aquarium because I wanted to marry one of her goldfish. Instead, she nearly wet her pants laughing. She paused a little when she realized I’d stepped on her favorite fish, but then let her sense of humor overtake her again.

She didn’t laugh so hard the time when Bruce the neighbor kid convinced me to let him stick the toilet plunger on my face. She gave Bruce a talking to I don’t think he ever forgot. 

Oh, Aunt Sharon could get riled up, alright. She’d be downright bloodthirsty when it came to smashing the grubs that turned the leaves of her hostas into lace. Or scary enough to chase off zombies when she saw the rabbits nibbling on her strawberries. But a spy? No. Impossible.

Now Uncle Otis, I could see him as Maxwell Smart. But what he would have done that was so awful Sharon would whip him was beyond me.

All the talk from the neighbors was making me wonder. Surely Aunt Sharon wasn’t mixed up in anything dangerous or illegal. I hoped not. If she went to jail, then where would I end up?

Once a neighbor woman tried to come in through the mud room, one day when she was bringing over a gooseberry pie “just to be neighborly.” Sharon chased her off with a hoe. Uncle Otis and I heard a lot about nosy parker busybodies for hours afterward.

A few nights later, I was snuggling down under a handmade quilt in her spare room. The silence of the night was only broken by the chirping of the cicadas and the gentle hum of the air conditioner.

A loud crash like a dozen pots and pans hitting the floor cracked the silence. I sat bolt up in bed, listening. Was that swearing I heard coming from below? Some of those words my nine-year-old ears had never heard. Surely that wasn’t my Uncle Otis?

No, it wasn’t. I heard the door to the other bedroom open. “I told you so,” said Aunt Sharon.

There was a low mutter that had to be Uncle Otis’s response.

Since neither of them seemed to be disturbed by the ruckus below, I slid out of bed and went into the hall. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Aunt Sharon was already halfway down the stairs. “Come and see, girl. It’s time you learned a thing or two.”

Uncle Otis rolled his eyes and pointed down the stairs. “You might as well.”

The swearing got louder as we descended. Aunt Sharon led the way into the kitchen. My eyes widened as she marched over to the mud room and swung open the door. Finally, I would learn the secrets of the mud room.

The first thing I noticed was the open door that led to the yard. Then a volley of cursing brought my attention to the mud room. Or rather, the gaping hole in front of the outside door where the mud room floor should have been. Leaning over to look, I could see two men, one lying on the floor clutching his ankle.

“It’s my burglar alarm,” Aunt Sharon said with a smirk. “My free burglar alarm. Otis here was after me to get one you had to pay for. Waste of money, I told him.”

She looked down through the hole at the two men, who were now demanding to be freed. “We had a flood here, years ago and the mud room floor fell in, that spot in front of the door.” She pointed to the hole. “We had a feller come out, he said all the joists would have to be replaced. We’d have to tear the whole thing out, floor and supports, to get it fixed.”

“We could have got done it, you know,” said Uncle Otis.

She shook her head. “Who’s got that kind of money? So, I got me an idea. I just covered the hole with a mat. And I hung all kinds of metal pots from the bottom of the mat so it would make a big crash if someone fell through.” She grinned at me. “I never locked the back door after that. If someone came to break in, I knew they’d come in that way. And get caught.”

Uncle Otis hung his head, shaking it back and forth. “Ok, ok. It worked. Now can we fix the floor so we can use the back door again?”

“See?” she said, directing her words to me. “It worked, but he wants to give up on it. All to use the back door. For what? To save a little time? Time is what we’ve got, not money.”

When the police came, it took them awhile to understand just how Aunt Sharon caught two members of a gang that had been responsible for a rash of break ins in the area. Then it took longer for them to free the would-be burglars from their temporary jail to take them to another one.

All the commotion brought the neighbors over. Sharon shooed everyone away from the house.

“The show’s over, folks,” she said. “Otis here heard a noise in the night and came downstairs with a baseball bat. Had to whack one of ‘em on the ankle. Go on home now and let us get back to bed. And don’t walk all over my snapdragons on your way out.”

I looked at my Uncle with wide eyes. He winked at me and shrugged. “It was nothing, really,” he said.

That was when I finally understood that the people around me didn’t always mean what they said. Some just told stories for no reason. Others had a reason, a motive that wasn’t always a bad one. I started to listen a little more carefully to what people told me, and to not take their words at face value.

Aunt Sharon wore a smug grin for two weeks and celebrated by baking my favorite cookies with the sprinkles on top.

