Write Stuff Wednesday: Learing from Stanley Lieber

“The only advice anybody can give is, if you wanna be a writer, keep writing. And read all you can, read everything.” Stan Lee

Stanley Martin Lieber wanted to be a serious writer. So when he started writing comic books, he chose a new name, Stan Lee. Only the die-hard fans are likely to recognize Stanley Martin Lieber. But millions can tell you who Stan Lee was. With the influx of superhero movies Marvel has put out in recent years, I’d be willing to bet most people could even recognize Stan Lee even if they couldn’t tell you his name. He’d be “that old guy who shows up in every Marvel movie”, but they’d still recognize him.

Stan Lee created some of the most loved comic book characters of all time. You might scoff at considering comics in a discussion about writing. That attitude is part of the reason Stanley became Stan Lee. It’s also part of the reason Stan Lee wanted to make his comic book stories different. He wanted to give the characters and story lines depth. He wanted the heroes to have flaws and internal issues to overcome. He wanted the plots to appeal to more than just children.

Stan Lee accomplished that in his life. Some would even argue that comics have evolved to a point where they aren’t for children at all any more. I don’t think that’s true. As with any media, whether book, movie, television, music, or video game, comics have to be taken on a case by case basis. There are some that I don’t believe should be read by either children or adults due to the content. But that doesn’t mean comics as a whole are bad.

There are some very well-written comics with complex characters and stories. They rival the complexity of traditional books. I think Stan Lee did what he set out to do. He wrote and he kept writing. In the end, I think his work succeeded in elevating comics beyond what they’d previously been.  Stan Lee’s writing has influenced and inspired many, and I believe it will for years to come.

Stan Lee may have worried about the need to become a “serious” writer, but there are millions who are happy he wrote what he enjoyed writing about and in the way he chose to do it. And so my own lesson from Stan Lee doesn’t come from one of his comics but from his life. As a writer, I don’t need to worry about whether I’m a serious enough writer. I don’t need to worry about what the world will think of my stories. I need to write what I’m inspired to write. As a Christian I need to write what I feel God would have me write and in a way that brings Him honor.  There are people who may not think what I offer is worth a lot, but it doesn’t matter. I’m a writer and whatever that looks like, be it comic books, movie scripts, or novels, I simply need to “keep writing”.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Guest Post

IMG_5853Each Wednesday I share a writing quote that either encourages or challenges me in my writing. Today, I’ve invited author Amy Anguish to share one of the quotes that means a lot to her. After you’ve read her quote, keep reading to find out more about Amy and her writing.

“I want to do something splendid… Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead… I think I shall write books.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

As a girl just out of college with the dream of being an author, that quote resonated in my spirit. Over the last fourteen years, my goals have changed some, deepening along with my faith in God, becoming a bit more realistic in some areas, a little freer in others. But one thing remains. I love writing books.

I like to think I’m similar to her character Jo in Little Women, always a favorite of mine. Jo, when she starts writing, simply writes for the fun of it. It’s a thrill to see her name in print, to get those few dollars for each story published. But by the end of the novel, she has realized she can use her writing for so much more. She can use it to tell a beautiful story that will touch someone’s heart, and maybe even teach something.

I don’t know how much my stories reach people, but my goal with each one is to show that even though we as Christians have struggles in this life, God can help us through, and we’ll come out even better because of them. Life isn’t perfect. It’s messy and rough and sometimes painful. But God makes everything worth it. And if my books can show that to someone, as Louisa May Alcott said, that would be “splendid!”

An Unexpected Legacy tweakedMore About Amy’s Book:

“Smoothies brought them together, but would the past tear them apart?”

When Chad Manning introduces himself to Jessica Garcia at her favorite smoothie shop, it’s like he stepped out of one of her romance novels. But as she tentatively walks into a relationship with this man of her dreams, secrets from their past threaten to shatter their already fragile bond.  Chad and Jessica must struggle to figure out if their relationship has a chance or if there is nothing between them but a love of smoothies.

 

More About Amy:

Amy R Anguish

Author of An Unexpected Legacy

Amy R Anguish grew up a preacher’s kid, and in spite of having lived in seven different states that are all south of the Mason Dixon line, she is not a football fan. Currently, she resides in Tennessee with her husband, daughter, and son, and usually a bossy cat or two. Amy has an English degree from Freed-Hardeman University that she intends to use to glorify God, and she wants her stories to show that while Christians face real struggles, it can still work out for good.

 

Follow her at http://abitofanguish.weebly.com or http://www.facebook.com/amyanguishauthor

Erasing the Caricature

caricatureErnest Mille Hemmingway once said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” It seems on the surface that all writers and possibly the most avid of readers have issues with telling fact from fiction! I assure you, we are completely capable, but we choose not to. Hemmingway’s quote tells us why.

Authors want readers to connect to their stories. If they don’t, the story won’t be read. A reader can be drawn to a plot, but if the people in the story are unrealistic, the reader will find a similarly plotted book with characters they can relate to. The people inhabiting our stories should inspire the same emotions as the people we work with or sit next to on the bus. They should be real in the depths of their emotions, their reasoning, and their actions.

Even the most unbelievable characters can be written in realistic ways. That’s why a hobbit or a faun can capture our attention. We know they don’t exist, but thanks to the talented author, they do for the space of the story. Likewise, the characters that should be believable can become cartoon examples of people. The villain that is nothing but pure evil without reason can turn into the next Snidely Whiplash. He’s bad. That’s obvious. But there’s no substance to him. He’s just a bad guy out doing bad things. The hero that has no struggles, doubts, needs, or failures is not only boring, he’s unattainable. Readers can’t relate to him, because there is no one in their lives that matches that level of perfection.

