Posts Tagged ‘Middle Earth’

I’ve been blessed with an abundance of gifts. Creativity and a general intelligence have led me to excel in writing and music and speaking and business and oh so much more. I’ve always felt a little guilty for those gifts because I can’t possibly put them all to use at the same time. I feel the pressure every day to pour myself out and, even when I do, I still have a talent or two that didn’t get used. By not using my gifts I assumed I was putting them on the shelf to accumulate dust or being the man who received one talent and buried it (see Matthew 25:14-30) instead of doing something useful that would earn his master interest. But I’m wondering now if I’ve been looking at things upside-down.

For the last fifteen months music, in the form of worship leading, has taken precedence over writing (as evidenced by the postponed release of Rise of the Dark Sprite). Five weeks ago, I set down the guitar. I’ve set down a lot of things lately–but more on that another time.

It was a hard decision, perhaps one of the hardest of my life. Worship leading fulfilled so many parts of me, satisfying deep needs to minister to others and to celebrate the goodness of God. I miss it profoundly. In the five weeks since I said goodbye to my church I haven’t touched my guitar, either out of a deep sadness or a perpetual busyness. Probably a combination of the two. And, yes, I have been feeling a little guilty for not sharing my gifts as a musician and worship leader with a church who needs it.

But then I got to thinking…

What if my talents are like a deck-building game? Bear with me here. We’re nerds in this family. We save the world from super-villains over the holidays; hit every premiere weekend for Marvel movies; own the extended version of anything involving Middle Earth; and planned our vacation around seeing the new Star Wars move in IMAX. So it should come as no surprise to you that we delved right into a deck-building game based on The Fellowship of the Ring. The purpose of the game is to buy cards, worth abilities and victory points, that then go into your deck. Each round you deal yourself five cards, use them, and put them away to be re-dealt later. One round I’ll be wielding Legolas Greenleaf’s bow like a young Katniss Everdeen and the next I’ll have moved into defensive position with Boromir’s shield. I get five, usually awesome, cards per turn and it is up to me to put them to good use.

Now, back to my point. Perhaps my life is like a deck of cards. Each year I add a few new weapons to my arsenal (maybe a new passion for the banjo–that would be cool), and deal myself out a hand of talents. In 2015, the focus was worship leading and a new job. In 2016, I hope my focus will be writing and healing (surprise, surprise, when you have Lyme’s disease apparently you can’t work 80 hours a week). It’s not that I’m letting my God-given talent for song-writing and worship leading go to waste this year. It’s that He has handed me different cards. If I put them to waste, shame on me. But if I spend 2016 playing a great game with Legolas’ bow and choose not to pine for Boromir’s shield, then I think I will have done well.

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Today is Younger Nephew’s fourth birthday. Four. Really? Wow. In honor of him, we journeyed to Middle Earth (otherwise known as Dennys). I thoroughly enjoyed looking through the Hobbit-themed menu, though I ordered more traditionally: a Belgian waffle with all sorts of yummy sides. And Younger Nephew received his favorite chocolate chip pancakes, along with an array of lovely treats from our wonderful waitress who really made the occassion special.

I love December. I love the random occassions to get together, stacked on top of each other until you don’t feel the absence of your family in the few quiet moments becasue they are around more than they are not. Yes. Sweet December. So let the snow fall, the productivity plummet, and the family reconnect.

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For those of you writers following my blog… The back-story.

Today I sit by my laptop trying to decide how to place the back-story in my latest novel. I have found that the back-story is used in different measure with different significance in different tales. So what is its value? What is its danger? And when and how should it be placed in a story? The answers are as plentiful as the stars. Yet there are some basic principles that you might benefit from.

Consider first the danger: Too much back-story can leave the readers feeling like nothing is happening in the novel. Things–perhaps even interesting things–have happened, but little may be accomplished in the novel itself. Then there is the opposite problem: too little back-story may leave readers feeling like the characters have no past, that they are one-dimensional. So, whatever you do, do with thought.

Methods: The back-story can be introduced simply by having the character’s themselves dialogue about their past. The characters may also relive their past or think about their past.

Reliving is by far the most persuasive method and it draws much sympathy for the characters. It follows the ‘show-don’t-tell’ rule we have all heard so often. Yet if you get stuck in back-story-telling mode, your readers are going to get bored quickly. Things need to progress. Another problem may be that if you hold too much information back from readers, they will grow irritated. Above all, make sure that if you are reliving the past you are reliving an adventurous part of the past.

Dialoging is another great method for utilizing a back-story. It breeds a connection between two or more characters who open up about themselves. It has the added benefit of not frustrating readers, because they feel they are on even ground with the characters themselves. They learn what the characters learn as the characters learn it. Yet the caution here is that, in telling instead of showing, readers will tire of immense amounts of dialogue.

Thinking about the past is rarely used on its own. It can combined with either or both of the other methods. It leaves the readers feeling like they really know the characters, but it also can bog down a story. Use in conjunction with other methods minimizes risk.

Value: We have already mentioned how the back-story can breed connection between characters, as well as between characters and readers. This is vitally important. Your readers need to have a feeling about the characters: affection, concern, dislike. You want your readers to be in the stands cheering for your noble characters and routing against the criminals. Miss the opportunity to connect a reader to the story and you miss the opportunity to make your book stand the test of time. Even readers who love Tolkien’s Middle Earth for the sake of Middle Earth itself found a connection to Tom Bombadil or Frodo or some other favorite. The human connection is why we tell stories.

The value of a well-told back-story transcends character development, however. It also makes you as the writer appear more competent at crafting a tale. Most importantly, the back-story can be a place to leave clues and introduce concepts there is no easy way to incorporate.

In summation: whatever your method, whatever your decision, whatever your purpose, do not overlook the editing and significance of the back-story.

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