As for Uncle Otis, I think he gave up on ever using the back door ever again.

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The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 1

This week I’m sharing with you the first installment of a short story I wrote for my writer’s group. They got a chuckle out of it. Hope you do, too!

The Secrets of the Mud Room

For long as I could remember, my great-aunt Sharon refused to use her back door, the one that led from her kitchen to the back yard. The neighbors thought she was odd. The neighbor kids called her crazy. I didn’t know what to believe.

Summers, she’d fill that back yard with a massive vegetable garden, growing everything from tomatoes to okra, onions to watermelons. I don’t think there’s a vegetable she didn’t try, at least once.

Some did better than others. The watermelon never got bigger than cantaloupes (and yes, she knew they were fruit. She just called the whole thing a vegetable garden.) The strawberries, on the other hand, took over and just about choked out the green beans. The corn, the one year she attempted it, didn’t grow higher than a dog’s eye, let alone an elephant’s.

Tomatoes and zucchini, those she could grow. We were eating salsa and zucchini bread long before they became popular. And if only iPhones were around then, we would have documented her zucchini lasagna, probably the first people in the world to eat it.

Raised beds of flowers circled the vegetables. Marigolds and begonias, impatiens and violets all raised a riot of color during much of the summer. The hostas and day lilies did their share as well, the cool green and white leaves of the hostas contrasting with the bright yellow of the lilies.

Aunt Sharon loved that garden. From dawn to dusk she’d toil away, weeding and deadheading, tilling and fertilizing, anxiously calculating how much water to give her tender plants. She’d only come inside for lunch, then head back again.

But she’d never use the back door.

Even though her house had a large mud room at the back, she never set foot in it. She’d leave the house by the front door and walk all the way around, through the dim coolness of the side yard with its six maples and a birch, then get her tools from the garage that stood twenty feet away from the house. To go back inside, she’d repeat the journey. At the front door, she’d shuck her gardening shoes and replace them with a pair of slippers she left just inside.

Uncle Otis tried to reason with her. She’d just wave her hand at him like she was shooing a fly. “You just listen what I tell you, old man,” she’d say. “Just do what I say.”

Sometimes he’d get frustrated and go all passive aggressive on her. One day he wanted to eat his lunch in front of the TV so he could watch the ball game. Aunt Sharon said fine, I’ll bring the ice tea if you bring the sandwiches.

The next-door neighbors told me they could hear her raging at him for bringing just the sandwiches, not the plates she’d laid them out on.

His defense was he’d listened to her, and done what she said. She hadn’t said anything about plates.

Oh, the neighbors had a good time telling me how Aunt Sharon would make trip after trip, carrying groceries in the front door, even though it would have been so much easier to go the back way.

And the time Uncle Otis fell on the ice and broke his leg, what did she do when she got him home from the hospital? She drove him up to the curb in the front and eased him up the long walkway with its eight steep steps and in through the front door, cast, crutches and all. Uncle Otis was a least a foot taller than she, and chubby to boot. The back way was much shorter and had only two steps. Why Uncle Otis didn’t argue I never heard.

Sometimes I’d overhear him, asking her if they could get it fixed. “It would be more convenient,” he’d say.

She’d always refuse, saying it worked fine and they didn’t need to spend the money. “Besides, it’s good exercise, taking a few extra steps.”

I lots of time with her and Uncle Otis, most of the summers and school breaks, handed off by my parents who were either on the brink of divorce or travelling the world together. “We’ll be right back for you, darling,” my mother would say. Usually that meant I’d be at Aunt Sharon’s for at least six weeks.

The first year it happened, I got up every morning and packed my bag. I’d pester Aunt Sharon all day. “When are Mommy and Daddy coming for me?”

She’d gently hand me a cookie or enlist me in helping her with some task. “They’ll be here when they get here,” she’d say. “In the meantime, we’ve got stuff to do.”

Sometimes my mother would drop me off and say, “I don’t think your dad loves you anymore.” I’d spend a week in misery, missing him, thinking I’d never see him again.

Then I’d get long letters from him, twice a week like clockwork, all telling me how much he missed me. All the back and forth and contradictory messages made it hard for me to know just what was what and where I fit in. And who, if anyone, could be believed.

I was small for my age, with limp red hair and stick-like arms and legs. It took some time for the neighbor kids to allow me into their games. Egged on by them, eager for their approval, I tried a few times to peek into that mud room to see what was in there.

