Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Organization and Writing
So how do you work backwards from moral to story? With preparation, thought, and unflinching honesty.
Most of the time I’m working from curriculum I didn’t write. That means I start with a specific Bible lesson. At least it’s a good source of inspiration! The trick is not to preach with it.
Jesus didn’t even do a lot of preaching. He mostly told good stories. Many of them rooted in the Torah. Many of them without simple endings or morals. If you haven’t read his parables in awhile, take a look at the shrewd manager or the persistent widow.
The brief stories are more like descriptive character sketches. They certainly aren't simple allegories or analogies.
The last sketch I wrote was about Moses striking the rock to bring forth water in Exodus 17:1-7. Of course, I did more research and study! With a little bit of thought and a concordance, I rediscovered Psalm 95 and 1 Cor. 10:1-13 which also refer to this story. Jesus and the woman at the well seemed like another story to keep in mind as I wrote (John 4:1-24).
Now that I had my theological grounding, it was time for. . .
Then I realized what this story was about for me: The Israelites have every reason to trust God—he’s done so many miracles for them. He even follows them through the desert as a supernatural pillar of cloud and flame! But they want to trust in other things.
So I wondered. In American culture, where do we place our trust? First, I thought of all the superhero movies. Everybody loves a superhero. Second, I thought of science. I love science, but I know many people who trust in science more than they trust in God. Not good. Finally, I realized that sad truth: we'd rather trust anything other than God.
Out of this idea came a superhero who trusts in strength, a scientist who trusts in knowledge, and a dowser who trusts in his divining rod. (I like idea triplets like this. Maybe it's a trinity thing. Maybe it's a five paragraph essay thing. I don't know.)
With this rough idea for the story, I would need at least five actors: Bumblemonkey (our recurring character), the Narrator (who has a script and prompts us when we forget), Moses, Israelite(s), and the Superhero/scientist/dowser.
It’s important to know upfront how many people you’ll have. Rather than write a circus with the three tempters running amok on stage, I had to allow for the possibility that they would all be played by the same person. (Which they were—my wife. Who is not a faithful blogger, but she is darn cute.)
I wrote one set of “temptation lines,” changing only what each tempter said and how Moses responded. This would help Moses and the others by giving them less to memorize.
It may seem odd to write with the actors' memorization limitations in mind, but being successful in sketch writing (or any endeavor really) simply demands . . .
Part of being honest in this situation is recognizing the audience and the context. We are taking ten minutes of the bible class—so a moral play is in order. The characters must be honest and real, but they can be stock characters. And they can also speak/preach to the audience at the end.
As soon as I got to the moral, I realized the mistake I had made. I set up false dichotomies. God vs. human strength. God vs. scientific knowledge. Too many churches set up similar dichotomies when they read the Bible. Our stock character, Bumblemonkey (the bomolochus), exists just for this purpose. He never quite gets it. And so he lets me verbalize the false moral.
Then another character can correct him.
Explaining what the moral is not can be just as important as explaining what the moral is.
It’s not high art. But neither is it propaganda. It is what it is: an opportunity to let the kids see a fun show, to let the actors become the Word on stage, and to write a short sketch that will teach and delight.
HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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