A Spotlight on Forgiveness

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Characters, Conflict/Tension, Friends of ACFW, writing 2 Comments

by James R. Hannibal

Last week in an AFCW blog, I wrote about pre-flighting your laser spotlight—putting thought and preparation into the message in your Christian fiction. This week, I’d like to delve deeper into this spotlight by offering some examples of how I attempted to communicate the urgency of forgiveness in my latest story, The Gryphon Heist.

Remember, this is all about hermeneutics, the art of transmitting and receiving the correct message across a range of contexts. Hermeneutics was once a scholarly practice reserved for pastors, rabbis, and seminary students, but today it is a necessary discipline for Christian authors. Your readers do not share your personal experience or context. What is obvious to you, is not obvious to them. To illuminate your message, you need to shine a hermeneutical light. Here is how I strove to accomplish this in The Gryphon Heist.

The operational plan:

My message changed early on. The Gryphon Heist began as an exploration of morality in espionage. However, as Talia’s character revealed herself during the planning phases, I realized she desperately needed to learn how to forgive. This became the heart of the book. If I hadn’t pre-flighted my story, I’d have never known, and I wouldn’t have had time for research and interviews with counselors.

First contact:

No battle plan survives first contact. Once the bullets start to fly, the story changes, but a focused spotlight keeps your message on the advance. The first line of The Gryphon Heist does not blatantly shout This is a story about learning to forgive. The first line does, however, flip on my hermeneutical spotlight.

“Talia Inger clutched her side, letting her shoulder fall against the alley wall. The pain had been growing for the last half hour . . .”

My research with counselors taught me that hanging on to your bitterness causes physical—sometimes crippling—pain. Throughout the book, Talia’s pain sends a clear message: Hanging on to unforgiveness hurts.

Then, a few pages into Chapter One, I hit the readers with some foreshadowing. A silenced weapon spits out a round. A friend falls. A voice whispers “Praba?cie.” Forgive me. Hopefully my readers wonder how the whispering voice could ask such a thing. The stage is set. The spotlight is on.

The heat of battle:

Now you’re in it. Bullets are whizzing across the pages. You’re drinking coffee by the venti-non-fat-mocha gallons. Pause, find cover, take a breath, and think. The message is the mission. You must keep that spotlight burning. There are many methods. Here’s one example.

Midway through the story, an ancillary character draws Talia’s attention to a key scripture. After The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 (NIV), Christ says, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This lesson is a hard one. Christ says that if we ask for forgiveness without offering forgiveness, we are hypocrites acting in sin.

Talia isn’t ready to hear this, and I can’t force her to bolster the lesson without sounding trite. In fact, at this point in her development, Talia must challenge this lesson. Some of my readers will likely agree with her. “What is God’s deal? I’ve been wronged, big time, and now you’re telling me I’m at fault for failing to forgive?” I can’t use character dialogue to counter without turning a spy adventure into a grinding theological debate. But I can keep my spotlight burning by letting the story fight back for me. In the next scene, while tracking Tyler, Talia descends alone into a labyrinth crypt filled with coffins and tormented faces. The subconscious message? Hanging on to her bitterness led our hero into dire circumstances.

My efforts continued for the rest of the story. A comfy bed in a chalet reinforced a mention of a forgiven Paul. An explosive action scene asked the reader’s subconscious to forgive Talia for a hurt she caused. Each instance, from dialogue to setting to action, is a part of the spotlight—a glowing hermeneutical path that reinforces the message I’ve tried to convey.

I hope this has been helpful. I want you, Christian author, to remember that your readers do not share your circumstances—your context. What is obvious to you, is not obvious to everyone. Your message is important, so make sure it comes across by preparing your hermeneutical spotlight and shining it on every page.

Bullets are whizzing across the pages. You’re drinking coffee by the venti-non-fat-mocha gallons. Pause, find cover, take a breath, and think. The message is the mission. @JamesRHannibal #ACFWBlogs #writetip #writing #pubtip Click To Tweet

Former stealth pilot James R. Hannibal is the author of the award-winning Nick Baron covert ops thrillers for adults and Section 13 mystery-fantasies for kids. His debut Christian spy thriller The Gryphon Heist arrives from Revell on 3 September.




Comments 2

  1. The harder something’s to forgive,
    the more you gotta try;
    it’s the line dividing who will live
    and whose soul is marked to die.
    I’ve seen the things I’ll never tell
    that were, yes, done by men,
    an evil that would sicken hell,
    beyond the devil’s ken.
    And yes, we used Rule 303,
    but in a kind and gentle way,
    because we could not help but see
    that we were a bit like they.
    Do not upon your moral strength rely;
    there but for God’s Grace, go I.

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