How Important Are The Details?


pick, pickIn more than one article critiquing the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey TV mini-series The Bible, reviewers pointed out “picky” details–Adam portrayed as a European-ish white guy, not an African or a Middle Easterner. And beardless. More than once I read remarks about the angels outfitted much like Ninja warriors.

Are details like this important?

My first thought is, Come on, people, quite being so picky.

But hold on.

Aren’t the picky things noticeable when they pull us out of the story? Just recently I read a post by agent Steve Laube about inconsistencies in novels that editors don’t catch but readers do. It reminded me of a book I recently read in which basketball details were wrong.

For example, Team A faced off against Team B in the NBA finals, with Team B hosting game 1. Some pages later the series is 3-2 and game 6 is being played at Team A’s home court.

But hold on. Fans of pro basketball know the finals are a 2-3-2 format–games 1,2,6 (if necessary), and 7 (if necessary) are played at the home of the team with the best over all regular season record. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) are played at the home of the two seed. So no way could game 6 be played on Team B’s home court if game 1 was at Team A’s.

There was a similar stumble earlier connected with basketball (in the NBA, only one free throw when a technical foul is called) and another one with the weather in Southern California (a week of rain in May? Right! Doesn’t happen!) And another one on a cross-country drive. Three days, the character determines. It will take three days to reach her destination. She starts out on a Sunday and arrives … on a Sunday. O-o-kay.

But here’s the thing. If I were writing a review of this book, I would feel like I was being overly critical to point out these slips. I mean, did any of those matter in the long run? No. Will people who are not basketball fans, or residents of SoCal, even notice? Probably not. Does the day of the week really matter? Not really. Then what’s the big deal?

Do the details in fiction matter?

Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility. I’ve said before, one of the things I think J. K. Rowling did so well was construct an incredible fantasy world. Others say she merely played off British boarding schools and that may be true. But through the details Ms. Rowling included, the world of magic came alive.

Horseless carriages that convey themselves, a sorting hat, a whomping tree, portkeys, food that appears in dishes on the dining tables, a ceiling that reflects the weather outside, broken wands mis-repaired that send spells incorrectly–on and on, each detail woven into the story with a high degree of consistency. There weren’t three school houses in one book and four in another. The new students weren’t placed in theirs by the Sorting Hat in one and by the Sword of Gryffindor in another.

Of course, the longer the book, the greater number of details there are to keep straight. An epic story like the seven Harry Potter books requires a great deal of work to keep all the details straight.

But I’ll come back to the point–why does it matter? I said credibility or realism, if you will, and that’s perhaps the greatest point, but in tangent is the fact that inconsistencies may pull readers out of the “fictive dream.” Rather than living side by side with the characters, the reader stops: Wait a minute, didn’t she say the trip took three days, and didn’t she leave on a Sunday? Then how can they be arriving on a Sunday? Did I miss something?

Lack of clarity can do essentially the same thing. The details might be right, but if they aren’t expressed clearly, the reader is still stopping, still looking back and checking to see why what she thought had been conveyed actually was something different.

So yes, details matter. At least they should.

Do editors give a pass to certain authors because they know readers will buy, read, love, and praise their books no matter what? To rectify this, should reviewers actually start pointing out inconsistencies . . . or will the point be lost because others will cry, Stop being so picky!

What do you think? Do you notice inconsistencies? Do you think those things should be pointed out in reviews?

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Fantasy Friday – Reading The Greats


For some reason, Christmas time brings out my desire to read fantasy. Not just any fantasy, but the Really Great Fantasies. In the past I’ve re-read The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Last Battle, and last year Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Yes, I realized then that Harry Potter satisfied the fantasy itch as completely as the other greats do).

This year I resisted. After all, I am already reading a fantasy — a Christian fantasy. And there is promise in that book. The writing is above average. The story is not predictable and the plot structure is unique without being outlandish. It’s good. Just not great.

But I want great. I want a story I can love from the beginning, not one I have to plow through and hold on until the story finally grips me. I want a story that has a hint of mystery and a bucketful of tension. I want moments of suspense balanced by seconds in which to catch my breath.

I want a world that is dense without feeling dense. It has history and language and lore, geography and politics, stories and dance and songs — but all that richness of the world’s past and that complexity of its present comes out naturally as part of the story, not as window dressing nor as convenient add-ons.

