A Pepper Grinder Post

Adventure Novel

In the last year or two, my wife and one of my daughters have worked through a course in writing an adventure novel. The author of the course is a pretty good writer. He lays out, in a fair amount of detail, the steps to assembling a decent book of this genre. While I do not think these steps alone are enough to create an excellent book, I think an aspiring author with decent writing skills could craft a book that was fairly interesting to read using these principles.

I have not personally gone through this course, but I'd like to give you my high level summary of how an adventure novel should be plotted (according to this course), which I've gleaned from hearing my wife and daughter talk about it.

  1. Start with a hero. He or she should be admirable, but not so perfect that we cannot relate to him or her.
  2. Add an enemy. Introduce a person or situation which seems bound and determined to stop our hero from achieving his or her goals. The worse the enemy, the better.
  3. Make things go badly for the hero. The enemy should be winning.
  4. Now make things worse for the hero. It's okay to throw in occasional glimmers of hope, but things should basically be getting more and more hopeless.
  5. Now makes things even worse. You need to get your hero to the absolute lowest point imaginable. He may be deserted by all his friends. The enemy, by all appearances, has been or is on the verge of being completely victorious.
  6. In a dramatic turnaround, have the hero win and the enemy be vanquished.

Christ after crucifixionIt probably sounds as though I'm making fun of this kind of book, but I'm not really. I do think that to be truly excellent, a book needs more than a formula. It needs flesh and blood characters, with real dialogue, and a flash of true creativity. However, I do have to admit that even a book with somewhat two-dimensional characters and less-than-stellar dialogue can be fairly entertaining to read if it follows the above formula.

My question is: "Why is that?" Why aren't our favorite stories about people for whom things get better and better, or people with horrible lives, or people who just muddle along with the same insecurities and fears we have? All these types of stories have been told, but I don't think any have been as successful as the adventure novel template, where we have a hero we like who comes out on top in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds.

Alternatively, why don't dogs like to watch movies? Why shouldn't Ceasar, the Golden Retriever, get as much pleasure out of watching the Incredible Journey as we or our kids do? If dolphins are way smarter and more spiritually advanced than humans (as someone like Madeleine L'Engle seemed to think), and if we could find a way to show them films, why wouldn't they love a story about Denise Dolphin, who is hunted down by a pod of killer whales (funded by a right-wing, environment-destroying, multi-national corporation, naturally), is deserted by all her companions, but then manages to escape and lead the ocean into happier days?

I think the answer to both questions lies in the Biblical teaching that humans are made in the image of God. I think God likes adventure stories. We like adventure stories because we are cast in God's mold. Animals don't, because they aren't.

Think about Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. Pretty bad, right? But then, he gets falsely accused of fooling around with his employer's wife and thrown into the slammer, where he languishes for many years. Then, in a remarkable turn of events, in the course of one day he goes from being a prisoner to being the guy who manages one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world.

Think about the story of the Exodus. Just when it seems that life in Egypt can't get worse for the Israelites, a hero shows up to lead them out of slavery. Instead of being freed, they are now told to make just as many bricks, but without being provided any straw. Through God's power, they are finally allowed to leave Egypt, but then Pharaoh and his chariots go racing after them to hunt them down. But, through the miraculous intervention of God, they are freed, and the cream of the Egyptian military is destroyed.

sunriseFinally think about this story. All is good in the world, until the day a vile enemy seduces the people of the world into following him. Centuries of misery follow. Finally, a man appears to rescue the people from their enemy. The people see the hero's power, and many believe that he is the one who will wrest control of the world away from the enemy. Then, in a stunning and tragic turn of events, the hero is captured by the forces of the enemy. All the friends of the hero desert him, and he is condemned to die a painful and humiliating death. The hero dies and is laid in a tomb. On the third day after his death, the hero returns to life. The enemy's power is broken, and his ultimate defeat is sealed, even though the completion of the victory will take many more centuries.

I think that in most adventure stories, we picture ourselves as the hero, but in the truest of all adventure stories, God is the hero. We are the damsel kept locked in a high tower by a wicked witch. The hero rescues us. It is a wonderful story. Best of all, it is true.


* Photo of Christ after crucifixion by