Tension & Strife

Genesis 13 begins with a now wealthy Abram and his nephew, Lot—who was equally wealthy—leaving Egypt and heading back to the land God promised Abram. (verses 1-5) They set up camp, pitch their tents, and fall into their daily routine. It’s human nature to claim your spot and fill it with your things.

But what happens when your uncle loses his house and he and his family move in? What do they do? Uncle helps Dad finally straighten out the garage, where he sets up a cot and creates a ‘man cave’ while Auntie helps Mom in the garden by day and has a happy home in the spare bedroom-office by night. And that no-good kid of theirs doesn’t do anything, except make a mess that you get blamed for, play video games, and oh yeah, share a room with you. Suddenly, your trophies have been displaced, your clothes wedged into one drawer, and there’s a hand towel and a rolled up pair of socks on the floor for your new bed.

And the fighting begins.

You are on edge, waiting for a turn in the bathroom, trying to steal back your bed, and hurrying to get the last piece of bacon so at least you can say you had one. What happened? Your home used to be so peaceful, and according to the conversations you’ve overheard between Dad and Uncle, your cousin has never been confrontational before (tell that to the big welt on the back of your thigh).

The problem is there’s not enough room for two families to live under the same roof. This is a guarantee for strife. There are two ways of doing things, two sets of rules, two expectations, not to mention space constraints, daily routine, and clashing personalities.

In Bill Allen’s book Orson Buggy’s The Big Fang Theory the bully’s mom marries Orson’s dad, and they not only move in together, but they boys have to share a bedroom. What a mess! Privacy is gone and Orson fears for his life.

In Genesis 13:7, Lot’s herdsmen and Abram’s herdsmen are filled with strife. “That’s our watering hole” or “Our cattle were eating here first.” Day in and day out, this escalates into physical altercations. Complaining, fighting, and discourse fill the whole area. And you know how people tend to get more riled up when they are part of a group then when they are on their own. Look at Lord of the Flies.

The cool thing about this section is that the two families were living on the ground God had promised Abram. But how did he resolve the issue? He let Lot choose where he wanted to make camp and Abram would take what was left. Wow. No way would I do that. Of course, Lot chose the greenest grass near the water, the most ideal location for his herdsmen and their families to start their community. Only the plain of Jordan faced Sodom, and this is where Lot pitched his tent. (verse 12)

There’s two great writing truths to be taken from this chapter. First, get your people in the same place, to need the same things, and strife will naturally follow. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Divergent. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. If they are forced to share a car or a tent or one of them loses everything and is forced to rely on the other (The Life of Pi), you will provide organic opportunity for your characters to react to the world around them. Want to see who’s really inside someone? Make them uncomfortable, and then take away their security and control. You’ll see the true hearts of your characters, and it may not be so pretty.

The other truth is the idea of placing beauty within walking distance of bad things; bringing the two into the same room. The plain of Jordan was part of God’s promised land. It was the most beautiful part, with lush green grass and cool springs. But it was positioned at Sodom’s door. “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” (verse 13) Amidst the beauty, lay wickedness.

When you can show those extremes attempting to coexist in your work, you will evoke strong emotions from your readers. Don’t believe me? Try these images: The beauty of Oz in full Technicolor and then BAM! Black smoke and it’s shattered by the presence of the Wicked Witch of the West. Or Hobbits and dwarves and elves (oh my!) in Rivendell, then BAM! Vile Orcs, broken bodies, and bloodied rivers. Or what about Pinocchio heading over to Pleasure Island? Sounds like a juvenile version of Lot and Sodom, but instead of having a nose that grows with lies, there’s a wife who turns into a pillar of salt with her eyes.

Beauty + Evil = Fear.

Plain and simple.

Find places in your book to add fear and strife through contradictory settings and heart squeezing scenes. Put unlikely characters close, then force them closer. Take everything away that makes them comfortable and then stand back and watch. Tension and strife are bound to happen. Just be close by ready to write them out of it at the very last moment.

(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 as a paperback or ebook. For assistance with writing, editing, and marketing your book, visit awriterforlife.com.)

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Tension & Strife

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