Above all, I want a character I care about, one I think matters and who I’m willing to follow on an adventure. I want him to be memorable, to be worthy of a story, to pre-occupy my thoughts when I’m not reading about him. I want him to be intelligent and ambitious, aggressive in a good way, and in the end, willing to expend himself for others. I want him to learn and grow and become more admirable as the story wears on.

I want a story that makes me slow down as I reach the last twenty pages because I want to draw out the reading experience for as long as possible. I want to savor the ending. I want to study maps or read over a glossary. I want an author’s note I can re-read or epigraphs I can re-examine.

I want a book of substance, that says something and makes me think larger. I want a story that touches my heart and makes me cry. Or laugh. I want a story I will want to re-read some day.

Yesterday I broke down and set aside the Christian fantasy I’ve been dipping into for several weeks and picked up Fellowship of the Rings again. Yep, that’s the story I’ve been longing for. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be done by the first of the year. This one flies by! 😉

Published in: on December 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Fantasy Friday – Truth In Fiction


Over the past couple days, there’s been a small discussion over at author and friend Mike Duran’s site in response to an article I wrote here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction entitled “Realism In Fiction.” The central issue is whether or not authors have the same burden to be truthful about God as about Mankind.

In contrast, I recently read an article by Travis Prinzi over at the Rabbit Room about fantasy, particularly the fantasy tradition created by five writers who might be considered at the top of the genre.

In Travis’s article, he used the word “truth” nineteen times. Here are a few samples:

  • George MacDonald wrote that fairy tales are “new embodiments of old truth.”
  • G.K. Chesteron believed that “the world is wild,” and that the philosophy of the fairy tale was far closer to truth than “realism.”
  • Tolkien argued that in “escaping” to the world of Faerie, we often encounter truth in a more potent way than in non-fiction or in works of “realistic” fiction.
  • C.S. Lewis believed that in fairy tales, our imaginations allow us to grasp important truth about spiritual reality that our intellect alone, through reason and propositions, cannot fathom.
  • Madeleine L’Engle … criticized the idea that the “real world” was only found in “instructive books,” and wrote that “The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth…is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.”

I’m not surprised by the marriage of truth and fantasy literature. I’ve long stated that the fantasy genre is best equipped to deal with spiritual realities. What surprises me most is that some aspiring Christian writers apparently find spiritual truth — specifically truth about God — so hard to pin down.

One commenter, for example, said

God by definition defies classification. You can’t pin Him down like a bug on a board.

Who is to say He isn’t portrayed realistically?

In those lines I hear an echo of Pilate’s question to Christ, “What is truth?”

Who God is cannot be known completely by any human being, but what God has said about Himself most certainly can be known. Fantasy allows us to explore His self-revelation and what that means to us.

Shouldn’t realistic fiction take up the mantle as well and strive to faithfully show God, not in the way a theology treatise would, but the way He works and acts in the real world?

So often art is defined using the terms “beauty” and “truth.” I guess I’m wondering what kind of art we Christians will create if we don’t pursue truth about God.

Processing The Horrific Through Fiction


Scripture refers to itself as a mirror that shows a person his or her “natural face” (James 1:22-24). Today in my post at Spec Faith I wrote that a novel not showing characters as sinners would be suspect of deviating from God’s revealed truth because man sins against man.

That fact was brought home yet again this weekend as the details trickled in about the attack on Norwegian citizens by someone wishing to keep alive the fear and anger generated by terrorists. First a bomb exploded in Oslo killing at least seven people. Then an hour and a half later a gunman attacked a political youth camp, and nearly ninety more people lost their lives.

Of course tragedy doesn’t require multiple deaths. It might be the lose of one person we’re close to. It might be injury or hunger, slavery, abuse, or exploitation. There are all sorts of ways that man sins against man.

Fiction is one way we can process the horror of real life. Some people turn to it as an escape — the escape from prison J. R. R. Tolkien so famously talked about (see related thoughts in “Hope Or Truth”). Others turn to it for an explanation: why do people act in such horrific ways? Still others look to fiction to find a measure of justice they wish they found in the real world.

Of course writers often use fiction to work out the issues in their own lives with which they’re struggling. Anne Rice claimed her vampire novels were expressions of her search for spiritual truth. J. K. Rowling whose mother had recently died explored the theme of death in her Harry Potter novels.

