Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning to Write a Novel by Reading the Gospels

There is a concept in the art of writing fiction called a "character arc." Below is a definition from the Writer's Digest web site:

character Arc: the changes, evolution, or degradation that happen to a character over the course of the story or series. This transformation takes fiction beyond a mere series of events. The arc will often be based on lessons learned and reveal changes in behaviors, views, beliefs, under- standing, and motivation.

In other words, the character arc is how different the hero is at the end of the story.

One of the best character arcs I've read is in the gospels, in the life of the apostles.

Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, were fishermen. They would wake up early in the morning, get on their boat and fish until they caught a good amount of fish. Then they would come to the shore, dragging the nets and separate the fish. Simon would untangle the nets and stretch them on the beach, while his brother carried the fish to their homes. Probably, they would eat some of the fish and go to bed exhausted. Just to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.


One day Jesus came along and they left their nets to follow him. One minute, they saw a lame man walking, the next a blind man’s eyes were open. Bread multiplied, crowds followed them. They were now recognized and admired, as those who walked with Jesus.

Simon and Andrew went from a predictable life of nets and scales, to a thrilling life of signs and wonders, where no one could be sure what would happen the next day. Would they have to run from an angry mob if Jesus healed again during the Sabbath? Or would they witness a demon-posessed man being set free and a herd of swine drown into the sea?

By the time Jesus rises from the dead and commissions them to make disciples of the nations, we have a totally different Simon (now called Peter) and Andrew. They are now fisher of men. The book of Acts of the Apostles tells of they great deeds of these two, but I won't describe it all here, you'll have to read it for yourself.

Actually, reading the gospels will not only teach you about writing fiction, it has the potential of creating a personal character arc in your own life.


  1. There are many amazing character arcs in the Bible, Paul's is another example.

    And yes, reading the Gospels can lead readers through a wonderful character arc as they get to know Jesus.

    Thank you for these thoughts

  2. Terrific post. Much, much to think about! Thankyou.

    PS could someone ask Valerie Comer to contact me. Her site is down is this am.


  3. I've passed the message from Tina on to Valerie.

  4. Thank you to Tina and Ruth Ann for the message.

    Also thanks, Nick, for the thoughts. I sat in a seminar with Mick Silva last Saturday where he talked about learning to tell stories by studying the way Jesus shared parables during his ministry. Very interesting.

  5. This is a great reminder of what an inspiration the scriptures are; both in terms of the lessons they teach us and also in regard to how to communicate principles and draw people into a story that can touch their hearts. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I know what you mean, the Bible truly is a breathtaking example of literature, but with the added treasure of being God's love letter to us. It's useless to try to live one's life without those guidelines and instructions

  7. Nick, great post! Thanks for challenging us to look deeper at character arcs :)

  8. Thank you Nick. Good challenge--to learn more about how to write from the words of Scripture!