“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
Talk about great first lines! From page one we jump right into the Creation story. Why? Because our planet, our universe, is the setting for every page of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; the story of a God who created the perfect place and populated it with amazing creatures and two main characters, a world where they could build a relationship with their Father. But the children misbehaved when an antagonist brought conflict into the story world, and God was forced to banish his beloved before they ate fruit of the tree that would cause Evil to gain control of the realm forever.
Man, I just though of dozens of storylines that fit that mold. Pinocchio. Legend. Lord of the Rings. Percy Jackson. This is a great plot line to work with, and it really is the string that connects the Bible into a single book. God’s people are constantly misbehaving and following Evil things leading them away from God. Until a hero rises from the dust to face an impending army of darkness, rescue the beloved, and save the day. Ultimately, this hero is seen in Christ on the cross, and that’s where the story shifts.
The New Testament stories are not the same as the Old Testament ones. No longer do we see the conflicted people sin and repent; sin and repent. Now, the story focuses on the group whose mission is to spread God’s Word at all costs; do the right thing even unto death. Robin Hood. The Matrix. X-Men. Sure, bad things are still happening in the world, but the hero’s plight has changed.
The ultimate end is the Return of the Messiah and the defeat of darkness in Revelation. But like any good book, that’s not the real ending. After 1,000 years, the Darkness will again be released for a time until Satan and his horde are cast into the Lake of Fire. The End.
The Bible on a whole has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Creation—Salvation—Rebirth. The theme throughout is the Redemption story; the sacrifice and saving of the undeserving “us.” It’s a beautiful illustration that tugs on our heartstrings and moves us emotionally when we see the concept in literature and movies. Why? Because it’s built into us to need a savior; to know we are helpless and powerless.
Great, timeless stories weave this powerful human truth throughout their plots. Superman. It’s A Wonderful Life. Hunger Games. The power of redemption is a wonderful theme to start with when deciding what to write about. My novel Dreadlands incorporates the theme of redemption, even so much as to focus on the shedding of innocent blood in order for life to continue; for survival. My basic story is the Biblical redemption story. But the plot is about a boy who leads his sister across a Norse realm to the city by the sea before shifting wolves leave the Dreadlands on the next full moon. Yup, Viking and werewolves overlaying the skeleton of redemption. This story comes to life in its own world.
“In the Beginning” focuses a lot on world building. The first thing God does is create a clear time and place for our story to take place in. The story world rules are established. The order of life is stated. And the characters aren’t introduced until the world is complete.
As a writer, it is crucial that your reader quickly understand the story world. When and where does the story take place? If it’s speculative fiction, what are the rules or lure of this world? If it’s historical, what changes alter or prohibit the characters from making the same choices you would make? Many authors begin with dialogue or story problem too quickly, and the reader gets lost, not having been grounded in the story world first. Check out the first paragraph of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins from Scholastic Books. What does the beginning tell us?
- They are not rich. For this character to be sharing a bed with a sibling, they are probably scraping by in this society.
- Rough canvas cover of the mattress means this is not present day America. It is either very long ago or set in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian future (or a different world altogether).
- Wherever this is, it’s a scary, unstable world for this little girl to have recurring nightmares.
Dad’s either dead or gone because she climbed in with ‘our mother’, not ‘our parents.’
The Day of the Reaping sounds horrible when connected to nightmares. Reaping means “to harvest the crop” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). The only crop that could induce nightmares would be human or animal, because not too many people get scared of picking apples. This also lets me know we’re not in the past because the Day of the Reaping doesn’t exist.
The world is already clearly established in the first paragraph. Not completely, but enough for me to follow. I know where we are, when, the mood, and time, and that’s so important for your readers.
The Bible shows in Genesis 1 verse 2, “The Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
So our world stared with nothing, an empty, unformed place that God populated in a particular order. To see the new world, he created light; Day and Night. He established time, a crucial component for your story world. When does your story take place? Past, present future? Day, night? Winter, summer?
Then God created the world, separating the Heaven from the Earth. He created boundaries. Does your universe have clearly marked boundaries for your reader? Is it the size of a bedroom or beyond the known universe?
Next, came land and sea, two distinct settings in the story. Where does your story take place? Are the locations clearly marked for your reader? God showed the details of the setting; the grass and herbs and how they continued their existence by containing seeds to reproduce. Trees producing fruit is an awesome foreshadow to the Garden of Eden story.
Now, God created the sun and moon, the stars, the universe beyond the world. Your story needs to appear larger than the people where the narrative takes place. Your reader may never see beyond the world you create, but they must believe the map keeps growing beyond your story’s borders.
The setting is now complete. A world exists. A universe grows beyond the world. The world is self-sustained. Now what? According to the Author of the World, it is time to populate it and set up a hierarchy of order.
In Genesis 1:20, sea creatures were born. In verse 21, birds flew in the sky. Since most of the Bible stories take place on land, I think it’s interesting that water and sky creatures are introduced first. I liken them to background fillers, those characters that exist in your story world to make it more believable, but don’t move the story forward. In The Hunger Games, that would be the Peacemakers, the merchants in the Hob, and the miners. They are all apart of District 12, but they aren’t where the story takes place. Does your story have filler characters or entities that live in your story world but don’t necessarily drive the plot?
Next, God created every creature on the land. These animals provide food, shelter, clothing, and companionship for mankind. They keep the bug population down so man can grow crops. They fertilize the soil. They plow the fields. They are integral to man’s existence. Do you have elements in your story world that keep your society functioning? Is their a believable hierarchy in your story world?
Finally, God had the stage set. He was ready to create the main character: Man. Man had the main dominion of this new world, charged to take care of it and protect its inhabitants. And like your main character, man was created in the author’s image. After all, you are the god of your story world. You have provided the perfect environment for your characters to thrive in. But beware. There is a serpent with other plans slithering through your perfect world, waiting for just the right moment to strike.
(This is an excerpt from Writing Your Novel, Using the Bible as Your Guide, published by A Writer For Life, LLC, which you can purchase from Amazon Kindle. For assistance with writing, editing, publishing and marketing your book, visit http://www.awriterforlife.com.)