What Makes a Story Become Visible

A story is and must be situated within culture. As simplistic and obvious as this statement is, its importance is by far the most significant aspect of comprising a story, and it often is overlooked in modern storytelling. A plot is merely a timeline – a sequence of events that are linked together. Any child who rambles out a story before bedtime can create a plot, some of them fairly detailed and complex. They will ramble on about a fanciful adventure they had, and though some of the plot points might be incongruent, fixing that is simply a matter of learning how to order a timeline. However, what changes a child’s imagined story into a detailed novel is summed up by one word: Culture.

True of any genre, but perhaps most obvious for historical fiction, characters and their happenings (plot) do not exist in a vacuum. They live within time (which denotes a certain level of development and past history), within a society (which stipulates customs, convention, and continuity), within a geographical habitat (which stipulates what resources/activities/adventures the characters have available to them), and more specifically within a place/abode (which exhibits what sorts of habits and tastes the characters have). Take out any one of these elements, and the story becomes incomplete. It is not enough that a reader knows what is happening in a story (most stories that children invent are, after all, easy to follow), but a reader must also know why they are happening – or better put, how they could happen. They should not know the end of the plot from the beginning, but they should know why the plot is happening in the first place. Why should the characters in the story care about the plot (because if that question can’t be answered, the reader won’t know why he should care)? Exploring a story’s culture is the only way to answer the question. The characters care about the plot because of the lives they have lived up to that point, because of the people/society around them, because of their mannerisms and lifestyles, and even because of the architectural styles that comprise the places they visit and see. Duly exploring the culture of ones characters will bring those characters to reality. Plots bring characters to life, but without culture, they will be too fanciful to be relatable. Culture makes them real, that – knowing what they eat, wear, do, say, how they live, what occupations they do, what art and decor adorns their abodes, how they fellowship – the reader can take on the mantle of the plot at the same time that the characters do.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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An Author’s Task

If you truly love words, you are going to write. Oh, there might be those days when you can’t seem to find the right words for your manuscript. They will seem to elude your grasp – floating around the edges of your mind without becoming clear. Those days are what people refer to when they say “writer’s block”. The next day, though – and many times the same day – if you apply your mind to your work as you should, those words will come. You have only to search for them. It is your love of literature that drives you onward. You cannot help but to be creating a story onto paper.

The job of the author is to open up the mind of the reader – to have them see what you see – to have them captivated as your audience by conveying the very love of words you have to them. An experienced author knows that this doesn’t come without practice. It also doesn’t come alone. The editor stands outside of the author’s world of words and observes it objectively. He is someone who sees things about your words and writing that you, as an author, can’t see – and yet he has the same vision of words that you have. However, authors know that, applying themselves to the work, their words come alive. The outcome is inevitable. An author who reads, and reads well, will bring his own words to join the great literary discussion. Perhaps he might find them to be not as good as those authors that have inspired him. Perhaps, even, he is correct – somewhat – in his supposition. But, his words have joined literature all the same. And, in time, there will be some who find his words to inspire their love for literature. Those who partake in the great literary discussion add their piece to the great masterpiece being carved by virtuous authors. They have successfully conveyed to their audience the meaning of their own interest in the words of literature that they love. And, the reader has responded by their captivated attention. The words on the page then become an inspired imagination that cultivates creativity in life.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Ancient and Distant Lands

One of the great appeals to writing historical fiction is in making ancient and distant lands come alive. There is mystery in that which is ancient and adventure in that which is distant. A sense of wistfulness also envelops distant lands. As the proverbial saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill”. We seek that which is far away for our adventures, exploring new places and learning about them. Historical Fiction brings the “greener grass” into our imaginations. It allows us to envision places away from our homeland that still exist today but brings them to life inside of different cultures. We wish to know how our ancestors lived and spoke – how they viewed society within their lifespan. To bring to life that which is ancient kindles the imagination. The more we learn about the past, the greater our imagination grows. Mystery turns into fascination and appreciation of a culture and society as we explore more about a certain time-period. We travel these stories across seas and continents, finding adventure in the unknown or that which is less frequently traveled in our normal life’s routine.