As writers, we need to pay attention to the people inside our stories. Do they have reasons for their behavior? Are they fleshed out or have they stayed card board cut outs? Readers don’t have to like the person we create, but they do have to be able to see them as relatable and realistic if we want them to keep reading.

Relatable and realistic are good things for Christians to keep in mind as well. We are supposed to show others the love of God and point them to the salvation He offers through Jesus’ death on the cross. But sometimes in our desire to be different for God, we end up putting on a show. We create a Christian caricature of ourselves by covering over our flaws, doubts, and struggles. We paste a smile on our faces when we’d rather be frowning. We say, “Have a blessed day” or “I’ll pray for you” as mindlessly as we put on our socks each morning. It’s not bad to want someone to have a blessed day to pray for others. But when we say them to say them, phrases like these turn us into cartoon copies of what real Christians should be.

While Christians do have an amazing amount of resources at our disposal from peace and joy in trials to the fruit of the Spirit, I haven’t met any yet that are adept at employing them successfully 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But I have met several Christians who would like you to think they’ve got it all together. Upon closer inspection we find that they don’t. The world sees this as well, and it waters down their witness.

So what’s a Christian to do? First we need to be willing to admit our failures and that there are things we don’t understand. We need to be real. If we can say and show the things we believe with sincerity (even if we mess up once in a while), then by all means, live it out. But if we’re only saying things or acting in certain ways because it’s what one expects a good Christian to be like, then we need to stop. We need to admit to ourselves that we’re not quite there yet in whatever way we’re falling short. And after that, we need to be honest enough, real enough to allow others to see our struggle and the path we’re taking to growth.

When the world can see people living their faith genuinely and openly admitting where they’re still growing and learning, the cartoon Christian is erased. A real Christian with a powerful testimony takes its place. The falseness fades away, and an honesty those in the world can respect comes into the light. It’s time to stop letting fear of failure turn us into caricatures of faith. It’s time to be real, living Christians complete with our flaws and a desire to see God work them out of us.

By the Book: Read Luke 18:9-14. Which man was real and which was reduced to a caricature by his attitude and actions? Take an honest look at which one of these men you most see yourself in.

Write Stuff Wednesday: The Blank Page

notebook-1194456__340“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – unknown

There is nothing more daunting to a writer than the blank page. It’s before the story gets its start that the voices of doubt can be heard the loudest. Sure, those voices continue through the first draft, the edits, and even the final copy. I’m not sure they go away even after publication. But in that empty white space that begs to be filled, doubt likes to race in and take up residence.

What if my story isn’t good enough? What if I don’t have enough story to fill all the blank pages? What if I can’t find a publisher? What if I pour my heart and soul into this only to find out I should have stayed a cashier at the grocery store? What if my perfect opening line is a boring cliché? What if I get writer’s block? What if? What if? What if?

There are people with a desire to write and a story to tell that never do. They allow the “what ifs” to drive them from the path they’re on. Giving up before they even have a chance to start, they walk away and the world loses a story that could only be told by them. Even poor writing can be overcome. Classes and workshops can help shape and grow the ability to write. The only thing that can forever keep someone from writing well is if they never pick up the pen to begin the writing journey. To be writers we must face the empty page, take up the pen, and write.

The blank page can attack in other areas as well. In our journey as Christians the blank page is seen when God calls us out to something more, something unknown. Imagine Peter with his fellow disciples in a boat on the stormy sea. This wasn’t a luxury liner that barely feels the waves crashing against it. The disciples weren’t facing minor turbulence that threatened nausea. They were in a storm in a basic, run of the mill boat. Oars and sails were its propellers. It was largely at the mercy of the weather.

Waves threatened. Wind beat against it. The water churned beneath them. Just being in that boat would have been unsettling if not for the fact that most of these men were used to the sea. If you look at other scriptures, even being familiar territory didn’t stop the disciples from worrying when a storm threatened to capsize their boat. I’m not sure this storm would have been any different. Then, in the middle of this storm, Jesus approaches walking on the water. Impulsive Peter asks Jesus to let him meet Him in the waves. Jesus agrees. Peter begins to face his blank page and steps out of the boat. It doesn’t take long for him to realize the waves and wind haven’t stopped in deference to his act of faith. The blank page stares back at him as chaos swirls around him. Peter chooses to put down his pen, leaving the blank page for another time. He looks away from Jesus, and he begins to sink. It is only by the mercy of Jesus that Peter was saved from the sea he was so focused on and distracted by.

We can’t be too hard on Peter. We’ve been there. God’s Spirit whispers in our hearts asking us to do something, go somewhere, or speak to someone. He puts a purpose or ministry in our heart. He leads us to a place where continuing on means facing uncertainty. He asks us to have faith. Like Peter, we face our blank page of faith. The times are sweet when we can say we picked up the pen and faced the fears with obedience to God’s gentle nudging. But how often do we start off thinking of how wonderful following God’s path with be only to let the unknown swirl like chaos around us distracting us from what we know to be true? How often do we take our eyes off Jesus and start to sink until God in His mercy chooses to rescue us despite our lack of faith?

Whether it’s in our writing or our faith, it is time. It’s time to become what we dream of becoming. For the writer this means picking up the pen and putting words on that blank page. For the Christian, it means seeking God’s will and going boldly in the direction He leads even when it’s full of unknowns. It’s time to get past our fear of the blank pages in our lives and choose instead to fill them with the stories only we can tell.notebook-1194456__340