Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: point of view

Thoughts on the craft of writing

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Here are some reflections after reading books that were interesting and others that could have been interesting if the writer had known how to tell the story.

  1. Read books of the kind that you would like to write. You can’t be a writer if you are not a reader.
  2. Research thoroughly. What was the weather like, what trees and plants grew there, what did people have in their homes, what did they eat, what did they wear, what kind of work did they do, what were common religious and political themes, etc., etc.,
  3. Don’t tell your readers everything you learned. You are doing the research to avoid describing things that do not fit the time and place you are writing about. Count on it that some alert reader will notice if you do. But if you dump a pile of information in front of a reader they are apt to stop reading.
  4. Stick to one main point of view character and tell everything through her eyes and ears. It can work to have one or two other point of view characters, but that is enough. These are the people you want the reader to care about.
  5. There will probably be other major characters. Let the reader learn about them through their actions and their words. If you jump from one character’s point of view to another’s and then to another, your reader’s head will start to spin and she will put the book down.
  6. Start in the middle of the action. Show the dilemma and conflict your main character is facing. Slowly fill in information about how he got there as the story unfolds.
  7. Write for the reader, not yourself.
  8. Write every day.

Connecting the dots

In our small town school, there was a two shelf bookcase in the Grade 11 and 12 classroom. That was our library, and I read every book in those shelves during my last two years in that school. During the reading of one of those books, a historical book, I had a moment of enlightenment. This was over 60 years ago, thee name and subject of the book have vanished into the mists of time, but I remember that it dealt with the same period of history that we were studying in class. It named the same people and places, the same events, but the narrative was different. That was when it dawned on me that the way history is told depends upon the point of view of the writer.

After that I looked on historical research as a page covered with dots, some small, some large. Different historians studied the information provided by those dots and each one connected the dots he felt to be most important to produce a recognizable picture. Some may do it with the intent to deceive, but I believe most are honestly trying to create a clear picture for their readers.

Even the Bible has examples of histories told from different points of view. There are two histories of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The first, 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, was written before the Babylonian captivity by Jeremiah, or by someone else under his direction. The unity of purpose linking these books with the book of the prophet Jeremiah is underlined by the fact that the same four verses form the conclusion of 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Jeremiah consulted the records of those kingdoms and pointed out the episodes of disobedience and idolatry that led to the judgment of God.

The second history, written by Ezra after the people returned from their captivity, is drawn from the same records as the first. But Ezra points out how God was faithful and had often poured out blessings upon His people. He tells how King Manasseh, the most evil king Judah ever had, repented and spent the last years of his life labouring to undo the evil he had done. The link between 1st and 2nd Chronicles and Ezra is evident in that the two final verses of 2 Chronicles are repeated in the beginning of Ezra.

In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is an eyewitness account, generally understood to have been told to Mark by Peter. Matthew was writing for Jewih readers and pointed out in great detail how the life of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. Luke, wrote as a Greek historian and told a coherent, well documented story of Jesus’ life from beginning to end, including the resurrection. John put more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Each writer told the story in a different way, sometimes choosing different dots. There is no contradiction, we are enriched by having all four.

We need to be very careful in accepting all that we read in the news of current events. News reporters often choose the dots that fit a predetermined point of view. Here is one instance. We are often told that the income disparity between black people and white people in the USA is positive proof of racism. But if you look at the incomes of married black people and married white people, that disparity disappears.

That should cause us to look for the causes of the difference in the number of stable marriages among black people and white people. Then we see the same forces working among all groups of people to undermine the family. There is a war on the family in the world today. This war is not going to be won on the battlefield of politics. It is a matter of faith.

More than one side to history

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My Grade 11 and 12 classroom had a library — a two shelf bookcase. I read all the books in that library, in class time, during those two years. One book was a history of an era we had recently studied in Social Studies, but gave a different version of that history than our textbook. That was when it dawned on me that history depends on the point of view of the one writing the story. The people and events may be the same, but the causes and results quite different. Not to mention the identities of the heroes and villains.