However, the best historical fiction stories are those which mix the mystery and adventure of ancient and distant lands with the daily and normal routine of the characters. Stories must be relatable at some fundamental level. Characters who never eat or sleep are too bland and nonhuman to follow. We wish to know what sort of refreshment our characters take along their journey so that we can find that same refreshment. We need to know what sorts of houses they live in so that when the adventure comes, we know why it is an adventure for them. Ultimately, we need to see how they live their lives within the historical and cultural context of their time so that we can be drawn into an understandable story. The more we understand about the culture of the story’s characters, the more appreciation we have of the story itself.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Undusting Postmillennialism – for Theological Readers

The below was written today by the proprietor for a friend with whom he was having a theological dialogue. It outlines the Classical Preterist view of Postmillennialism. Because it is a summary, there are many terms he leaves unpacked for those who desire to delve more into the topic. Postmillennialism draws from so many doctrinal points to reach its conclusions that it would be impossible here to explain each one in depth. . . .

Christ has covenanted with His people! He covenanted with the nation/state of Israel under the Old Covenant and with His church under the New Covenant. The old wineskins of apostate Israel could not contain the new wine of the church (Matt. 9:17). It would (and indeed has) burst forth to the Gentiles! What had to happen to the old wineskins of apostate Israel? They had to be cut down (Matt 3:9-10), for God raised up children for Himself from the dead stones of the Gentiles. Jesus warned Israel of this, “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:35-36. Why? They had committed the unpardonable sin (something only that generation could commit) by denying the power of the Holy Ghost working through the Holy Son of God (Matt. 12:31-32). The kingdom was taken away from the wicked vinedressers of apostate Israel (Matt. 21:43). Judgement was coming upon that generation who denied their Lord. The destruction of apostate Israel would be so total as to knock down every stone of their temple (Matt. 24:2). “The ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Matt. 24:15) was coming to destroy the apostate covenant people of God. The Gospel of Mark records this same “abomination of desolation” (Mark 13:14). Luke explains what it is: “but when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” Luke 21:20. Then, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.” Luke 21:21. They were to flee, for the great tribulation was about to break forth upon apostate Israel, the rejected people of God. Those days were shortened for the sake of the elect (Matt. 24:22). It was to happen within the timespan of one generation (about 40 years as counted by the Jews), as Christ foretold: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” Matt. 24:34. “when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!” Matt. 24:33. The judgement was coming swiftly upon dead Israel, rolling like a runaway freight train. Christ was “coming quickly” (Rev. 22:7). The judgements upon apostate Israel were “shortly to take place” (Rev. 1:1). Daniel was told, when he received the prophecy of the Messiah’s judgement upon the old covenant people, “shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” Dan. 12:4. In other words, the time was not yet at hand. Israel still had time to repent. John the Baptist is more urgent. He tells the people “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matt. 3:2, and the “ax is laid to the root of the trees.” Matt. 3:10. Apostate Israel was about to get the ax! However, they still had a little time. But, John in Revelation is told “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” Rev. 22:10. In other words, it was time to release the judgments. The ax was beginning to swing. Like a baton race, the age of the Old Covenant and the age of the New Covenant were running side by side, the old passing the baton to the new before the conditions of the Old Covenant were exercised (the sanctions upon apostate Israel). The Testator (Christ) had died and risen, and in the Heavenly courts, He breaks the seals of the New Testament (Rev. 5-6), and in so doing unleashes the sanctions upon the old (by exercising the Old Testament sanctions upon those who broke its ethical stipulations).

