As iron sharpens iron, Christians help one another improve their communication skills. When God’s voice lives in the writer’s words, stories are powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the depths of the human soul, exposing thoughts and feelings. The weapons of this warfare aren’t physical, but they are mighty, able to destroy strongholds. — Proverbs 27:17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4 paraphrased
- Pick Up the Sword.
The worst story is the one never written. Jesus condemned the man who buried his talent (Matthew 25:25). The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to stir up the gift within him (2 Timothy 1:6). You can’t sharpen your skills until after you pick up your talent and begin to use it. Quickly now, write that first draft so you can get to the sharpening stage.
- Sharpen First, Polish Later.
Don’t be a grammar freak. Forget about the proper writing style that everybody learned in school—a style that would make your story as boring as everybody else’s. Use your natural voice to focus on the action and feeling in your story. Concentrate on your hero, how he or she fights through tough obstacles with the hope of achieving a desperate need. When you have a sharp story, showing a significant change in your hero, then you can polish up with punctuation and spelling.
- A Dull Edge Makes Ineffective Writing.
“Constructive criticism” feels like a contradiction of terms. How can anything that tears down be constructive? It happens whenever the benefit exceeds the cost.
The sword must sustain a little pain when it’s pushed against the grinding wheel, flashes of splintering steel flying into the air. Likewise, you may wince at first, when someone’s comment grates on your ego. Even when the comment doesn’t exactly fit, use it as an incentive to find better wording, something sharper, more effective.
Sharpening happens one stroke at a time. With each pass, a little roughness is peeled away.
- Is your writing clear and concise?
- Do the events move rapidly forward in sequence of time and thought?
- Does the opening grab attention?
- Does the intensity of the challenges escalate as the story progresses?
- Is the story believable? The truth will not be embraced by readers if it’s not believable.
- Is there an important lesson learned?
- Does the character change from the experience?
- Create a Cutting Edge.
With the first improvement, don’t think the job is finished. In a Story Help meeting, you might get two or three ideas that will help a particular manuscript and improve your writing in general. Work with those ideas. Learn from them. And then take another look.
A sword has a long edge. The entire edge needs to be sharp, not just an inch toward the center of the blade. Yes, one paragraph may be excellent, but what about the others?
When in a meeting, invite suggestions by asking questions like: “What do you think? Can you think of a better way to say it? How well were you drawn into the story in the first paragraph?” Specific questions tend to get the most helpful responses. If you’re asking such questions, you make it clear to everyone that you won’t be offended but want their comments.