Remember Lot, Abraham’s nephew? A few posts back, he and his uncle had split off their herds and men to part ways. Abraham let Lot choose where he would like to live first. Ringing some bells? Good. Here’s the kicker: Instead of being gracious and humble by allowing his great uncle the best of the best, Lot’s eyes beheld the beauty of the city Sodom, the glistening pools of water, and the greenest desert grass. His lust sent him into a place that looked good on the outside. But the grass isn’t always greener….
In Genesis chapter 18, we are back with Lot to see how life’s been treating him over the last few decades. “And there came two angels to Sodom at even;” (verse 1) That’s awesome! Two angels have entered the city. How does Lot respond? “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways.” (verse 2)
What? Lot is fervently pleading with these men to lay lo, hide, and get out before dawn. There is a huge element of fear that has entered Lot’s utopian world, morphing it into a dystopian one. Sodom, the place he had imagined to be perfect, was holding a dark secret, one that caused him to fear for the safety of these angels.
Any time you can apply this to your world building and plot, the better! Creating a world that appears wonderful on the surface yet harbors something sinister or dangerous or opposing is a beautiful thing. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Time Machine. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. By giving away small bits of information, you can create a bread trail of curiosity that your reader can’t help but follow, page after page. Thomas Brown’s debut novel Lynnwood does an excellent job of weaving the sinister throughout a sleepy town where there’s always the hint that something’s just not right.
In Lot’s case, the men oblige, and return with him to his home for the evening. He bakes bread and makes them a feast. (verse 3) I’m sure on the outside, this reads like a normal gesture in any book, with the reader beginning to question if maybe there is something wrong with Lot; a level of paranoia rooted in his own unsubstantiated fears. Until, there comes a knock at the door. “The men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter.” Now, it’s for real. That thing Lot was trying to prevent from happening is coming to pass. The scene has elevated slightly with this new information: there really is something wrong in Sodom.
Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe are the masters of suspense-horror. They both show relatively normal people in relatively normal places who are overtaken by either an outside force or, more frequently, by their own dark heart’s choices. They show the “what if’s” when a person receives exactly what they think they want or need. Thinner. The Tell-Tale Heart. The Monkey’s Paw, another great example by author W.W. Jacobs.
Lot is in the midst of the consequences from his own dark heart’s choices. He is harboring two angels, messengers of God, who the men of Sodom want brought out of Lot’s home so that they might gang rape them. Seriously. Hey, it’s right there in verse 5 if you don’t believe me. Nothing new under the sun, remember? The Old Testament isn’t some collection of wishy-washy bedtime stories about old men with long grey beards who manage floating zoos, or beat up giants with pebbles and then write poetry about it. It is filled with every joy and treacherous act mankind is capable of, and if it were written today, it would most likely be on the banned book list.
Lot refuses to release the angels to the crowd, offering instead his two virgin daughters to take their place. (verse 8) This is a desperate man who is deep in the refuse of his own poor judgment and lustful choices. Can you imagine? But this action, this offering, is actually a sign that he is trying to do the right thing. Lot knows these men are on God’s mission, and while I’m sure he loves his daughters, his decision to substitute them in the angels stead shows he is reprioritizing and refocusing. No longer driven by his own selfish desires, Lot is genuinely trying to do what is pleasing in God’s sight.
But is it too late?
God honors his willingness, an attribute God repeats constantly throughout the Bible. Genesis 19:11, “And they (the angels) smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door.”
Now the race is on. With the men of the city blinded, Lot is told to gather his wife and daughters and to leave Sodom before God destroys it. “And when the morning arose, then the Angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” (verse 15) But Lot lingers. Why? Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever lost everything because of it? Have you ever had to return to someone you truly wronged to ask for forgiveness? That’s why. Those are hard consequences to face. But they make terrific plot points!
If you can position your characters to where their choices lead them to make fatal mistakes that cost them everything, and force them to repent to those they’ve wronged, you’ve got a base for great tension and an opportunity to show the dark heart choices of humanity that your readers can relate to. We don’t like to admit it, but we would all agree that sin is in us. As the clock ticks and time runs out, Lot is dragged out of Sodom along with his wife and two of his daughters (the others stayed behind with their unbelieving husbands) by the angels. They are instructed to “Escape for they life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain (where Abraham lives); escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” (verse 17)
So here’s a broken man. He entered Sodom, the best of the best, with so many servants, flocks, and herds that he had to separate them from his uncle’s. He leaves Sodom with two of his daughters and his wife, who ends up turning into a pillar of salt when she disobeys and looks back at Sodom’s destruction.
In the end, “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven.” (verse 24) But God remembered his promise to Abraham and kept Lot safe (see Genesis 18:20-33)
In your story, have you allowed your characters to make decisions that appear good, but carry weighty consequences? How can you expand those to ripple out even further in their lives? Into the lives of those around them? By allowing your characters to give into their own dark heart desires, you can create a natural set of consequences that will shake their world and bring it all crashing to the ground. Then, with the now humble character, you can help rebuild their life and their world into something great, like Ebenezer Scrooge from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol or Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.
(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.)