The historicity of the Great Tribulation is verifiable under the reign of Nero (Side note: This means that John authored Revelation before 70AD, verifiable in most early church fathers’ writings – the modern belief that it was authored in the 90s AD comes from only one early father who was confused upon many other transcription errors and doubtless was confused upon the dating of Revelation, also). The temple of Jerusalem was vanquished in 70AD, crushed by the Roman armies (the Abomination of Desolation). Another parenthetical note: There was a brief time of about 24 hours when the Roman armies, who had been surrounding Jerusalem, withdrew because of rumored attacks elsewhere. This allowed those believing Jews/Gentiles within Jerusalem one last opportunity to “flee to the mountains” before the end of apostate Israel came. Nero, the beast of Revelation (for proof of that, I advise reading The Beast of Revelation by Gentry) persecuted the Christians for forty two months before his death, but the days of tribulation were shortened that the elect might bear it! The church was about to be born, and the birth pangs had come upon them (John 16:21).

All authority of the nations was transferred to Christ at His resurrection/ascension (Matt. 28:18; Rev. 11:15; Psalm 2:7-8). He is ruling the nations with “a rod of iron” (Psalm 2), and He is doing so through His church (Romans 16:20). In order to plunder the nations that formerly belonged to the evil one (the Gentiles lived in darkness in the time of the Old Covenant), Jesus had to first “bind the strongman” (Satan, Mat. 12:25-30). Satan is therefore bound (Rev. 20:1-3) so that the light can come to the Gentiles! Light has no fellowship with darkness, but the master of darkness was bound that the gospel might shine forth. This does not mean that Satan has no influence, for even a bound lion can still be a deadly one. But, his head has been crushed, and now, Christ is reigning. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” Rev. 11:15. It’s important to point out that at the time of Christ, there was a “change of kingdoms” from under the dominion of Satan to the dominion of Christ. (Side note: God was sovereign and active over the Gentile nations when they were under Satan’s rule, for Satan can do nothing without God’s permission. In fact, God used the Gentile nations to judge His people when they would fall into sin. However, it’s important to note that Christ was not directly ruling them, as they were “given” to Him upon His ascension. The nations lived in darkness until the time of Christ.) Throughout Old Testament literature, there are many examples of “the moon being turned to blood, the stars falling, the sun dying” (Isa. 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 3:15, etc.). This is prophetic language and is always used in connotation with a change of kingdoms. In Matthew 24, when Christ says, “after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (vs. 29), He is not stating that the sun would really die when Jerusalem was destroyed (the sun is still shining after Jerusalem’s destruction, after all), but He was linking the judgements He had prophesied about in the OT to the judgements about to fall upon apostate Israel as the kingdoms were changing. (As my dad says, “The church is policy; get behind it!”) 😉

Christ must reign at the right hand of the Father until His enemies are made His footstool (Ps. 110:1, the most quoted verse from the OT in the NT). As long as the nations are not subjected under the authority and light of the gospel, He shall reign through His church’s work, seated at the Father’s right hand. The gospel is going forth and will continue to spread until, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34. “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14. There is no place in the sea that is not wet. The gospel will go forth and convert the Gentiles, for Christ is at the helm. His purpose shall stand. The curse is slowly being rolled back as light is brought to the dark corners of the globe. Christ’s saints are reigning with Him (Rev. 20:4-6; Rom. 16:20). The “millennium age of the church” (a figurative 1,000 years; same as in Ps. 50:10 the usage is figurative – God owns the cattle on hill 1,001, too) is progressing and will continue to progress until all the nations are converted by the gospel. This does not mean that every person in their heart shall be born again before Christ’s return; there will still be tares in the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30), but every nation will be a wheat field. There will no longer be fields ruled by tares, for the darkness cannot remain when the Light of the world is reigning. The nations will continue to fill with light until “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. . . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain”. Isaiah 65:20, 25) This period cannot be prophesying after Christ’s final return because there is still death and serpents (always used in conjunction with the evil one). Christ is slowly bringing creation back to Himself. It fled to the darkness under the First Adam, but under the Second Adam, it is being brought back to its Lord.

