Thanks to Editorial Advice

IMG_1179Writing fiction is one of my favorite hobbies, but I have learned to write, almost entirely, by reading, only quite recently have I begun to study specific writing techniques, and it has proved an intriguing subject.  One piece of advice puzzled me exceedingly.  It was a minor point in an article, written by an editor, intended to help amateur writers avoid common mistakes.  For me, however, it sparked a month long quest for understanding, and as I continued to read I found the same advice repeated in many different sources, sometimes more or less emphatically, but always recognizable.

The advice was this: avoid adverbs and adjectives, in general; but especially avoid the word ‘very’ and words that end with ‘ly’.  For, apparently, it is really, very, painful for editors to read pages sprinkled with these excruciatingly annoying words.  In all seriousness, however, I do understand the editorial dislike for ‘very,”rather,’ and other such bland words, which weaken a sentence without adding useful or interesting description.  But why, why should my characters never speak kindly, run swiftly, or eat ravenously?  I love playing with words, and I admit, it was very depressing to be told that there were whole parts of speech which should never be used in fiction.  But it was not simply distasteful, it was logically unfathomable; and for the very reason that I could not understand it, I also could not dismiss it.  I finally decided to try it out, hoping that it would become clear through practice.

For several days I ruthlessly tore my beloved adverbs from their places, and replaced them with anything else which could do the job.  It seemed terribly wasteful, for I often had to replace the one word with five others in order to give the same picture.  ‘Picture’: that was what made it finally click.  One evening I wrote the sentence: “she looked up and smiled slightly.”  Upon realizing that I had an adverb on my hands I changed the sentence to: “She looked up and the corners of her mouth twitched.”  For a moment I looked at the sentence in disgust, and then, quite unexpectedly, it made sense, beautiful, logical, sense.  The difference was the position of the reader.  Was I telling the story?  Or was the reader  there, seeing it?  When we see someone smile, we do not mentally label it as slight or otherwise, we only describe it as such when we recount the event to ourselves, or someone else.  Of course I am telling the story, but as a general rule I want the reader to forget that. Thus, I realized, the warning against adverbs was actually nothing more than an application of the general, show, don’t tell, rule.  The goal was to pretend that the reader saw the action, and describe it accordingly, to give them a picture.

Looking back on my confusion it is difficult to understand why it took me so long, it seems so simple, perhaps it was due, in part, to my stubbornness and the fact that I have never accepted the show, don’t tell, rule.  However, my new understanding of this point has opened up wonderful possibilities for speculation, and I heartily thank the editorial advice for goading me into a better understanding of the consequences of my words.

                     ~Jane

Singleness Awareness Day

IMG_2690“So what are you and your significant other doing for Valentine’s Day, dear?”

“I don’t have a significant other.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! Did you just break up? That must be so hard!”

“Actually, no. I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

“No?! There must be something wrong with the boys.”

Yes, I am sorry to say that that was an actual conversation that I had at work with a customer one February. She, kind lady that she was, was trying to be conversational as I was helping her find whatever she was looking for. But her fatal mistake was that she assumed that because I was 1) of age and 2) female that, of course, I was in a relationship. And I’m sorry to say, as well, that she was not the only customer who made that mistake that year. I had many such conversations as the one above as the time drew nearer to Valentine’s Day, and I was not alone. My co-workers were also subjected to these encounters. It finally became so apparent to us that the singles were being singled out (no pun intended), that we got together to create a type of “support group” so that we could laugh over the day’s misadventures at the end of our shift. Because really, it did seem as if the whole world was against the fact that there were actually people who weren’t in a relationship.

Time has gone on from there. I am still blissfully single – a bachelor girl. I have talked to many a girl who does not have a fellow in her life, and there is a common thread through the conversations. We all feel as if the world ranks us as third-class citizens simply because we have not “gotten ourselves a man”. We are neither married nor engaged nor dating, and so we must only be half a person who is desperately seeking for our other half. And so we girls go through life with this idea following us around that in order to be a whole person, we must get married – the sooner the better.

