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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tension, Transparency, and Trauma : The Power of Personal Narrative

Tension, Transparency, and Trauma :
The Power of Personal Narrative
By Shelly Beach

Award-winning author of The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God (Moody Publications 2009)

The day I signed the contract to write my fifth book, The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God, was one of the most memorable of my life. Not because I envisioned the book launching me over new authorial hurdles but because I the thought of writing it made me want to stick my head in a bucket. I knew what writing the book would require of me—stripping down to my spiritual skivvies and walking down a virtual runway so the world could take a look at the mess of me.

Walking Around in Our Spiritual Skivvies: Transparency and Authenticity
It was a book that would require transparency, and I’d run from transparency all my life. Yet in order for me to hope to effect change for anyone else, I had to first be willing to share my personal journey authentically and honestly.

And while Silent Seduction was not written to be memoir, it required me to disclose the inner struggles of my spiritual journey I hopes of stirring readers down the path to their own journey. Since the book centered on the subject of self-talk, I wrote out my own actual internal dialogues that revealed my struggles with manipulation, control, power, self-protection, and self-promotion.

I really, really wanted to write this book under the name of the girl in sixth grade who called me fat. Bev. (You know who you are, Bev.) But God said, no. We’re only real when we allow people to see our struggles. My thought was that if this was true, my huge capacity for struggle blasted open doors for God to do his work.

Knowing When to Gag the Waitress: Restraint
When we’re writing memoir and narrative, as authors we also need to skillfully filter the scenes we include. Not every experience of our lives is important, and not every detail of even our important experiences is helpful to the reader.

In one chapter of Silent Seduction I describe an inner conversation I’m battling through as Dan and I are sitting in a restaurant. I’m angry and working hard at having a godly response to my husband. The most important elements in those moments were the things I was saying to myself, even though the waitress kept interrupting my tearful pout with offerings of bread, water, and even offering nonverbal encouragement as I wept into my beverage. Her presence would have distracted my reader, so I gagged her.

As authors of memoir and personal narrative, we must practice the art of skillful editing and gagging. Just because it happened doesn’t mean there’s value in the telling.

The Point of It All: Reviving with Humor, Pointing to Hope
All of my books, in one way or another, flow out of the experiences of my life. Many of those experiences have been painful: an attack by a serial rapist, my daughter’s sexual abuse, my near-fatal brain illness, a prodigal child, chronic neurological challenges, eight years caring in my home for dying parents. But all of my books are heavily doused with humor and point to hope in Jesus Christ.

My contemporary Christian novels (Hallie’s Heart, Kregel Publications and 2008 Christy Award winner; Morningsong, 2009 Kregel Publications) deal with death, alcoholism, forgiveness, and chronic illness, yet rely on humorous characters, conversations, and interactions to relieve the weight of the topics and give readers the opportunity to laugh and experience refreshment, even as they probe difficult topics. These novels flow from my desire to write about the “big questions” most of us ask in the toughest moments of our lives: Can God be trusted? Why does He allow suffering? Why do I have to forgive evil people?

The goal of off my writing is to communicate that in even the most painful struggles of our lives, we are not alone. God offers us a hope and a future beyond the circumstances we can see. My tagline is “Illuminating truth through story” because the motivating desire of my life is to help people know the Master Storyteller who brings purpose to not only our joy, but even our deepest pain.

1 comment:

  1. Your radio interview is a must-listen for anyone interested in writing sensitive subjects with style. You've handled your life-struggles with grace and you have answered your call to minister to others!