Once the nations are subdued, Revelation 20 tells us that Satan shall be released to make a final attempt at changing the hearts of the nations back to himself. He will fail in this task, for Christ shall then return and usher in the final judgement (called the Great White Throne judgement). This is when the dead will rise, the sheep separated from the goats, the unelect cast into eternal flame, and the elect brought to their lord forever and aye!

In summation, the above means that Revelation 1-19 deals with Christ’s judgement upon apostate Israel in the first century of the church (as well as the prophecies in Matt. 24 and the other quoted verses above). We are now inside of the “millennium” of Rev. 20, with Christ’s final return yet to come. The gospel is going forth and converting the nations, and Christ will be victorious through His church.

Classic Stories . . . and Why They’re Better

As moral imagination plummets in most modern stories being told, a hunger is growing within spectators for better inspiration – something that is rooted deeper than the void of “truth subversion”. If you, like me, are dissatisfied with the morally ambiguous characters portrayed in most new stories, then your imagination just might spring from virtue. You see, the classic story of a protagonist showing virtuous character and defeating the antagonist (whether it be a person, a challenge in general, or simply an adventure the protagonist has) works because it is placed and situated within a certain context. Good stories have certain ingredients – just like a brownies recipe, or perhaps the same sorts of ingredients that make gardens grow. You cultivate the earth, pour water on the vegetation, and within a few months, you are harvesting vegetables. Good stories spring from similar roots. They are set deep within virtue, imagination, richness (different from psychological complexity), wonder, culture, and environment.

If you are wondering what I mean by “truth subversion” or “psychological complexity”, allow me to explain. Today, most people grade stories on the complexity of the characters. However, “complexity” is normally code language for “psychological tension” within a character. This tension within the character causes the antagonist moral dilemmas that lead to moral corruption. Morally ambiguous characters becomes the result – where good is not always good to choose, and the evil sometimes brings an end to the story. Such stories might seem to give a flash of engagement with their audience, but their roots have no true richness. Instead, the character flaws lead only to characters subverting the truth for a more complex solution. Simply put, without the perseverance of the good, the characters become woody, corrupt, depressed, and rather puny.

However, virtuous tales do not merely spring from the climactic scene of “good guy beating bad buy”. In order to understand what “good” is, the “good” of the story must be explored. Since “bad” is merely the lack or corruption of the good, it can easily be understood through the reference of the good. Situating the good within a virtuous context and culture allows the reader/spectator to learn to appreciate and grow from the richness of the story’s environment.

When a reader picks up Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, he learns to appreciate Hans through the culture of Holland and the virtuous honor of the story. In Sherlock Holmes, we are always hoping Holmes will solve the case because we have learned to trust him through his knowledge and skill that is so deep rooted in Victorian society and a will to rid London of the criminal. With The Secret Garden, we grow to love the gardens as much as Mary does because she is learning so much from their worth. Inside Wind in the Willows, we are hoping Toad will learn his lessons because his friends are aiding him in the process of exploring what it means to be a “gentleman”. The examples could continue with such authors as Nesbit, Carroll, Norton, Lewis, Baum, Barrie, Stevenson, Austen, and Scott (this list by no means exhaustive). Such tales, rooted in a culture that is explained and explored through the story, develops a rich understanding of the imagination through the underlying virtues that hold the story together.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

Struggling with Character Dialogue?

Perhaps you have a great story to tell, but the dialogue of your characters comes out sounding flat or uncharacteristic of them. Have you ever found yourself wondering how to enrich your dialogue? Whenever I start writing, my dialogue always comes out generic. If your first draft sounds flat with the dialogue, that’s typical! Don’t panic. Draft two and following will fix it. Below is an easy way from transitioning your dialogue from sounding chintzy and generic to sounding rich, having depth, and aiding your plot’s dimension.

When editing your dialogue, you need to think of two things: 1) How to make the dialogue enrich the story, and 2) how to make the dialogue interact with the environment. Let me explain.

