Monday, May 4, 2009

Guest Blogger: Christine Lynxwiler

Get Off Your Soapbox
Do you know where the term soap box—as in “getting on my soap box”—comes from? I had to look it up, partly because of my insatiable curiosity, but mostly because I kept envisioning myself climbing up on my super-sized Tide HE box and collapsing in a heap on the ground. Apparently in the first half of the twentieth century, laundry soap came in wooden boxes and people would flip them over, climb up on them, and address the crowd about whatever was on their mind. Instant platform. Okay, that makes me feel better. I could stand on a wooden box. Surely.

Have you ever “gotten on your soap box?” I have. Many times. As a matter of fact, just yesterday over at I got on my soap box about something I read in a magazine. Blogs are the perfect place to bring up pet subjects and wax eloquent about them.

Novels? Not so much.

I know we’ve all read novels that are flimsily constructed sets built around the main character—the author’s Message (with a capital M). I’m trying to finish one now that shall not be named. It’s a kids’ book. (Yes, I love juvenile novels. Probably means I never grew up, but I don’t care.) This book is the third or fourth in what started out to be a great series. But this installment is a thinly-veiled political advertisement warning about the extreme immediate danger of global warming. Sadly, this “ad” features the characters I’ve come to love and I paid good money for it. No matter which side of the global warming debate I’m on, as a reader I’m disappointed.

When Along Came a Cowboy released, I was overwhelmed and humbled by how many reader emails I received that said some version of, “I’ve struggled so long to forgive myself for something stupid I did when I was younger. But when I read your story about Rachel’s battle to forgive herself, I was able to see how silly it is to hold onto the past when God wiped my slate clean a long time ago.” Not one time when I was plotting that story did I say I think I’m going to write a story about forgiveness. Instead, Rachel’s story came to be when I wondered what would happen if seventeen-year-old Rachel gave birth to a daughter and let her sister and brother-in-law who lived in another state adopt the child. . .with one stipulation—that they not tell the girl that she is adopted and certainly not tell her who her birth mother was. Then. . .still playing what if (as all writers love to do). . .I wondered what would happen if this child, now fifteen, overheard something that led her to know that she was adopted. And what if she ran away from home and showed up on her favorite aunt’s doorstep, demanding that Rachel help her find her birth mother?

The Reluctant Cowgirl is the story of a girl who had lost everything, including her relationship with God, while trying to run away from grief. And now she’s come full circle. Back to where it all began to face the past and confront the future. While I was writing it, the story idea drove me, Crystal’s pain became my pain, her fear to hope again, mine. But I really couldn’t see a distinct theme or message. Until one scene toward the end where Crystal grasps for the first time what she means to God. I sobbed through the whole scene. Suddenly, I knew that was the “takeaway value,” at least for me. I typed The End with a new realization of what I mean to God.

I write to entertain, hopefully to tell the best story I can. And sometimes a deeper meaning emerges which is great! But when it does, I want it to be natural and unforced, a byproduct of the conflict between and inside my characters. For this reason, I never start my stories with a theme or a message. I start my stories with people. Real people (in my mind anyway) who love, and hurt, and make bad choices, or good. Sure, when it’s all said and done, I hope there’s a “takeaway value.” But that’s an ending, not a beginning.

Okay, off my soap box. For now.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Christine! I'm reading The Reluctant Cowgirl now and am enjoying it--and the gently interwoven, natural-to-the-characters themes!

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

No wonder your characters always seem to leap of the pages--they touch something we all can relate to!

Thanks for a great article.

Mary Connealy said...

Great post, Christine. I like it that you start with a story you want to tell and characters to write about and let that be the main object and let any takeaway value rise naturally out of that.

Christine Lynxwiler said...

Y'all are SO sweet. I didn't mean to write the blog like I had this down pat. Hope it didn't come across that way. :) I think especially writing Christian fiction, I tend to want to put the spiritual part in first, to make sure it's in there. I always have to remember this concept -- that if I just step out of the way and write a real story, the message or theme will emerge. So this reminder is to myself as much as anyone. But thanks for the sweet words! You give me courage to write a chapter tonight. ;)

PW said...

Glad I stumbled upon this site. Will need to come back and browse, and read/review for my blog. Thanks.