Once time Aunt Sharon caught me with my hand on the door handle of that back door. “No!” She screeched so loud I jumped almost high enough to hit my head on the ceiling. “Never,” she told me, wagging a finger in my face, “never use the back door.”

Her brilliant blue eyes probed mine. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I looked at my feet. What was the big secret?

I was too scared ask. But over the years I wondered what was in the mud room. Treasure? Dead bodies?

Come back next week for the conclusion.

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Planning a Novel: A New Use for Spreadsheets

Everyone’s got their own idea on how to write a novel.

Some writers say they just let their muse take them down whatever path it desires. They let their imagination roam, creativity soar, and permit their masterpiece of prose to flow.

Others plot out every detail, down to the color of minor characters’ eyes and the shape of their toenails. They know every scene, every beat, every dramatic development before they write.

Then there are the rest of us, who inhabit the space somewhere in the middle.

And are trying to find ways to be more efficient without cutting off the muse.

The Search for a Better System for Planning Novels

I’ve tried lots of systems. In my opinion, filling out detailed character descriptions before starting to write is a waste of time, and frankly, boring. It works better for me to get some of the main points of a character figured out, like age, sex, and some dominant traits. Then as the story unfolds and I work with the character a bit, I can decide if she is lanky or muscular, has green eyes or black. Or if she twirls her hair when she’s nervous.

But these kinds of summaries are necessary, especially when editing. A decision must be made if the heroine’s eyes are round or almond shaped, and this should be recorded in some organized manner. Otherwise, editing becomes a nightmare. I’ve wasted much time skimming chapter after chapter, trying to find out how I initially described a character (was he tall and dark?) and if I suddenly changed him into a short redhead.

Finally: A Novel Planning System I Can Use

Then I stumbled on this handy post that explains how to use spreadsheets to organize a summary of all this information. Why didn’t I think of that?

One is for character information:

For the current series I’m writing, it’s been helpful to have a spreadsheet to help me remember character details. On the vertical axis of the sheet, I have character names listed. On the horizontal axis, I have important details like: birthdate, basic appearance, biggest weakness, greatest strength, quirky details, and fatal flaw. Then I’ll have multiple columns for “backstory.”

When I go to use a character I haven’t used in awhile, I’ll do a quick check of the sheet to make sure I have the character in my mind.

Another spreadsheets charts character change:

The result was a spreadsheet that has a row for each character. Across the top are dates. Each cell is filled with a sentence or two describing what is happening in the character’s life at that time.

The result of creating this spreadsheet was a deep understanding of the series I’m writing. Although the narrative is flux, I can tell you how my protagonists will grow and change over the next seven books I plan to write.

The post also describes spreadsheets for plotting the beats of a story and a scene checklist. Hop over to The Write Practice to read the entire post.

I’m sold. I’ll be using these ideas when I start my next novel.

And please let me know in the comments what you think. Do you think a system like this will be helpful to you?

 

 

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What is the Value of a Life?

Read just about any news story and the question of the value of a life will come up. Should the government use its resources to feed people, valuing their existence? Or educate them? Or does life have only the value that others put on it, like a woman contemplating her pregnancy?

The movie Gattica explores this question in a fascinating manner. Set in the future, genetic engineering is the norm. Couples go through a rigorous process to ensure their offspring will have the proper genes for health, intelligence, beauty and success. These children are labeled “valid” for education, opportunities and hold a high place in society.

Children born the natural way are called “faith babies,” meaning their parents had them on faith. Vincent Freeman, the film’s hero, is one such person. He’s nearsighted, has a weak heart and the doctors project that he will die by the age of 30. His parents realized their mistake and underwent the genetic engineering for their second son, a son who was born perfect, a valid. Vincent would forever be an “invalid.”

But Vincent isn’t willing to accept his place in society, stuck in a menial job. He dreams of joining the mission to Saturn.

His chance comes when a friend is involved in tragic accident which leaves him paraplegic. Vincent uses Jerome’s DNA to assume his identity and trains for the space mission. He learns how to use Jerome’s skin samples, hair and urine to deceive the random testing.

But What’s Wrong with This Picture?

This film explores a world where faith babies are defiantly second class, less desirable as mates and given fewer opportunities.

The question arises, wouldn’t every parent want to ensure that their child was perfect and had the attributes of physical attractiveness, intelligence and athletic prowess to be able to do whatever he or she wanted in life?

The problem is the unintended consequences. The society portrayed in this film is completely devoid of happiness, vitality and fun.

What’s wrong with this society?

