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Comic Relief: Dear John the Evangelist

What if the writer of the Fourth Gospel had to get his work published in today's market …
1998Check out CT's latest issues to see how we handle this and other topics today.

Dear John: Enclosed you will find my editing comments for the first few chapters of your book. Overall, it looks great! Your story has wonderful suspense (will the Pharisees manage to kill the protagonist or not?), a sense of mystery (the miracles are fascinating, though a couple, like raising people from the dead, strain credibility), and lots of good characterization (all those wise sayings of Jesus make for great sound bites; we'll use some on the flap). It's going to cause quite a stir in the Christian bookstores, though it will probably have only limited crossover potential in the secular stores. It should get rave reviews in CBA Marketplace and Moody.

There are a couple of problems, however, that we need to work through.

Structure. Right off, consider deleting the entire opening section. All that "In the beginning was the Word" stuff is confusing, abstract, and sure to make the average reader say, "Huh? What's going on here?" As you probably know, storytellers have always used the technique of starting in medias res—that is, in the middle of the story. (Have you read John Grisham?) I recommend you begin chapter 1 with John the Baptist's interrogation by the Pharisees. It's so intense! And it gets the reader hooked right away.

Scene. In your writing you tend to emphasize character at the expense of developing the scene. For instance, where does John's encounter with the Pharisees take place? What kind of day is it? Are there mosquitoes and that kind of thing? Only after the dialogue ends do you mention that it takes place "in the desert, near Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan." Let's beef up that section and move it to the front as exposition so the reader will have more of a sense of locale. Don't be afraid ...

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