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Stranger in a Strange Land: Ruchama Feuerman


What the Bible Has to Teach Us About Writing Fiction

Editor's Note: This is a guest column by Ruchama King Feuerman, whose novel In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist (New York Review Books) is one of the most enjoyable I've read in the last decade.

Here are a few tips I've picked up about writing fiction from studying the bestseller of all times.

Start with a bang, end with a bang, and if you must bore the reader, do it in the middle.

Everyone knows, the greatest salespeople tell great stories. The author of the Bible had a difficult job. He had to sell a stiff-necked stubborn people on a bunch of difficult laws. Did He start out saying: Keep kosher? Observe the Sabbath? Don't have sex with whoever you want? Give a tenth of your money to the poor? He did not. He began with powerful stories—the big bang of creation, then page-turning tales of murder, kidnapping, infertility, fratricide, Pharaohs, kings, seductresses and shepherds, and it kept getting juicier and more irresistible. In between the stories, the author tucked in those exacting laws. Then, whenever they threatened to overwhelm the reader, He went back to relating more edge-of-the seat stories. Clever.

If you deftly sandwich dull but necessary back story with dramatic scenes you can get away with a lot. Maybe everything.

Cast a spell.

You could tell bed time stories from the Bible or you could write philosophical exegesis as scholars have been doing for millennia. It could be read allegorically, for its moral messages, for its literary value, or to plumb its esoteric secrets. How does the Bible manage to cast its spell on such a divergent group of readers and convey meaning on so many levels at the same time? Only God knows. Still, in the absence of landing an interview with the Lord, I would venture the Bible's musicality plays a big part. Take the first chapter. "God said, 'Let there be light.' And light came to be. God saw that the light was good and He divided between the light and the darkness. God named the ...

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