Have you ever read (or written) a book and perhaps enjoyed the story but felt you didn’t really KNOW the characters–their emotions, personalities, fears, and motivations?
Have you ever spent time with Jesus, read your Bible, prayed–and then walked away feeling as if you’d been talking to yourself the whole time?
I’ve experienced all three: read and written a manuscript full of strangers and spent time shaking God’s hand rather than feeling His embrace.
But I’ve also experienced the kind of knowing that is LAYERS deep–complex characters that walk off the pages into my heart, and I’ve spent time with my Creator in sweet communion. Knowing these rich experiences make the mere surface encounters all the more difficult, don’t they?!
3 Layers of Knowing
For those of you looking for writing technique on characterization–you should check out my favorite fiction guru, Jeff Gerke. For those of you looking to understand KNOWING in its broader sense, these are the Three Layers of Knowing I’ve come to understand and apply in both my writing and my daily relationship with Jesus:
We have to begin somewhere, right? In both writing and in my spiritual walk, the information I learn builds what I know about the P(p)erson. This truth struck me as I was reading John 1. John the Baptist was answering the Pharisees’ questions, and Jesus must have been standing in the audience at the time:
“‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know.’” John 1:26
The Pharisees had no information on Jesus because His public ministry hadn’t yet begun.
Do you remember the circumstances of John the Baptist’s birth? His mother, Elizabeth, had been barren, and was past childbearing when an angel appeared to her husband, Zechariah, and declared John’s birth. Elizabeth was a relative of Jesus’ mother, Mary–Luke 1:36. Do you think these two miracle babies–John and Jesus, born only a few months apart–had never met before? Or that they’d never heard of each other? We can’t know for sure, of course, but more than likely, there was some sort of relationship between the two boys/men–even if it was only the knowledge of their bloodline relationship.
Relational Knowing builds on information…and yet John said of Jesus just before he baptized Him:
“I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John 1:31
Luke 1:80 tells us that John the Baptist lived in the desert until he was revealed to Israel. Jesus lived in Nazareth with His family. The two men undoubtedly never had the opportunity to develop a close, familial relationship. In order to build relational knowing, time, experience, conflict, resolution must build–layer upon layer–on the information we gain about the P(p)erson we want to know.
The third type of knowing comes only when the P(p)erson we long to know reveals H(h)imself to us.
“I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’” John 1:33,34
God must reveal Himself to us in order to be fully known. It is our responsibility to show up. To learn the information. To cultivate our relationship by involving Him in every aspect of our lives. But ultimately, He must reveal Himself in order to gain this revelational knowing. The good news is…He has promised to do just that…
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:10
The Art of Knowing
We don’t necessarily learn to know S(s)omeone in a definable progression or a predictable pattern of the above layers. Information usually comes first, but the Lord can reveal Himself to anyone He chooses–in anyway at anytime through any means. Knowing is an art, a passion, a gift–coupled with a desire to seek and pursue.
“Revelation” For Writers
Similarly, when an author creates characters, the layers of that character depend on the authors desire to seek and pursue knowing. As a biblical novel writer, many of my characters begin with a body of information already established. But how far am I willing to reach to explore their relationships? How deep will I dig to discover their roots, their culture, their heritage? And how wide will I open my heart, allowing them (and the Lord) to teach me spiritual truths they learned in God’s Word? THAT’S where revelation comes into play. THAT’S where true depth leaps off the page.
- It is our responsibility to learn information, but God must reveal Himself to be fully known.
- Knowing is an art, a passion, a gift–coupled with a desire to seek and pursue.
- Can learning to write deeper characters teach us to know God better?
- What similarities have you noticed in successful “deep” novel characters?
- When have you felt a deep knowing of God’s presence in your life?