“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” Beverly Cleary
Do you remember the movie The Princess Diaries? Awkward girl, Mia, finds out she’s a princes. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of princess lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Mia is a ruler in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Mia. The wrapping is just a little bit different.
How about Miss Congeniality? Awkward girl, Grace, finds out she’s the agent chosen for an undercover mission in the Miss United States pageant. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of beauty pageant lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Grace is pageant girl in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Grace. The wrapping is just a little bit different.
The same can be said of the movies. Sure, each one has its own unique spin, but several of the elements are shared. It’s no different when writing. We write because we have stories to tell, but that’s not to say we’re the only one who’s going to write a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story line. Or maybe our plot is more person finds a dead guy, person follows clues to find the killer, person gets targeted by the killer, person ends up trapping the killer kind of story.
Just because our stories share some of the same elements as others in the genre doesn’t mean our story shouldn’t be written. Our story hasn’t been told yet. Our way of wrapping the familiar elements in our own voice and specific details hasn’t happened until we sit down and write. And it’s important that we do so. Your style of story wrapping is going to appeal to people who might not like my style of story wrapping.
That’s why readers don’t have to like every book in a genre they generally love. The various wrappings of the story are powerful factors in whether or not a book draws each reader in. We’ve all picked up a book from the shelf only to place it back in favor of another. And as writers we’ve all had that spark of an idea that won’t let go. And no matter how many other authors have written a story like the one growing inside us, we still have to write it. Because no one has written that story like we will.
As writers, we don’t let similar genres or basic plots deter us from writing our stories. We can see that the story we want to hear, while similar is unique, and it deserves to be written. No one has written our book yet. It isn’t on the shelf, and we want to put it there. But often, we’re guilty of doing the opposite in our faith.
How many times have we heard the excuse, “I would go to church, but they’re all the same” ? The people sharing these sentiments don’t mean them in a positive way. They’re the same people that say, “if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it”. For believers, it can be discouraging. We look around at churches that look like social clubs and wonder if there is a point. We see self-centered churches that don’t reach out unless it directly benefits their church, and we know there’s something wrong with that picture. We see the larger body of believers failing to impact the world, and we get discouraged. Instead of living the faith story we want to see, we give up. We join the crowd.
The basics are the same. We’re people of faith. We want to follow God. We’ve come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But looking beyond that, we see all these other Christian wrappings that don’t sit well with us. They aren’t what we believe Christians and churches should be. They aren’t what we believe scripture tells us Jesus’ followers should be. So, we stuff down our disappointment, deciding if that’s what Christians are then that’s what we’ll be. We let the common elements keep us from telling our faith story in our own voice.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When we don’t find in Christianity what we believe God wants shown to the world, it’s time for us to step up and be that example for the others. We may share the same basic faith but our voice is unique. Our walk with God and our story of faith is one of a kind.
We don’t have to settle for following the spiritual crowd into a life of entertainment, self-centeredness, or inactivity just because that’s the faith story everyone else seems to be telling. Jesus bucked the religious trends of the Pharisees. He interacted with people in a very personal, life-changing way. He gave us the real example of what a life of faith should be. If no one else seems to be following His lead, who cares? We can. We should. If no one else is living the life of faith Jesus modeled, go out and live it yourself.
By the Book: What wrapping of the faith have you gotten comfortable in that God might want you to rip off and replace with one from Jesus’ example?