In Papua New Guinea most of the people speak a pidgin language, a trade language, called Tok Pisin. When my family and I moved there we spent the first while learning how to speak it. I loved that time because of the many phrases and words that made me smile. For instance, when someone invites you to visit he or she will say, “Yu mas kam na stori wantaim mipella” — “You must come and story with me.”
Because the written word is a relatively new thing there, verbal communication is vital. Telling stories is their life’s blood. A man who had lived in the country a long time advised me, “you don’t just blurt information here, you must build on it, make it into a drama, give it life.”
Those are good words to remember while writing. They remind me that writing is a building, a construction that creates something more out of reality, giving it depth and perspective. Often it is the embellishment of the reality that will stir the reader deeply, reaching into that realm of the universal that marks great literature. Sometimes that perspective is hidden even to the writer.
My first drafts are always ‘blurts’
I just get the story down on the page, then go back and edit. Usually it takes several edits before I have anything worth putting out into the world, but I love the process. Each deletion, each change of phrase brings the story more and more alive, giving it clarity and power. Often there are elements in it I did not see at first, elements that, when pared down and honed, can become a pivot or the essence of the piece. They seem to bubble up, as in the making of good strong coffee in an old percolator. The process is the real journey, the joy in writing.
I once watched a Papuan friend tell a story to a small group. We were sitting in a half-circle, the story-teller sitting in the middle. His head swivelled as he made eye contact with those on both sides, often repeating parts to make sure they were getting it all. His audience leaned forward, intent on his words, even though it was a story they all knew well, an old folk tale that had been told and re-told for many generations.
Less than 30 plots
I have heard it said that there are less than thirty unique plot-lines from which to choose when writing fiction. With such limited material, I once despaired of ever doing anything unique. But, like that Papuan man who kept his audience spellbound, I have discovered that it isn’t so much the story itself that captures people, but the way in which it’s told and the unique perspective of the teller.
Tell a good story, keep the audience leaning in, and it won’t matter that they’ve heard it all before. Our stories are all unique because they come from our unique view of the world. Our stories are all linked and appeal to the universal longings of our hearts.
Jesus knew this
He knew it when he told stories to those he sat with in the markets and houses of Palestine. The stories he told weren’t anything new. They were simple stories about fishermen and farmers, but as He told them He allowed the people to see with His eyes, giving them a perspective that took them to depths they had never gone before. In a sense, He told them what they already knew, but in such a way that they drew in their breath with fresh understanding. He allowed them to see with His eyes and the view was suddenly breathtaking.
We too can open the eyes of our readers to the wonder of our world and our God. The Apostle Peter, as he was preaching, once said,
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16, NIV).
We have not seen Jesus face to face on this earth, but we have seen his majesty. We’ve seen it in the world around us, in the people around us, and most astonishingly in our own lives. As believers we have had the longings of our hearts satisfied. That is the story we can and must tell, over and over, in all the plot lines and all the turns of phrase.
It is the essential truth, the only story worth telling.
Thanks for taking the time to read. If you’d like more, have a look at my website — https://marcialeelaycock.com