Readers, I suspect, gravitate to the novels that speak to the issues of their lives, whether coming of age or coming of old age.

We often talk about characters we relate to. One commenter to Sally Apokedak’s article, “Harry Potter The Orphan” had this to say about Harry Potter:

He is particularly relatable to the generation that grew up with him (most are in their 20s now). He is the “everyman” for our generation. The story is one of choice and self-discovery. If you remember, the sorting hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin, the house infamous for its output of dark wizards, but due to his protests the hat opted for Gryffindor, the house of heroes. It is that duality that allows us to relate to Harry. Everyone has their darker and lighter sides, and as we grow we choose who we will become. Ultimately, I think Harry’s popularity is a result of his relatability to what is currently a younger audience.

Clearly this commenter’s remarks show the propensity for readers to work out their own struggles through the struggles of the character to which they relate.

Hence, if a reader feels powerless, he gravitates to a character who starts out powerless only to discover he has more power than he imagined possible.

Which brings me to one final way in which readers process life through fiction: they see hope. A reader understands he won’t wake up one morning to learn that he has magical power. But he sees overcoming played out in actions, often actions that stem from nothing magical, but rather from qualities like courage and hard work, loyalty and faithfulness.

Seeing characters behave heroically helps a reader to believe that heroism is still something to be desired. The world may be filled with man sinning against man, but the inevitability of it is brought into question. And that generates hope and longing and pushes us to find real world examples of heroism, or more importantly, the Source of heroism.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2


I just got back from seeing the last of the Harry Potter movies. As usual, I came away feeling quite satisfied. The movie-makers, unlike those putting out the Narnia stories, did a good job faithfully rendering the book, in this case Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.

My only complaint was that I expected a review of Part 1 at the beginning to orient me to this last half, but that was absent. Consequently, I spent a few minutes trying to remember where we were in the story and what had happened last.

A couple things struck me as I watched it and afterwards as I discussed it with my movie buddy. First, I believe author J.K. Rowling when she said she never set out to write a children’s series. Harry Potter moved into dark and dangerous waters, and this book is the culmination of his fight against evil. Harry faces the greatest task, against the greatest odds, and must pay the greatest price.

In conjunction with that point, I can’t believe I didn’t see sooner (and without having to read it online) that the books — all of them — are about death. From the first to the last Harry is grappling with the loss of loved ones, and he eventually must come to grips with his own death.

Which brings me back to the original point: with such a serious theme running through all seven novels, it’s hard to call these children’s books.

Here are a couple other odd tidbits I thought about the movie.

Somewhere in the first half there were some awkward attempts to lighten the mood with humor. I didn’t think they worked. Rather, I thought they felt inappropriate by insinuating themselves into a serious story. Fortunately there weren’t many of these moments — I don’t remember any in the second half.

Similarly I thought “the kiss” was out of place and ill-timed.

On the other hand, the end, which some disliked in the book, I thought was handled very well. I thought it was appropriately brief but powerful, and it was such a nice tie to the first movie, it made me remember that one with greater fondness.

I also was struck by how the least likely characters ended up playing such key roles: the once-school-joke Neville Longbottom, the silly house elf Dobby, the less than grounded Luna Lovegood, even the apparently traitorous and wicked Professor Snape.

Now that it’s all over, I can’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling will ever write again. Certainly she doesn’t need to — her fortune and literary fame is clearly established. But did she dig out the answers to the big questions that pushed her to write Harry Potter? Does she have others that might compel her to develop another fantasy world? Could she ever come up with one different enough from Harry Potter but equally as rich? It seems to me, anything less would be a huge disappointment, so perhaps the effort might seem too hard or too risky.

In the same way, will the young actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson be able to break from the mold they’ve been poured into and continue working in their profession? I have to say, of all the characters in the movies, I thought Emma Watson the most improved. She also seems to be interested in growing as a person, so she may not stay in show business. I suspect none of the main players need to work any more if they choose not to. But perhaps their drive to perform will draw them back to the big screen, even as Ms. Rowling drive to write may cause her to imagine another rich story.

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Comments Off on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2  
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Have You Heard The Latest About Harry?


