The inimitable Nobel Prize-winning American writer Ernest Hemingway once said to his friend and contemporary, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in reference to the Bible, “I found the source of practically every good title you ever heard of.” Aside from this obvious truth (as something of a writer myself, I’ve certainly found my fair share of veritably epic, Biblically-inspired story titles), the Bible, I’ve noticed, is an unbelievable fount of writing inspiration, one that keeps on giving, and in the process, enhances your personal life as well.
The thing about Christianity, perhaps also religion in general, is that its foundations are rooted in the age-old tradition of storytelling. In the case of the Bible, of course, these stories are true—whether you read the Good Book from a literal or metaphorical perspective. The following are some lessons that you can learn by simply picking up your Bible whenever the Spirit so moves you (and hopefully it moves you every day).
- A good story, whether you are writing a memoir, short fiction, or a novel, must have complex characters.
The Bible itself is rife with complex characters. Some are evil—like Lucifer, of course—and some are absolutely good, like Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But in the Bible there are many in-betweens, basically lost sheep. Think: Jonah; the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable, recounted in Luke; the narrator of Ecclesiastes, the list goes on and on. Take these examples and make your characters interesting; make them face challenges.
- A good story needs good dialogue.
The Bible is a perfect example that testifies to the need for solid dialogue in a good story. Even though, sure, in the Old Testament you will find inordinately long lists of a character’s family lineage, the dialogue found in the New Testament is unimaginably artful. One of my favorite examples of well-written dialogue in the Bible is found in the Book of John, where Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman. He asks her for a drink from the well, and at first she refuses because he is a Jew. The Samaritan woman asks him where he will get his water from if He has nothing with which to draw it from the well. Jesus responds, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14). Is this not the most stunningly artful dialogue, both rich in its prophetic splendor, and clever in its plays on words? In sum, the writing lesson to take away from the Bible here is to make sure your dialogue both speaks from the character’s heart and uses words delicately to convey meaning and emotion.
- A good story should teach a lesson.
Many writers may disagree with me on this lesson, but it is obvious by reading nearly any story in the Bible that every anecdote teaches a life lesson, no matter how small. Of course, there have been legions of novels written that have no apparent didactic point per se, but I firmly believe that every good story ever told has at least a kernel of truth—a truth that we all can learn from, even if the lesson isn’t obvious.
These are only the most basic lessons I’ve gleaned from my study of the Bible, but there are tons more. If you read the Book every day, you will be surprised by how much it can improve your writing.