Bringing someone else’s idea to the page had always been a bit of stretch for me. I found it easier to build a world of my own characters and discover their struggles, foibles, and strong points on my own. I wanted that world to be something I understood before I typed the first words. Then I met the Kendrick brothers and a new world opened to me.
It began with the novelization of War Room, a script I fell in love with on a plane ride. It made me laugh and cry and had such an engaging character in Miss Clara, who seemed so real and genuine. I received an early version of the film that had a lot of material that was eventually edited out, but those scenes gave me extra storylines and ideas for the novel. I took the script and the video and wrote the story asking the question, “What happens after the camera leaves this scene?”
I’ve come to see that the creative process I go through in telling a story of my own is the same with an idea from the Kendricks, except they make all the hard choices, all the plot twists and heart-tugging scenes. I see their storytelling as the fence around the story I tell. I can’t go beyond the fence, but I do get to play in the pasture. Some wonder if that stunts creativity but I think it actually enhances it because I’m free to follow ideas and internal dialogue so that I go deeper into the story. I get to go where the movie doesn’t to make the book an extended experience for the reader.
Lifemark is unlike any film the Kendricks have done. It’s based on a true story that was made into a documentary. The Kendricks fictionalized the story somewhat, adding a couple of storylines to their film, and the end product is one that I believe will save lives. I literally believe that. I can’t wait to see an email from someone who says she saw the film and chose not to have an abortion.
The other help with the novelization of Lifemark was the main character, Melissa. I was able to talk with the real-life Melissa and ask questions about the situation she faced in school and with friends. She kept her pregnancy a secret, and she went through so much isolation and loneliness during that dark time.
I’m a big believer in letting the reader participate in the story, and I try to do that with each scene. I suppose this is the old, “Show, don’t tell” dictum, but giving the reader something to do is key, I think, in telling a good story that sticks. I do that by planting questions that linger for the reader and make them want to know where the story is going next.
My main job as a writer is to get out of the way of the story. If you read a sentence and stop to admire my wonderful prose, I’m not doing my job. I want the reader to encounter words on a page but actually feel they’re living the story. If you catch your breath as you read and say, “No, don’t do that” to the characters, I’ve done my job because I’ve gotten out of the way and the story has taken over
When I was a child, my mother would take me to my grandmother’s house where my uncles would be finishing their dinner. There, with smoke hanging heavy in the air, I would ask them to tell a story about their lives growing up. As they spun these tales in their West Virginia drawl, it was as if I were right there with them going hunting for coons or possums with nothing but a lantern and a burlap sack. I learned the power of stories in that kitchen, and every time I sit down to write, I try to capture the wonder I felt as a child entranced by their voices.
It took a long time for me to believe I could tell a story like that. I studied journalism in college and knew how to put a sentence together, but it wasn’t until I met Jerry Jenkins that I began to believe I could actually write for publication.
“If you want to do this, I can help,” Jerry said. “But it’ll hurt.”
I told him to bring on the hurt, then looked at the way he edited my stories. Why couldn’t I see what he saw in the editing phase? Why was I making so many mistakes? Through the course of several years, Jerry gave me an opportunity to write with him and learn how he crafts the stories he tells. He gave me the courage to believe I could actually write.
One of the most-frequent notes he would make on my manuscripts was “RUE,” meaning resist the urge to explain. “Give the reader credit,” he wrote. And that’s the key to a well-told story. Bring the reader into the action and dialogue in such a way that they participate, they become part of the story.
I hope Lifemark achieves this and actually catches the reader off guard with the life-giving story the Kendricks have brought to the screen.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He has written more than 80 books for children and adults.