When I was a kid we sometimes played a stupid game on rainy days called Telephone. The idea was, the teacher (usually) whispered something into the ear of the first student who then turned and repeated it in his own whisper to the person next to him. Finally after what seemed like hours, everyone in the room had passed the phrase along, but it no longer resembled the original. (Ha, ha, ha! So fun sitting there watching other kids whisper! 🙄 )

It was a boring game, but the message got through — repeating a thing can change it, and we really shouldn’t believe what we hear when it’s a rumor. Some kids even intentionally changed the original phrase just to spice up the game. Others filled in gaps when they didn’t hear the whole message clearly, adding in their own thoughts so what they were passing along made sense. One way or the other, the original always changed.

I think some adults need to play a round or two of Telephone. Today, with Internet chatter and email forwarded messages and Retweets, it is so easy to start a juicy bit of something going, and people believe it, often without challenging the veracity. I read it, they say, which makes it so. Or I heard it from my ___ (pastor, hairdresser, friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, or some other person in the know).

Off we go, then, repeating a thing as if it is true when in fact we have no idea if someone someplace along the line of repetition didn’t misunderstand or intentionally change the message.

How does this connect with Harry Potter? Once again, because of the recent release of the final Potter movie, Harry is making headlines. It seems some Christians are once more claiming untrue things about the books, movie, and author. As a result discussion is popping up on Facebook and on blogs at at media sites.

In his article “Pat Robertson Warns Against Harry Potter, TV Witchcraft And ‘Demonic’ Ouija Boards,” Eric Hananoki posts various video segments of Robertson expressing his views about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. The latter bothers me the most. Here’s the most troubling line”

“Well, Narnia is different. It’s not glorifying magic and the occult,” Robertson replied. “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.”

Back in 2008, the watchdog site Snopes debunked a letter that was circulating about the evil influence of Harry Potter and how the books were drawing kids into the occult. It seems that much of the source material for the letter came from a satirical article meant to poke fun at the very ideas the letter embraced.

In my article “Harry, Harry, Harry” I concluded that bad logic, an indifference to the meaning of words, or closed ears had to be behind a continued accusation of the occult against Harry Potter and his imaginative author. I’ll add one more likely possibility: people are simply repeating what someone else before then said — never mind that the message may be scrambled or completely made up. Why, after all, should we let a little thing like the truth spoil a good rant.

And ranting against the occult gets attention. I remember when a pre-school director and her staff were mercilessly grilled in court and their entire school torn apart, the yard dug up, because they were accused of ritualistic Satanic abuse. Those people’s lives were destroyed, yet no evidence ever turned up and several witnesses later recanted their testimonies.

We Christians should do better. It’s not a minor thing to accuse another person of involvement in witchcraft. For an influential television personality to do it despite evidence to the contrary, breaks my heart.

After the last book came out in 2007, Rowling finally discussed the religious themes of the series. Witchcraft and satanism wasn’t part of the mix.

Are the Harry Potter books Christian? I have no reason to believe they are. I have lots of reasons to believe they are not entwined with the occult. And it’s time Christians stop parroting uninformed bits of falderal, especial when it slanders someone else. Did we not learn what idle repetition does when we played Telephone?

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Harry, Harry, Harry


With the final Harry Potter movie at last in theaters, much talk has once again turned to how the stories about a boy wizard should be understood. Apparently there is a die-hard group clinging to the claim that the Potter books represent a threat.

It seems there are two main criticisms. One claims that these stories about wizards advance the cause of the occult. A second claims that Harry behaves in such unrighteous ways, and receives the approbation of his elders in doing so, that he is no role model for young people.

I’d like to consider each of these more closely. Does Harry Potter advance the cause of the occult? I’m no expert on the occult and have no desire to become one, but I do know that the description of sorcery and witchery in the Bible is not in Harry Potter.

In the imaginative books, wizards have power but must learn to use it and control it (hence the school for witchcraft and wizardry). What is it the young people learn? How to fly their brooms, how to make their magic wands do what they want them to do, how to mix potions for desired magical transformations, and how to defend themselves against evil spells.

The students are not taught how to bring up the dead or how to acquire more power from a spirit.

As it turned out, the more the accusations were leveled at author J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, the more Christian leaders spoke up to say the idea was false that the books advocated the kind of sorcery the Bible condemned.

Ted Olsen, Christianity Today‘s online and opinion editor, put together an Opinion Roundup on the subject.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends “develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world.” Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. … [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” [emphasis mine]

Even a less than supportive review in World magazine drew the same conclusion as Colson did:

Still, [World] magazine notes that Rowling’s witchcraft bears little resemblance to modern wicca. “A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil.”

Interestingly, Rowling herself weighed in on the controversy:

In a quote from a CNN interview: “I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’ They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either.”

Certainly there are pastors and others in Christendom who have spoken out against the Harry Potter books — I heard of another just last week. However, I have yet to hear anyone explain how books written as pretend, with no connection to genuine occult activity, still manage to teach the unsuspecting about the sorcery condemned by the Bible.

That logic is inescapably bad. I can only surmise that someone holding this view cares little for the actual meaning of words or the context in which they appear. Or that they have not read Harry’s story and have closed their ears to all reason.

I’ll look at the second major objection to Harry another day.

What Makes Fantasy Work, The Continuation Continued


One of the elements that good fantasy needs happens to be part of world building, and it’s one of the genre’s tropes. Fantasy needs magic. I’m using the term loosely. A good number of Christian fantasies don’t have traditional magic. But they do have something mysterious or “other.”

In George Bryan Polivka’s Trophy Chase Trilogy, for example, the only “magical” element was the firefish, and that was enough. It was both mysterious and other—not of this world.

I personally like more magic, not less. I wanted Gandolf to overcome the Balrog and the Hobbits to escape the Black Riders. I wanted the Ents to stir up the trees and the Elves to shield the Hobbits from the Orcs. I wanted the White Tree to provide Gondor with protection and Boromir’s horn to bring the help he needed. I wanted to warn Pippin not to look into the palantir.

The more magic, the more intrigue. Anything can happen, and the reader is left equally to wonder and to worry because the best stories give magic to both sides.

Intrigue leads to the next point. Fantasy that works also has a plot that works. Rule one for a good plot is, Create conflict.

Like other fiction, fantasy is best when the character faces an external conflict and an internal conflict. Ideally the two battles will coalesce at the climax. That’s what J. R. R. Tolkien did so well in The Return of the King. Frodo wasn’t only fighting against Orcs and Sauron and Shelob. He was also fighting against becoming another Gollum.

Shockingly, the latter is the fight he lost. Which brings up another element that makes fantasy work—surprise. I think one of the reasons so much epic fantasy gets criticized is because of a lack of surprise. Readers and reviewers will say a story is “derivative” (the kiss of death to a fantasy) though you never hear that accusation made of romance or even of mystery. I have to believe that what the “derivative” accusers are actually saying is that the story tipped its hand and didn’t hold any surprise.

One of the things that kept me reading furiously through the last three Harry Potter books was the unpredictability. Was Snape good or evil? Would Harry be able to leave the Dursleys and go to live with Sirius Black? Would he win the Triwizard Tournament? Who was trying to kill him during the competiton? Why was he seeing such vivid visions of Voldemort? How would Harry find the horcruxes? And on and on.

Questions create intrigue, twists create surprise, and delay creates suspense. All of these elements, along with conflict, make a fantasy plot work.

There’s still more, I think, so I’ll tackle those last elements another time.

What Makes Fantasy Work, Continued


When I first posed the question, What makes fantasy work, my immediate thought was, an engaging character. That’s when I realized that there might not be so much difference between fantasy and other fiction.

In some of the fantasy I mentioned yesterday that I don’t think is working, I found two problems with the central character—either she/he was nondescript or whiny.

To make a character seem real, he must have a rounded personality. For fallen humanity, that means weaknesses and needs as well as strengths and things to offer others. At times, however, a character weakness can be painted with too much emphasis. I know because I created such a character.

It crushed me at first when members of my critique group told me they hated my main character. Hated him? I loved him. How could they misunderstand him so completely? Yes, he had problems, but don’t all characters? I mean, isn’t that part of the character arc?

That, in a nutshell, is the balancing act authors must achieve—give the character problems but not let him become embittered, sullen, whiny, complaining, slothful.

In some ways, Jonathan Rogers’ Grady in The Charlatan’s Boy is the perfect character. He’s got a problem—he’s an orphan, but that’s not all of it. The only person who knows anything about where he came from is unreliable—worse than unreliable. He twists the truth at will, however it suits him.

But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Grady makes the most of his circumstances. Here’s where the reader sees his real strengths. He’s loyal, hard working, and humble enough to play whatever part is given him.

So the first thing fantasy has to have in order to work is a main character that is believable and engaging.

The second thing, because this is fantasy I’m talking about, is a well-developed, consistent world. This is the aspect J. K. Rowling mastered. If I were to grade her, I might give her a C or C+ for her character. Harry wasn’t particularly believable in the first book because the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Dursleys was over the top. Nor was he particularly engaging. He didn’t whine but neither did he do anything to change his situation.

But the world Rowling created was unbelievable. Well, believably so. I mean, she did such a great job creating a magic place that the story came alive. She paid attention to detail and didn’t overlook anything.

In Hogwarts, food appeared magically on plates, the ceiling in the dining hall changed to appear like the outdoor sky, persons in portraits moved (and moved from their own frame to another’s), persons in newspaper photos moved too, and so did the figures on the cards that came with certain candy. And those chocolate frogs could actually jump away. The students had to be taught how to fly a boom and how to use their wands. And on and on and on. So many little details, everyday things twisted to fit a place where magic was real.

But there’s still more to this “What makes fantasy work” question, so I see I’m going to need another post on the topic. We’ll just say this continuation is to be continued. 😉

Who’s Getting Better?


Earlier this month, former agent Nathan Bransford took a week to blog about Harry Potter—or more specifically about J. K. Rowling‘s writing. In one post, Mr. Bransford stated he believed Ms. Rowling continued to improve her writing throughout the series. I tend to agree, though I know others may see the books differently.

But here’s the point I want to discuss. Mr. Bransford had this to say about improving one’s writing:

In order to get better at something you can’t be self-satisfied and think you’ve made it and become convinced of your own genius. You have to keep digging deep and keep being skeptical of yourself and keep trying to spot your own flaws and resist the temptations that come along with success. And that is hard!!

I think it’s the success issue that makes continued striving for improvement hard.

When I was teaching, I didn’t really have a way to measure success. Oh, I suppose if I taught all the material in the curriculum guide and every student received an A and their standardize test results showed at least a full year of growth, then maybe I could rest on my laurels and say I’d been successful. But would you be surprised to learn, that never happened? 😛 I thought not.

Since I finished each year knowing that I hadn’t been successful, in the ultimate sense of the word, I would evaluate and plan and work so that next time things would be better. In fact, I often planned en route. I’d tweak lessons from class to class, and I’d make note of things that needed to be scrapped or retooled. There was never any “self-satisfied and think you’ve made it” time.

But besides teaching, I also coached. With sports, there is a winner after every game and coaches along with players can feel successful. At the end of each season, we even had league championships. So what happens if you string a series of those first place trophies together?

The right answer is to add up the hours of planning and practice that went into preparing a team to become a champion and make a new plan for the next year. But in the flush of success piled on top of success, isn’t it possible that a coach might start believing his or her own press clippings? Isn’t it possible he or she could “become convinced of [his or her] own genius”?

I’m reading about Solomon’s life right now, and in a way he was victim of his own success, too. Peace on every hand. Accolades of kings and queens from distant lands, wealth, achievement. He could claim responsibility for bring the glory of God back to His people when His presence filled the brand new temple Solomon constructed.

What happened after that? Solomon went wayward, to the point that God took part of the kingdom away from his heirs. What should have been a great legacy became a tarnished life, half lived well.

But why? Did he stop digging deep, stop being skeptical of himself, stop trying to spot his own flaws and resist temptations?

Spiritually, we have the Bible and can measure ourselves by God’s standard—His perfect Son. Seems like we ought to have no trouble with the success syndrome when it comes to our spiritual lives. Of course, that’s not true. How easy it is to take our eyes off Jesus and put them on the person living next door or on the guy on the street cussing out his girlfriend or on the one cutting me off in traffic. Next to Those People, I can feel pretty successful. Ugh! Using the wrong measuring stick can give a false positive.

Might not that happen for writers too? Might we look at sales and think we’re successful if our book “earns out”? Or if we get a half dozen or a dozen or a hundred dozen emails saying how wonderful our story is?

But shouldn’t the standard for our work be the same as for our lives—that we want to please Jesus? Who cares if a million people buy my book if God is not glorified?

And until He is pleased, with every word I write, with all parts of my writing process, with my work ethic and my relationships with my colleagues in the business, I have to dig deep, stay a little skeptical, look for my flaws, and resist temptation.

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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