Abraham and Sarah are traveling to a new country. They arrive, and Abraham tells the king that Sarah is his sister (Genesis 20:2), a truth because they share the same father (déjà vu?). He fears they will kill him because of her beauty. Seriously? It was bad enough when Abraham pulled this stunt back in Genesis 2 when Sarah was in her sixties. Here she is in her nineties, and it’s happening again? Nonetheless, the king does take her in and Abraham’s life is spared.
“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou are but a dead man, for the woman which though hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.” Genesis 20:3 This king is in big trouble. He was lied to, yet his head is on the line. When God says, “You’re a dead man,” that’s a case closed in my book. King Abimelech pleads his case anyway: “We’re a righteous nation,” “the husband and wife lied,” and “It was an accident.”
Of course, God allows him a pardon if he restores Sarah to Abraham, which Abimelech does. But he speaks his mind in verse 9. “Then Abimelech called Abraham and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? And what have I offended thee that though hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? Though hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.”
We know the answer: Abraham was afraid for his life, and this tactic had worked for him just fine in the past. He defends that he hadn’t really lied, since they were technically brother and sister, but the wrong had already happened. The king showers him with sheep and oxen and servants and 1,000 pieces of silver. He hadn’t done anything wrong, really…he was the victim of circumstance. But he still had to pay.
Real life ain’t fair.
Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s compare Abraham’s plight to Lot’s. Both entered foreign kingdoms with their families to make a new home, although Lot selfishly chose the better portion leaving Abraham the rest. Both faced confrontation for their choices, although Abraham was found blameless for lying and Lot was found blameless for trying. Both lost their wives, except Sarah was returned. Technically, Lot was trying to do the right thing and lost everything, while Abraham was looking out for himself and received an abundance in return. Why?
Real life ain’t fair.
Your story is a reflection of real life. Why is everything working out so easily? How come your main character just knows that important piece of information? Why is it that every plan is perfectly executed with everything she needs in her grasp. It’s not real life.
When Rue dies in the Hunger Games, my inner self screams, “That’s not fair!” Yet I knew she was dead the first time she was introduced in the story. The same happens when Ender Wiggins learns that he wasn’t playing a game, but that he had actually exterminated an entire species. These stories are so powerful because they take into account the fact that real life ain’t fair, and bad things happen to people with good intentions.
Let’s take a look at one more example. At the end of Genesis 19:30-38, after Lot has left Sodom, lost everything—including his wife—he is living in a cave with his two daughters. He’s drunk on wine all the time, drowning in his misery and loss. His young daughters (whom he had offered to the mob for them to gang rape in lieu of sodomizing the two angels) are alone with him. I can’t imagine how they felt. They’d lost everything too, including the care and protection of their father.
So dad’s drunk, and the girls take turns having intercourse with him so they can both become pregnant. Hey, you can take the girl out of Sodom, but you can’t take Sodom out of the girl! Needless to say, two boys are born, simultaneously brothers and cousins. Talk about dysfunction.
What’s the point? Real life ain’t fair, and our choices have consequences that ripple and grow and take on lives of their own, sometimes even after we try doing the right thing. My mind instantly goes to Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Obi Wan is desperate to teach Anakin the way of the Jedi, knowing he will restore order to the Force. But in the end, Anakin joins Lord Sidious on the Dark Side. Obi Wan did everything right, yet it wasn’t enough. Broken-hearted, he loses not just his padawan, but a friend he found to be more like a brother. Why? Say it with me: real life ain’t fair. So, your story shouldn’t be fair either.
In what areas of your manuscript can you adjust the balance and create more realism? How can you make it harder for your characters to succeed? Where can you bring in the powerlessness that your characters have done what’s right, yet still failed? In what way can you make your story world reflect the real world? Want a good study example? Read the entire Maze Runner series. Talk about unfair!
Real life ain’t fair, so let’s shake things up in our stories’ reality.
(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.)