What I learned from writing a story that packs a punch

This blog post appeared in Suite T – the Southern Writers Magazine blog (http://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/) in May 2019.

When I sat down to write the manuscript that became my debut novel, I knew I wanted to write a story that packed a punch. A novel that would be more than a tale of escapism – it would carry a message.

The Baggage Handler is a modern-day parable. At its heart is the theme of emotional baggage, and a story of characters who don’t know they’re carrying baggage, but they certainly feel its weight. Writing a parable can be daunting. I not only drew on my twenty-five years of corporate writing experience, but also my forty-odd years of talking with people and sitting in pews. And there were three things I learned while writing it.

  1. Be true to what you believe.

When you start out to write a story with a message, you need to be clear what that message is and why you believe it to be worth bringing. It can sometimes be tempting to go one of two ways. The first is to loosen the edges of what you believe to try to encompass as many people as possible. The second leads to the second thing I learned.

  1. Be genuine.

Readers can spot preachy, and they don’t often like it. I certainly don’t as a reader – getting to a point in a novel where I can tell it’s a sermon in disguise. (And it doesn’t always have to be a sermon from a pulpit. Some of the worst preachy books I’ve read actually teed off at how bad the author thought religion was). I found being genuine to be a particularly important point to come back to time and time again. Whenever I felt like I was ascending my soapbox, I would stop, take a deep breath, and then do the third thing I learned.

  1. Pray

As I was writing truth in fiction, I needed to ensure that truth was rooted deep in eternal truth. I found this kept me on the right path, with the right message, plot points, character traits and everything.

 

I’m glad I put this extra thought, process and prayer into the story. These are some of the messages I’ve gotten back from readers:

“So, I truly do thank you for writing this novel. And I am looking forward to handing over my baggage, and to discovering the real me. I’m not really sure where to start, but I’ll pray and am sure God will make it clear. ”

“The book doesn’t read like a book written by someone “wielding skills” like a sword. It reads like someone offering a helping hand—taking away the burden.”

“All I can do at this point is to say thanks. Thanks for a painful, beautiful, simple, deep, light book that just topped my 2019 favorite books list.”

That, to me, is the benefit of writing a modern-day parable. The message of the book has opened doors for people, started conversations and fired reflection.

And this unveils a challenge when writing stories that pack a punch. When you start to get messages and emails like that – people being deeply honest about where they are in life – you start to look at Amazon rankings differently. You have to. Sales figures take on a secondary nature. In a way, they need to.

That flies in the face of one driver for writers – sell copies so you can keep writing – but if the point of writing a story that packs a punch is to make people think, and they do, then that’s a success.

 

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