Dialogue starts out as placeholder text. Here’s a very simplified example of what I mean: Person 1: “Good morning! How are you?” Person 2: “I’m very fine, thank you! It is nice to be back.” In editing, think about why these characters have come together, what they are doing, and how you can change the dialogue to reflect the meaningfulness of the scene. Revise the dialogue to say: Person 1: “It is a good morning since your return. Did you find the papers I requested?” Person 2: “It is, and yes – I have. But, is there any breakfast, first?”

Note how the generic context has started to be refined by both including environment/cultural reference (i.e. breakfast) and a plot point (i.e. the papers the characters were looking for). Don’t end, there! What separates the pros from the amateurs is the next revision (edits 3, 4, and following). Person 1: “I have awaited this meeting since dawn. Though a beautiful morning, it is only enjoyable since your return. Did you find the papers?” The question, said urgently, was given with a keen and perceptive glance. Person 2: Said with an instructive edge. “Patience; I have what you need but am worn out after the journey.” Looks amused, “Is there any breakfast for your guest?”

Improving dialogue doesn’t necessarily mean lengthening it. It can be a simple change that brings the meaning you desire to your story. The goal of the author is to utilize every sentence of his page, filling it with as much meaning as possible. Sometimes, that is simply describing the weather. When characters comment about the weather, though, their dialogue is a great place to bring plot and environment together in your story. Keep revising!

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

Beginning a Story? Here’s How

Have you ever wondered how to begin telling a story? Maybe you have a wonderful plot idea, but you cannot seem to put words to paper. The solution lies in one word: Culture.

When I begin a chapter of a story, I normally begin by setting the scene in an environment. I describe what that environment looks like. Does the scene take place during the day or night? Is the sun shining through the windows, or is the moonlight glimmering on the leaves of a tree? The idea with a story is to paint pictures inside the minds of your readers. Are the characters inside or outside? If it’s day, what time of day is it – morning, noon, or evening? What sort of foods would the characters be eating during that time?

Story is about situating a plot within the context of life. In order to write a historical fiction story, one must research the culture of that time. What natural events inside of that specific culture would take place on a day to day basis? What sort of architecture, clothing, occupations, ecclesiastical places, games/sports of the time, foods, drinks, habitat, furniture, artistry, music, literature, writing materials, form of speech, geography, etc. lie within your story? What sort of class structure exists? A story is not a true story if it cannot answer these questions.

Just as a painter cannot fill the canvas without a palette, so a writer cannot paint images inside the mind of a reader without describing the environment of the story. Start Simple. Think of the time of day within the scene. Then, picture the clothing of your character. What are his eyes examining? What sounds is he hearing? Keep these answers within the context of the culture of your story, and you have begun a great tale!

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

Book Trailer for A Manor House in Yarmouth

A year of silence (to the very day) has lapsed since writing here. Today, I had a phone meeting with a publishing house about my book A Manor House in Yarmouth. The caller said she had been going through my blog posts, and I told her that I hadn’t posted for about a year. . . .so, I thought afterward that I would check when I had last posted, and it has been a year to the day! Far too long! I assure you, my pen(s) have been continuing to write.

As my above paragraph alludes to, I am in the process of trying to publish A Manor House in Yarmouth (a title the caller said should be changed to The Manor House in Yarmouth – I took note of it but think that it wouldn’t be fair to all the other manor houses in Yarmouth to exault my story’s house above them 😉 ). One of the main advertising stunts I’ve completed for publishers and literary agents is a book trailer showcasing the book. I have it featured below. One minor note, I’m starting to work out my video editing software and lighting much better, and I plan to start using green screen soon to rid the rather foreboding black background that features me in the trailer.

Another minor note: I have completed another book after A Manor House in Yarmouth – my fourth book to be published, and I’m working on my fifth book also, set place in the fifteenth century! I’ll have to give other blog posts about these works. . .

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds