Real Magic and Faerie Stories

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My love for Faerie Stories, good fantasy, and all good books and shows, grows out of a love of Christ, the scriptures, the preaching of the Word, grace, and truth. I believe good fantasy echoes the True Story. Faerie Stories hinge on moments of Eucatastrophe. Fantasy clichés are just that because they reflect our history. I never grow tired of heroes, real heroes. I never stop loving a girl being rescued. I find satisfaction in villains finding justice. I love faerie stories because they bring a new depth to our world and open eyes that are bored with seeing. In this way, they again mirror truth, the truth of faith and not sight.  

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Sometimes real magic becomes mundane: blooming flowers, falling snow, autumn, moonlight and starlight, our self-healing bodies. We become so used to things, we stop seeing how amazing they are. We know what needs to happen atmospherically for snow to fall. We understand photosynthesis. At some point, the world stops being mysterious and becomes routine.

Faerie Stories tease into the light—via exaggeration—things we have grown used to, things we take for granted. In Faerie Stories the old oak is a wellspring of wisdom, or a sentinel standing guard over your home, or even a moving, speaking creature who keeps back the darker parts of the woods. As we soak in these tree-stories, we see our own trees in a new light. We see their grace, majesty, value, and beauty.  We know the Faerie Stories aren’t true, but they shine a spotlight on a truth: trees are amazing things.

White flowers grow on the side of the highway. Day after day, millions of cars flash by at 80MPH. I often wonder how many people every notice them sprinkled in the grass. I see them because a story I hold very dear has white flowers forever growing on the graves of kings, and one of those kings is one of my favorite characters. I cherish that spot of white flowers as a memorial. Every time I drive past, I’m reminded of that story and that character.  A patch of humble flowers has been brought to light by a story.

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This is one of my own goals in my stories. I want you, the reader, to gain a dimensional view of life. When you see a tree, you see a tree. But, you also see layers of so much more, enriching your world, reminding you, highlighting for you, what an amazing thing a tree really is. When you see that dandelion growing in the front yard again, I want you to see more than a weed. I want crows to make you smile. They make me smile. As a writer, I want my stories to do for you what all stories do for me. They enrich my life. They help me see the real magic that I’ve grown accustom to, bored with. They remind me that life is more resonant than what I can see with my eyes. When we train our minds, even accidently, to see the world in another layer of magic, when we are awed by growing things, trees, storms, butterflies, the lives of rabbits, and other ordinary facets of life, we see God’s post-apocalypse creation for the amazing place it really is. We practice seeing by faith, in a way, instead of sight.

Sight and science are concerned with what’s right before them. They do not deal with the soul. (If that’s not the most magical thing created by God, I don’t know what is.) Faith deals with the unseen. Faith believes in something it can’t see, or touch, or hear.  This is why you can’t just have faith in faith. You must know what you’re having faith in. Every time a movie or book says “just have faith”, I want to scream, “Faith in what? Faith in who?”

We can have faith in ourselves.

We can have faith in another person.

We can have faith in some undefined karma, that we hope never really comes back to bite us.

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Or, we can humbly sit in a pew, listen to the wise preaching of the word, and believe in truth. God doesn’t ask us to take blind leaps of faith. He tells us exactly what we need to believe. He sent men into the world to tell us every week. This faith is so simple a child can grasp it, and so deep we can study it all our lives and never plumb its depths. This faith believes that we are all wretched sinners. We are dead. Each and every one of us. We need a savior, but who would come and die for the dead?

Christ.

The Son of God, Deity himself, became a man, lived and kept the law we couldn’t, died and saved us, his church and bride. He rose again, defeating the death that had bound us, his elect, and made us alive. Christ paid the cost of all our sin. (Grace, not Karma) and gave us His purity. (This isn’t a universal forgiveness. You must come and believe. You aren’t saved just by the fact that you’re human. Not every human is or will be saved.)

I can’t see this. I can’t see that I’m dead, and I can’t see that Christ made me alive. To anyone outside me, I look the same. I can’t see the rags I wore before, and the white robes of righteousness I wear now. To me, I look the same. But, I believe all this to be true, by faith. I believe that Christ sacrifice did pay the cost of each and every sin I commit, have committed, and will commit. I believe He is ruling and reigning now, even though I can’t go see Him. I believe He took my punishment and gave me His righteousness.

I believe this is the True and Great Story, the Real Story, out of which every other good story flows. And I believe that each Sunday, when ordinary men fill the pulpit and preach Christ and his Story, dead men come to life, and sinners grow more holy. This is the real magic. This story is the real supernatural event of our history. God became man, lived how we couldn’t, died for our sins, and rose again. And now, that very same mighty Lord is going through the world and through time to save His people. What a King we have!

