The Formula

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You know how I know books are children? Because they can be such snots to their parents.

Michaelangelo, when asked why he didn’t have a wife or children, said his wife was his art and his works were his children. And when those children are little, they can be completely irrational.

If you want to be a parent of this type, you only need 3 characteristics: persistence, intelligence, and quirkiness.

That’s it. Soon as you’ve got those, you’re ready to be an author. But if you want to survive, you’ll need something else.

You don’t need a great plot. And you don’t need beautiful, special, larger-than-life characters, though if you are one, good for you. Enjoy that. I'm not one, don't want to be and I don’t want to read about them. I don't deny people liking such books, but to say all of them should be this way is ignorant. Such a prejudice deepens our culture of dissatisfaction and encourages people to forfeit the more meaningful things of life. And books can do this because as children they’re powerful, persuasive little boogers.

So it doesn’t take action, adventure, romance, riches, power, fame, or beauty. All it takes is a character who is extraordinary (or remarkable) in some way and uses it to escape moral and/or romantic peril. That is enough. The peril had better be worthy of bookhood or I'll think the author didn't look hard enough before choosing his story. Stand-out stories stand out. 

But the greatest, deeper fact about this truth is that everyone is extraordinary. Think about it. Ordinary doesn't really exist, and this is the theme of the most incredible stories. Show me the simplest stuff transformed into the grandest and I’ll show you a successful author. Want to realize a holy calling? Open people’s eyes to see majesty in a dirt clod. Transformation is not magic—it’s a simple matter of perspective. God constantly makes all things new, all things alive again, and if you want to inspire readers to buy a lot of books, inspire them to agree.

Authors who breathe life into seemingly flat people and situations will become well-known authors.

"Look closer," the story can say. "Don't be fooled." That's a holy awakening when it happens. Those are the stories we live for. 

Of course, that's hard to do well. There are no shortcuts. And there are bell-curves of taste, preference and experience dictating how stories hit different readers. But when an author can open my eyes to the extraordinary, I feel enlightened. I feel comforted.

How is your work opening readers’ eyes to the extraordinary in the ordinary? Asking the question of your work may help you discover some real key characteristics.

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4 thoughts on “The Formula”

  1. Out of all the things you’ve written in the last six months, this resonated with me most deeply. It’s a beautiful reminder to see the beauty that surrounds us in the most ordinary things. Were you holding Ann Voskamp’s book in your lap as you wrote it?

  2. Ha! Cathee, you know it! I went one better than that and channeled an email I wrote to someone about Ann’s book for this post. I didn’t want to mention it, but that’s the living proof of the formula working, should anyone want to dig a smidge for it.
    Oh, also have a well-trafficked blog. I think that helps.

  3. “Ordinary doesn’t really exist, and this is the theme of the most incredible stories.”…well said…I love reading books to children for this reason…to them, anything is possible…leave logic at the door and prepare to be amazed.
    Ann’s book is being used by GOD to help so many see as GOD intended…GOD breathed words there.

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