I also read historical novels, in which the English protagonists were noble, honest, kind and all round wonderful guys. Other people, especially if they were French, were portrayed as shifty-eyed, dishonest and cruel miscreants. Later in life I learned to read French and found that historical fiction in French was exactly the same as in English. Except that now the French were the noble, honest, kind and wonderful heroes and the English were double-dealing, arrogant, dishonest and pitiless villains. No doubt both the English and the French writers believed they had the facts on their side. Certainly, the French felt they had good and sufficient reason to refer to England as perfidious Albion.

I recall a Canadian federal-provincial conference of almost 50 years ago, a meeting of the heads of government of the provinces and the national government. Shortly before the meeting started an English-speaking reporter got a glimpse of a list brought by the Quebec delegation. He could not read the French-language list, but saw that the headings was Demandes. He began to hyperventilate and soon it was headline news all over English Canada that Quebec had come to the conference with a list of DEMANDS. A few cooler heads pointed out that in French demande means question, but the damage was done.

History is not only made by well-intentioned people defending what they believe to be noble principles. Bone-headed stupidity also plays a role. So does propaganda. During the first five years of Nazi rule in Germany, they carried on a pervasive propaganda campaign through books, movies and all media to depict the Jews as the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. By the time Hitler launched his final solution, a large part of the German population believed that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

An older brother spent several weeks in hospital. The man in the bed beside him was constantly complaining about the faults of his wife. Our brother told him, “You know George, there are three sides to your story. There is your side, there is your wife’s side, and then there is God’s side.”

How do we discern what is God’s side in current history? The first step is to cast aside all thoughts that God has a preferred nation in the world today. The time of an earthly kingdom of God came to an end 2,000 years ago. The only kingdom that is of interest to God today is His spiritual kingdom. As we consider political events today, in our own country or on the international scene, our question should not be which party or which country God favours, but how these events affect the spiritual kingdom.

Let us remember, above all, that our physical and financial well-being is not a prerequisite for the welfare of God’s spiritual kingdom.shutterstock_736401193

Point of View, Paradigms and Prejudice

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Years ago I was stopped at a red light on Weber Street in Kitchener, Ontario. I was in the right lane, beside me in the left lane was a police cruiser. There were no other vehicles in sight. Then I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw an old black car coming around the curve and I knew he was coming too fast to stop. I yelled a warning to my wife and daughter just before the crunch. I glanced to my left in time to see the police officer roll his eyes. He turned on his flashing light and got out of his car.

The other driver was charged and decided to plead not guilty. I was called to appear in court as a witness. The driver’s defence? He had been trying so hard to avoid hitting the police car that he didn’t even see my car. The judge found him guilty.

We all make decisions based on what we see, and we are sure that we see things exactly as they really are. Or we catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of our eye and were sure we know what is happening. That is point of view. Sometimes reality intervenes to inform us that we missed seeing something that was there, or saw something that wasn’t there. An old adage says “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.”

The way we understand things that others do is influenced by the experiences of our life. A young lady grew up in a middle eastern culture where it was considered rude to immediately accept if someone offered you a coffee. You said no the first three times and then it was fine to accept the coffee, sit down and  visit. She moved to North America and got an office job. Her co-workers asked her a couple of times if she wanted to come with them for lunch and she said no, to be polite. They accepted the no and quit asking. She thought they didn’t want her company, they thought she didn’t want their company.

We develop mental patterns of what normal behaviour looks like and they help us to instantly understand the meaning of what the people around us are doing and saying. Those patterns can be called paradigms and they help us cope smoothly with social life–as long as we are with people who have the same paradigms, people of our own culture.
When we mix with people of other cultural backgrounds we are apt to feel disoriented, frustrated, or perhaps frightened. If we understand why this is happening, we can begin to learn and adapt and get to know these other people, who really are not a whole lot different from us.

If we are unaware that our misunderstanding is due to a difference in cultural paradigms, we are apt to judge other people as unfriendly, ill-mannered and untrustworthy. Now we have slipped into prejudice. We judge people’s conduct without understanding how they think. We decide that they are ignorant, uncaring, probably dishonest and even immoral.

Some of us do our best to avoid contact with such people and go through life in a protective bubble where we only have to do with people who think just like we do. That confirms and hardens our prejudices. I don’t believe those prejudices can be educated out of us. We might learn to say the right words, but our inner feelings will be the same. The only solution is to step our of the bubble and get to know people who are different from us.

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