The Poetry of Plots

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Plots, Prayer, tips, writing Leave a Comment

by Christine Sunderland

As Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, they celebrate their own resurrections. They celebrate the ending of their story as human beings. And it is a satisfying ending for each of us.

Just so, as I plot my novels, I want my stories to reflect these deeply human realities that are true of all of us, believers and unbelievers. We are born, we live, we die, we live again. We are familiar with the birthing and the living, but it is the last – the dying – that perplexes and confuses us most. How does the story end? Or more importantly, how does my story end?

A plot – how one journeys through a story – must reflect the greater story that is being told. My overarching theme in my soon-to-be released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, is truth: can we know it, how do we find it. So the stories within the main story (the search for the real Mary Magdalene in Rome and Provence) reflect aspects of this conundrum. Each subplot forms its own arc reflecting an aspect of truth, or lies. Each subplot rises to a crisis, and each falls into resolution.

Mary Magdalene, it is reported in Scripture, was the first to the empty tomb, the first to see the risen Christ. Is this report true? We want to know, we want to believe, for deep within each of us we already know the end of the story. We intuit that there is more to life than meets the eye. This plot is familiar to us. We sense another unseen world all around us, in poetry, music, art, and in the beauty of the natural world. We sense it most of all in love: familial love, romantic love, sacrificial love, and in the complicated bonds of friendship. We sense deeply that something went terribly wrong with mankind in the Garden of Eden, and that somehow a correction has since occurred. So we too, want to see this risen Christ. We want to reach for him, to know him. We want our own plotline to end in resurrection too, with him, the source of our life, the creator of the story of mankind.

As I plot my own stories, I keep in mind this connection with the reader. Stories have long been satisfying accounts of life, poetic renderings of our world, of who we are. We listen as children at bedtime, we listen around the campfire, we listen in conversation, always hoping to hear a story emerge. “Tell me a story…” “I’ve got this story to tell you…” “Have you heard the one about…” Stories explain life’s plotline on many levels of understanding.

Christians have a great advantage in the world of plot-making. For Christians are steeped in the most meaningful stories of all – the grand plot of redemption since the fall in the Garden, and the many subplots that built upon one another through the Old Testament and climaxing in the New Testament. Resurrection is, of course, the resolution.

From Adam to Noah to Abraham and the Chosen People. From Israel to Joseph to Moses and the long wanderings in the desert. From Gideon to Saul to David. Through this long plotline God worked to plant the seed that would redeem his creation, make the correction.

It is no accident that Christ told parables. So must we. For in this way we speak “heart to heart” with our reader, drawing on deep mythic realities in our souls. We speak poetically, with every word and image counting, creating huge prose metaphors that contain smaller ones inside. Our characters move purposefully, traveling the path of plot, revealing greater truths about each of us, who we are, who we are meant to be, and where we are going.

Christine Sunderland
Christine Sunderland is author of four award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, and Hana-lani, set in Hawaii (all OakTara). Her fifth novel, The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene, is set in Rome and Provence and should be released within the next year. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union. Visit Christine at (website and blog) or

Comments 0

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I love watching my stories unfold as I write, and they always amaze me, the way the pieces come together at the last. As a Christian, I can count on joy being right there in the midst, even where there’s suffering.

  2. Thanks, Tom and Susan. And Susan, your stories are exquisite and heartily recommended… for those who don’t know about them, check out THE FOREST, a novel along the lines of Tolkien today… incredible. Still waiting for the next one!

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