It is bad enough when we take the world as a given, thinking we understand everything, and never see how kind it is that we have autumns, or Christmas, or families, candles, and bonfires. Worse yet is when this is true of the preaching of the Word. When was the last time you thought about the power of the mundane preaching?

It raises the dead!

It makes sinners holy!

Have you ever thought about, dare I say, the magic of preaching? The truly supernatural event happening before your eyes each Sunday?

Sundays and preaching can be so ordinary. Every week we go gather together. We hear a variation on the same truth we heard last week. How easy it is for us to just stop listening. How easy it is to just presume upon the preaching. We stop seeing the true magic, we stop seeing with faith. We just look and see humble men, and humble teaching about something that happened long ago. Awake! Awake! Open your eyes, oh sinner! See the world for what it is. See beyond the surface of things to the layers of life. Look! Look! Here is a wellspring of water that will never run dry. Here is a meal that will carry us through a week of normal, temporary tasks that still must get done. Here is real and true and good and pure magic that shouldn’t be missed or taken for granted. Look to the preaching of the word. Let it infuse you and your life so that you can see by faith, instead of by sight. Our sight will fail us. It lies. It tells us we are alive, and pretty good, and basically a nice person. It tells us a tree is just photosynthesis, and never sees a tree!

Open your eyes! Or, better yet, I pray your eyes are opened. For what dead man can make his heart start beating. Life is richer, deeper, and far darker than what we see out of our windows. Fear should wrap around us, but it should be infused with great hope. Life is hard. Life is rocky. Life hurts. But God, who is rich in mercy, raises the dead. He gathers His saints in. He clothes the naked. He forgives the villains. He heals the sick. He befriends the dangerous. Christ came, lived, died, and rose again. He is the one, genuine hero in history. Rejoice weary saint. Gather to hear the preaching again, and open your soul to the magic, the true and real and wonderful magic, of the gracious Word of God.  See God’s grace from the smallest, humble flowers to the greatest moments in history, and in the weekly preaching.

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This is what I try to capture in my stories: darkness slashed with light. This hope that we, the worst of us, can be saved, and not by our own power, but by an undeserved rescue. When I write and read good stories, it helps me see by faith and not by sight. Read faerie stories. Read Warrior stories. We’re in a battle. It helps me to remember that, to ‘see’ it when I read a good war book. It helps me remember the REAL deeper magic when I read faerie stories. There is magic out there. We’re just so used to it we don’t see it. There are real supernatural events that changed the course of history. God really became a man and died for sinners. That happened. And Christ really rose from the dead. And he is really with us on the Lord’s Day when His word is preached. This is real magic. Real supernatural truth.

The dead are made alive!

I read Faerie Stories. They, and all good stories, support and owe homage to His history.  They remind us to live by faith, and not by sight.

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Writing Help: Self-Editing and Critiquing Critiques

 

Self-Editing

First, a definition. By self-editing, I don’t mean grammar, spelling, and basic English skills (which every writer should have and develop). I mean the ability to step back from your work and see it as a reader.

Self-editing is a necessary skill in a writer’s arsenal. Without it mistakes are repeated, and the writing never grows. It’s like a child who never stops throwing temper tantrums. At some point it shows a lack of self-control and maturity. Weak self-editing can also discourage beta readers, turn off possible publishers, and force a writer to pay more for editing.

Asking trusted friends to read a rough draft and a polished work is vital. They can provide the writer insight when they’re blind and bored, having read the work over and over and over.

The Alpha readers should point out glaring plot, character, or writing issues. They’re here to help the writer self-edit with fresh eyes at an early stage. They will skip over many of the grammar and writing issues. They’re here to taste the story.

Beta readers do catch minor grammar errors (I mean minor) because there should be very few of them by this stage. The goal for Beta readers isn’t editing. The goal for Beta readers is to read. Their job is to give a reader’s feedback, so the writer can gage the reader’s reaction. They should be dealing with as polished a work as possible by this stage.

If, instead, Beta readers find themselves giving major re-writing suggestions, sentence by sentence edits, issues of telling and not showing, POV problems, sentence and paragraph restructuring, and stage directing corrections, the writer needs to brush up on their self-editing. As discouraging as it is, if Beta readers are doing this work, they’re not Beta reading. They’re editing a work for the writer and the work isn’t ready for Beta readers.

Writing Schedule:

  1. Write the rough draft. Pour your heart out and bleed onto the page.
  2. Read through and clean up. This is a good place to do the first round of edits and to self-check plot, characters, and voice. (Sentence by sentence corrections, grammar, showing and not telling, POV issues, sentence and paragraph restructuring, and stage directing.)
  3. Hand off to Alpha readers. Their job is not to correct the grammar side. Their job is to help you gage the amount of editing needed next and to cheer you on. You may need some major re-writes at this point. Or you may need to start polishing.
  4. Re-write as needed based on Alpha critiques and self-editing.
  5. Submit your story to a more in-depth critique. Use a trusted friend armed with a red pen or something like Scribophile to give you a feel for how you’re doing.
  6. Set your work aside. The amount of time you spend away from your book is up to you. Step away and work on a new project. (I’d say six months to a year.)
  7. Return to your work with fresh eyes and try to read it like a reader. Look for things you can cut out, writing that makes you cringe, and characters that seem flat. Use your red pen!
  8. Send as highly polished a story as you can off to your Beta Readers!
  9. Keep working on your other project.
  10. Fix your writing based on suggestions and start down the road to professional editing for self-publishing, or submit to a publisher.

Obviously, this isn’t a strait jacket. Some writers write clean rough drafts skipping much of the polishing. Some are so good at self-editing, their work can go from rough draft, to polish, to Beta Readers, to published. Others of us circle the drain of polishing, and hand our story off to readers so many times we need more terms than Alpha and Beta. Every writer has to find what works for them.

The important thing is for the writer to step back and imagine they’re a reader picking this book up for the first time. Good self-editors allow themselves to see the holes, the characters no one likes, the weak villains, and the bad writing. Writers must read their story like someone who hates it, and someone new to the genre. They must put the imagination that wrote the story in the first place to work pretending to be a reader.

Get busy with that red pen.

Critiquing Critiques

Accepting critiques, and critiquing those critiques for value, is another sticky, but important skill. There are dangerous pits a writer can fall into when being critiqued.

On one hand sits the Pit of Pride. Every critique is immediately disregard. The writer labels the critiquer as an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. More time is spent mocking the critique than listening. No humility is applied to the story or writing style. Instead, the greatest writer ever, who has nothing to learn, pouts in a corner. They’re like one of those moms whose child is brilliant in every way and everyone needs to know, but when you meet the child they’re picking their own nose and eating their boogers.

The other pit is Overly Open Mindedness. Every critique the writer gets is God’s truth. They immediately make all the suggested changes. If someone tells the writer to change a name to make the critiquer happy, they do it. If someone says they don’t like something, this writer hurries to take their advice. Soon you have a story written by committee that looks nothing like what the writer originally wanted to say.

How does the writer avoid these two pits? Humility and confidence are important. A writer should humbly acknowledge they need critiques, even the harsh ones. A writer should confidently stand by their story. This confidence is easier to have when the writer knows what their story is trying to say.

Human beings want stories. Don’t tell us what an undeserved rescue is, show us. We want to see how an undeserved rescue affects people. Don’t tell us children left on their own resort to horrible behavior. Write Lord of the Flies. Don’t tell us England needs a better mythology. Write Lord of the Rings. The stories stick with us longer. The stories have layers so that they become so much more than what they’re trying to say.

So, to accurately judge critiques, the writer needs to know what they’re trying to say. If they don’t know what they’re trying to say, how can they judge the veracity of a critique? Not only that, if the writer doesn’t know what they’re trying to say, they’re in danger of saying something false. It’s like having a worldview. Everyone has a worldview. Everyone. But, if you don’t think about your worldview and your presuppositions, you’re in danger of believing something untrue and possibly dangers. If a writer just writes what pours out of their heart with no thought given to what they’re ultimately trying to show in the story, they might write something false.

If they do, their story won’t ring true with people. They’ll disregard it, laugh at it, and never suggest it to friends. But, if there is truth there, then that truth shines out and resonates with people even if they don’t agree. It also pours out into different layers of the book.

So, there are two very important tools writers need to develop to write well: self-editing and critiquing critiques.

Self-editing allows the writer to write more polished first rough drafts and to present writing to Beta readers which they can read and not have to edit.

Critiquing critiques is vital to keeping your way in the story, but a writer can’t do that unless they know what they’re trying to say.

Like a baker, mechanic, soldier, or any other profession, the writer must practice, practice, practice. Get help. Read, read, read. The writer must talk with their readers. They must learn to see what they’re doing wrong so that they can stop writing only first rough drafts and can move on to a polished, readable, valuable book.

Happy Writing.