Book Review: The Original Storyteller

Journal and pen with a burning candle.Robert Carnes’ devotional The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days states its intended purpose outright. It is a guide meant to aid writers in both their craft and faith. “Writers” in this case largely refers to novelists and memoirists; the series of devotions focus on matters especially pertinent to them: character development, thematic motifs, foreshadowing, et cetera.

Of course, those items don’t belong exclusively to fiction and nonfiction writers. They belong to poets and essayists, too. All writers require an understanding of writing mechanics and building blocks if they wish to be better writers (storytellers).

The devotional, which might be better called a spiritual-practical guide to the writing life, accomplishes that with its useful content and pragmatic framework, one akin to the “read, examine, apply, and pray (REAP)” model used by numerous churches, including the Austin Stone.

  • Big Idea: a short statement about the content of the day’s devotional.
    • Scripture: a short passage designed to complement and illustrate the big idea.
    • Story: an example narrative that integrates with the Bible passage to show how faith and writing can inform each other.
  • Prayer: a short prayer to conclude the day’s reading.
  • Action: a prompt for writers to use, either on the included notes page found with every reading or on a separate piece of paper (or screen).

Beginning

Carnes begins with the beginning. It’s the best place to start when thinking about writing from a faith-based perspective. He delves into God as the Original Storyteller and man’s reflection of God’s character—imago Dei, in other words.

“By acting as storytellers, we’re mimicking God’s creative work.”

Middle

Carnes then traverses other concepts like words, narratives, antagonists, protagonists, and supporting characters. The middle sections build upon that foundation, working through conflict, conversation (dialogue), imagery, and point of view. All the pieces head toward the ending, echoing the three-part structure found in almost every story: beginning, middle, and end. That ending, appropriately enough, is called “resolution.”

“Words should be important to us because words are important to God.”

End

All stories head somewhere, even Carnes’ story set as devotional. His resource pushes writers toward a place of resolution, either taking up an existing story or starting a new one. As such, the devotional could accompany writers into NaNoWriMo next November.

“By acting, you [writers] can do something to progress both your story and your faith.”

Writers, though, don’t need to wait until then to think through and act upon their desire to be better storytellers. They need only purchase Carnes’ devotional and work through it a day at a time. If they do, they will end up with stronger characters, better dialogue, and perhaps a strong beginning to their next novel, memoir, or other piece of writing.

Image: Clarice Barbato-Dunn (Creative Commons)

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