The Layering Psalmist

By Gail Johnson

This month’s theme was a hard one! I really had to work to pin it down to just one. After a long process of elimination, I realized Psalms is my favorite. I believe it has to do with the musician and the writer in me. From the first to the last chapter you find characterization, plot, setting, description, conflict, goal, and motivation. Sounds like a writing series! Let’s take a quick look at David’s writing.

Characterization

I love characterization! It is one of my favorite things about writing. Like any relationship, characterization takes work. We learn a person by becoming familiar with them. The more we know about a person, the more we like or dislike them. And we definitely want our readers to like or dislike our characters. Right? When we offer a description of our character’s emotions, the reader is more likely to empathize with him.

desert-279862_1280In Psalm 63, David declares. “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.”

Can you feel David’s anguish? I can.

But what if he’d said, “I’m thirsty.” Or what if he’d declared, “I long for you, Lord.”

Not much to see, is there? That’s the difference between showing and telling.

Now imagine your character is on the lam, thirsty, and unable to find water. How are you going to describe the scene to make me want to help him find a stream of clear running water? Think about that for a moment while we talk about the next technique.

Setting

Another way we get to know our characters is through their surroundings. The setting is just as important as characterization. Setting anchors the reader. Nothing jolts a reader from a story faster than trying to figure out where the characters are.

nature-2396309_1280In Psalm 23, David compares himself to a sheep and the Lord to a Shepherd. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

One word can make all the difference in the world! The word green thrusts me into a meadow. I can visualize the green fields with rolling hills and a beautiful lake. How about you?

Again, David could’ve said, “He makes me lie down?” Or “He makes me rest.”

The first thought that comes to mind is where. Lie down where? Rest where? As a reader, I’ve no place to put the sheep. It could be in a field, in the middle of a road, a pen, or even a barn. That poor sheep needs a place to rest!

Now that you’ve had time to think, where did your character find his sip of water? Where will he stay the night? Abandoned farmhouse? A ritzy hotel? Or a cave in the side of a mountain? Each setting will tell a different story.

How does he know that?

Have you ever asked that question while reading a story? I have.

David was a shepherd, a warrior, and a king. He drew from that well of experience when penning his psalms. One of the ways our characters come to life is through their understanding. Who are they? What is their profession? When does their story take place? Where do they live? How are they connected to those around them?

nature-1626479_1280These are simple questions that must be answered if our characters are to be believable. David’s knowledge of sheep and shepherds, warriors and battlefields, and kings and castles, give him credibility with his reader.

As a writer, David’s writing helps me to see the different ways I can layer a story to make my characters come to life.

Now it’s your turn.

Click to tweet: Characterization takes work but, for a writer, is necessary. #Psalms #amwriting

Writing Prompt

Imagine your character is a little boy trying to convince his mother of his thirst. What could he say to convince his mom to buy a coke?

 

 

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