Learning from the Past

If you caught my blog yesterday, you will know that I have been debating for a while what my next writing project will be. I finished five books in 2013, chief among them the Champion Trilogy I came out with during the summer. Since that time, I have been considering myriad possibilities, some more realistic than others.

My latest final decision was to resurrect a book that I started a few years ago. It’s the story of David and Jonathan from the Bible, mostly Jonathan, told from the perspective of his armorbearer and best friend, Ziba ben-Achim. I wrote and submitted the prologue and first two chapters to a traditional publisher when I wrote it, and got back a prompt rejection. Today, I finally found the manuscript and read it, and I have a better understanding of why it was rejected.

The story in itself is OK. The main story starts and ends with the story of David wanting to build the sanctuary. When God refuses to let David build it, he calls for Ziba, now an old man, and asks him to tell him the story of Jonathan. The underlying question is why God chooses to allow one person to do things for him, and another not to. After that, the story goes into Saul’s first major act as king (when Jonathan and Ziba are still children), which was the battle of Jabesh-Gilead. It then moves forward into a time when Jonathan and Ziba are young men, and attack the Philistine garrison at Geba.

As I read it, I saw that I followed the story from Scripture fairly accurately, taking literary license only when and where there were gaps in the story. I added some details for dramatic interest, such as Abner, Saul’s cousin and general being the son of the future Witch of Endor, and Achim, Ziba’s father, being both a servant of Saul and a blacksmith in his own right. Those factors could have happened, and I thought made the story more interesting.

Where I saw the story missing the mark was an overall lack of character development. I was so intent on following the Biblical story and getting the reader from point A to point Z and all the other points in-between that I missed what the story was for. Because I have learned–slowly, stubbornly–that stories are about people. We learn from other people’s successes and mistakes…mostly mistakes. I didn’t take the time to develop Saul, Jonathan, Ziba and all the others into living, breathing characters that we can learn to love or hate as we see fit. Instead, what I have is a retelling of a story that was better told in the Bible itself.

The other mistake I saw was that I had no grasp of who my audience was. Which characters you include in a story, and who you have tell the story, is directly related to who you anticipate will read the story. The story starts with a prologue with two old men talking. Chapter one is told from the perspective of two young boys. Chapter two is told from a very male perspective of David and Jonathan as 18-24 year olds. In light of the fact that most adventure stories these days are purchased by young girls (and women), what kind of following could I expect for this story?

So I see some promise in the story–or maybe I am just too stubborn to give up on it. In either case, I will probably put it on hold until I figure out what to do with it.

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