It Has Decided What Has Value

This society has determined once and for all which lives have value and which ones don’t. There is no room for deviation. The result is everyone is forced to live in a certain way, act in a certain way, and even spend their time in certain ways. All prescribed by what the society values.

There is no room for any deviation. Creativity, which would be trying something different or doing something in a different way, would be like admitting there are other forms of “valid” than the accepted ones.

There’s also room for celebrating the contributions of those who aren’t “valid.” They miss out on the sensitivity and kindness of a person with Down’s syndrome. They deprive themselves of the inspiration of a paraplegic who learns to run. They would have never enjoyed the music of an Andrea Bocelli or a Beethoven.

In short, they’ve taken on the role of the creator and the judge. They have assumed they know what’s best.

Over and over we see the limits of human wisdom. Communist central planning is a great example. The Soviet Union had chronic shortages of shoes. That is, if you happened to have normal sized feet. People with smaller or large feet never had a problem finding shoes. The reason is that the genius central planners who set production goals for shoes decreed that the same number of shoes would be produced in each size. No one bothered to find out what the demand for the different sizes actually was.

It Ignores the Human Spirit

At the end of the film, Jerome committed suicide. He couldn’t live in a world that valued perfection when he was no longer able to live up to the promise of his genetics.

Had he lived in a society that valued the human spirit, Jerome could have had a future. Instead, he was faced with the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the culture he lived in.

One of the most compelling lines in the film comes during an interaction between Vincent and his brother Anton. As boys, they would swim out into the ocean. They dared each other to swim further, competing to see who could swim out further. Every time, Vincent, the “invalid” with the weak heart, could swim farther then his brother, the perfect “valid.”

Toward the end of the film, Anton asked Vincent about this. “How could you beat me every time,” he asked. “I swam as far as I could.”

“No,” replied Vincent. “You swam as far as you and still know you could get back. I just swam as far as I could.”

Vincent’s spirit, his drive to better himself, gave him victory over the brother who relied on his genes.

The lesson, as I see it, is that we are more than the sum of our genes. They are just the starting point, the hand of cards we’ve been dealt.

In the eyes of humans, some hands are worth more than others. But in the eyes of our Creator, every hand has value.

There are many ways to play those cards. The choices we make, the paths we take, the effort we put into what we do, all make up who we are as a person. And what we contribute to our world.

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Knowing Your Why

Why we do something is as important as knowing how to do it if we’re ever going to finish.

Starting a project is exciting, like falling in love. When I start something new, all kinds of possibilities spin through my mind.

I can almost see the novel completed, the story racing in front of me like a movie shown at twenty times the normal speed. Faces jump into my mind’s eye, as if I’ve met the characters somewhere.

Then it’s time to write. The characters don’t do what I want them to do. Or they talk to their friends like they are delivering a lecture. Sometimes they come across as just plain unlikeable people.

That’s real problem when I think that of my heroine.

The frustrating, I want to throw the computer out the window times are the times when it’s most important to know why you write.

What is My Why?

I’ve thought about that for myself. Why is it I haven’t given up on the novel I’ve been working on for nearly four years? What keeps me going?

One reason is I have a hard time giving up on anything. Quitting, cutting my losses, I’m just not that good at those things.

But what keeps me coming back?

Part of it is my love of literature and my desire to create books that are the kind I love to read. The longer I keep working on my novel, I gain an appreciation of the novelist’s craft.

Another reason is to infuse my works with my own worldview. I’ve been disturbed by some novels I’ve read. Not that I don’t agree with the choices of the characters, or that they hold a worldview antithetical to my own.

But that after reading the novel I am subtly seduced in to wanting to embrace that way of thinking.

A good example of this from film is the Nicole Kidman movie “To Die For.” In this film, she plays a teacher who seduces on of her students and convinces him to murder her husband.

The husband wasn’t abusive or a drunk. She’d just gotten tired of him and wanted someone else.

Halfway through the movie, I realized to my horror that I was hoping that her plot would succeed.

Such is the power of a story. I found myself wanting a murder to succeed.

That’s not why I want to write.

Why? To Share a Worldview

So, in my own way, following the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis, I’d like to infuse my stories with the Christian worldview.

Not to be overtly Christian necessary, with all the trappings of the “Christian fiction” genre, however it’s defined.

But to celebrate Christian values and show how they influence society for the better. To write stories that inspire to people to be better than they are. Or to help readers get a glimpse of themselves and how they relate to others, and how they can influence others for good.

That’s why I write.

What about you? What’s your why?

 

 

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