Surprisingly, even girls who have been raised in the Christian church face this pressure. We go through our lives in church, and we are taught that one day we will get married. And the kind, well-meaning people who surround us tell us that we will meet our future husband in youth group; that he will be one of our friends’ brothers. And when we have reached college age and still have no ring, we go off to our Christian (or non-Christian) colleges where we are assured that we will meet our future spouse. But then graduation day arrives, and we may still have not so much as been in a relationship all four years. So we return with our degrees in hand, but no husband in tow and those around us begin to view us as failures. They tell us to go out more. Be more friendly. Not to throw ourselves into our work too much, but leave room for a social life. They offer helpful tips and advice…or even offer to set us up with their cousin’s best friend’s brother’s son. We join the singles group at church, and we are promised that we will meet “the one” there. And yet, time ticks away and year follows year. Still “the one” has  not shown his face. Now we are in our later twenties or early thirties, and our friends and relations have reluctantly given up all hope of us ever getting married. We are now branded as “single” and the message is sent to us loud and clear that “we are not good enough” and that we will never be “complete”, that we are “missing out”, and that, well, they just don’t know what to do with us. There never seems to be an option to be single and happy about it. We are presented with every new “prospect” who shows up in hopes that we will one day be “complete”.

Doubt, which has been festering in our minds and souls since middle school, erupts full force with all of its poison.

“I’m not pretty enough”       “What’s wrong with me?”           “I’m too smart”

“I’m forever doomed to loneliness”

“I’m a failure”    “Maybe I didn’t try hard enough?”

All of these lies that the Deceiver throws our way wash over us in a torrent. And maybe you’re one of those girls who battles this flood of lies every day even though you are still considered “marketable”. But let’s call them what they are: LIES…and let’s take a look at where this idea that we are “half a person” came from.

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote a work called Symposium. In it, he introduced the idea that once upon a time, humans actually had two faces, four arms, and four legs. Because this made them so powerful, they sought to overthrow the gods of Olympus. In order not to lose the offerings and service of the humans, the gods split them in half instead of killing them. Humans now run around their entire life looking for their other half, and once they have found it, they do not want to let it go. And so was introduced the idea of soulmates.

Another idea of soulmates was introduced by Judaism. There is a teaching in the Talmud which says that 40 days before the conception of a male child, a voice from heaven declares who’s daughter he will marry. This is called a “match made in heaven” (you may recognize the phrase if you have seen the Fiddler on the Roof) or “bashert”.

But what does Scripture teach us? Are we half a human before marriage? On the contrary, Scripture teaches the opposite. The Apostle Paul says in his letters to the Corinthians that he wishes that people would be content to be single; that it could be viewed as a gift, but is definitely not a curse (1 Corinthians 7:1-9). In Genesis, when God makes Adam, He does not say “Oops! I made half a man. Now I have to complete him.” No. Instead, He says that it is not good for man to be alone, and so He makes a suitable helper for him. But this helper is also complete herself. (Genesis 2:18, 20-24). And the two become as one flesh, blending together in a new creation. But they were two complete creations before marriage. Not halves. Not incomplete. But whole.

So, to all my single sisters out there, listen up! You Are Complete. You Are Not A Failure. Rejoice in this season that God has given you. It is a training ground for the season into which you are heading next. That might not be marriage. God might have other plans for your life. But you are not a third-class citizen or even a second-class citizen because you are single. You are infinitely loved. Jesus Christ the Son of God still died for YOU. And He rose again victorious. You don’t need a husband to embrace that fact. All you need is to keep your eyes focused on what really matters: Glorifying God and Enjoying Him forever. This will look different for everyone. Some will do this through marriage. And others of us will blissfully be bachelor girls to the end of our days, and bring glory to God with our lives in ways that our married sisters never could. So embrace this season of singleness; and accept that you are complete just the way you are.

~Jo