Writing Tips From the Bible
What writers can learn from the best-selling book in history
It’s no secret: the Bible is the best-selling book in history. Jealous? Well, take it up with God. Though He never directly penned the words, He takes credit for the ideas:
“Thus says the Lord… Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.” — Jeremiah 30:22
If you want to hone your writing, here are a few lessons you can glean from the good book.
Good and Evil Resonate With the Human Soul
The world is filled with chaos and we desire order. Life is full of conflict and we crave resolution. Every good story has conflict — it’s what keeps the reader reading. And the Bible is supreme at conflict.
It states clearly what is good and what is evil. When a bad guy comes on the scene, you know he’s bad. When a good guy screws up, he gets called out. There’s a moral code, a fixed compass, a right path, and a wrong path, and it’s not hard to discern which one is which.
In a world where stories are full of so many plot twists that we need anti-nausea pills afterward, a simple good versus evil narrative is amazingly refreshing. The Bible draws hard lines, and its characters are on one side or the other.
Heck, the Bible even forces its readers to one side or the other. People are still in conflict about it to this day, giving credence to the phrase, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Takeaway #1: Thrust your reader on a journey filled with conflict, and get it going out of the gate. Drag them through the mud for the bulk of the story. Show them the bad so they long for the good. Offer hope, but withhold the resolution until the end. This formula has worked for millennia — why change it now?
Authentic Characters Have Flaws
Part of the story of the Bible is the Jewish people’s hope in their hero — the chosen one who would come and rescue them from their oppressors. Many characters we meet in the Old Testament leave the reader wondering, “Is this the one who will deliver Israel?”
Moses looked like the deliverer, but he had a raging temper that caused him to murder a guy and hide the body. King Saul looked like he could be the one: he was tall and good looking and had a temper to boot, but he ended up being a maniac.
David looked like he would be the one, but he ended sleeping with his friend’s wife, getting her pregnant, and then murdering him to cover it up. Solomon looked like the one, but his sexual addiction caused him to abandon God. On and on we go. The Bible doesn’t hide anyone’s flaws, and there’s something wonderfully mesmerizing about that.
Takeaway #2: Create complicated characters. Even though there is absolute good and evil, your character should never be wholly one or the other. People aren’t perfect. If your characters are, your reader won’t identify. As Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
Compelling Stories Follow Familiar Patterns
Good stories are captivating. The Bible is a collection of stories spanning thousands of years, and those stories make up a larger story. But what makes a story compelling? It follows familiar patterns. Almost every story and character in the Bible has these four elements: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.
From its first sentence, the Bible talks about God creating an amazing world, and three chapters in, things have completely fallen off the rails. Did Adam and Eve even have time to… you know? This pattern of “falling from grace” hooks the reader and leaves them wondering how humanity will get out of the mess.
The story then quickly pivots to redemption and hope, which lasts the bulk of the book. In the very last chapters, the story ends in consummation — everything culminating in a beautiful resolution. Things aren’t just restored to the way they started, they end better than they began.
Takeaway #3: Have a structure for your story. Give it a theme and a point, a start, and a finish. Make the journey mean something. If you don’t, then all you have is a fictional journal, not a story.
Different Genres of Literature Reach Different Audiences
Narrative? Check. Alternating POV? Check. Poetry? Check. Universal themes? Check. Law, music, letters, prophecy? Check. Check. Check. Check!
The Bible contains a myriad of distinct literature. It contains works written by lawyers, poets, musicians, leaders, servants, fishermen, and doctors. It even includes pagan quotations (Titus 1:12). There’s something in there that can appeal to everyone.
Takeaway #4: Employ unique perspectives and incorporate different aspects of literature. Explore the laws of the land. Have your characters write some letters. Find some ways to include music, poetry, and culture.
Now get out there and write like God. Just don’t try to carve your story into stone tablets — it’s horribly inefficient.