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It was cruel, what Lloyd Alexander did to us. He invented this wonderful world, drew us into the very pages of its history, introduced us to all these beautiful precious characters who became our best friends, made us laugh and cry and bite our fingernails and tear out our hair and dance for joy and then - bam. The conclusion of the series left us curled up in little balls of misery.
We still remember the adorableness of the characters; we smile at the funny memories we've made; but even as we smile at the fun we sigh at the pain, and our hearts are overshadowed with the knowledge of how it all ended.
You see what Lloyd Alexander did to me? First, he captured my heart. The first chapters of the Prydain books were grappling hooks in my soul, and as the story progressed my heart was drawn deeper and deeper into Prydain until it became irrevocably bound up with the characters' fates.
At this point, Lloyd Alexander held my heart in his hand. He had power over it. He had control over it. He could poke it or bounce it or stretch it or throw it high into the air or do whatever he wanted with it.
And what did he choose to do with it?
He held it out over the Grand Canyon and dropped it.
It fell to the ground, where it shattered into a million pitiful pieces.
And although I've managed to pick up the pieces and put them together again, my heart will never be quite the same as it was before.
First he captured my heart. And then he had the power to break it.
Okay, so, that might all be a bit dramatic. But you get the point: when a book is well-written, it has the power to change people.
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But it was so exciting! You see, for some time I'd been torn between the idea that my writing has to be good enough to sell and the idea that it has to be good enough to lead people to God. Most writing advice, whether on blogs or in books or in talks, is about entertainment - plot, pacing, POV, voice, characterization. In my silliness, I began to look down my nose at such writing advice as caring more about hooking readers than edifying them.
But once I drew that connection between Lloyd Alexander's enjoyable story-telling and the effect of his writing on me, I realized that the two focuses aren't competitive, but complimentary.
A story can't change someone until it has entertained them!
Typed out in black and white it looks so obvious it's not worth saying. But sometimes it's the obvious things which need the most emphasis.
This is why all that writing advice is so important. This is why it matters that our sentences don't jerk and our characters don't fall flat. This is why it matters that we capture our readers and don't let them go.
It isn't just to impress editors and agents and publishers. It isn't just to up book sales. It isn't just to win readers.
It's to impact readers. To edify them. To change them. To transfer the story written in ink on paper into a truth inscribed in beauty on their hearts.
Some writers, it is true, might employ writing advice for the former reasons. But that doesn't mean we can't employ it for the latter reasons. We should write well in our attempts to change people; as a matter of fact, we must.
Mediocre writing will never change hearts. Ever. It has to sparkle; it has to shine. It has to draw a net around that heart and pull it out into the ocean of story-land or into the sea of poetry.
Only then, when our strings of letters and bundles of words are infused with a magical power of their own, can they do their noblest work.
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