Guest Post John C. Stipa author of No Greater Sacrifice


How do they do it? How do authors make us care?


When you read a book, do you get all of the symbolism or subtle messages the author tries to send you? Or are you happy to just read and let the story wash over you, not really caring about the deeper meaning that
might be flowing through the pages?


I’m not saying one mindset is better than the other. Sometimes, when I’m really intrigued by a story, I analyze and dissect every single word, telling myself: it’s going to mean something somewhere somehow.
I’m into it. And then there are other stories where I could care less if I
figure out the deeper meaning. Why is that? How is it possible to have two
completely opposite experiences with a book? I surmise it might be our mood at
the time or possibly the genre. It could even be the location. On vacation at
the beach, all I’m interested in is being entertained. I don’t want to think, I
do that all day long back in the real world. Just give me a vehicle to escape.
But, more likely it’s the way the message is delivered.


Once upon a time, I taught Confirmation class to 7th and 8th graders at our church. It was a difficult task, trying to engage teenagers who couldn’t grasp the deeper meaning of something written 2,000 years ago. A
one-way download from the pulpit didn’t seem to work. After much trial and
error, we teachers found that translation to their language was the only way to
make the message relevant. How it applied to them in the here and now. Sort of
a new-age speaking in tongue. When I first began planning for No Greater
Sacrifice, I wanted to weave a message of faith, but I feared it would come
across as preachy. So I applied the lessons learned from mentoring that youth
group: I delivered the message in a language that a pop culture audience
understands.


On the surface, No Greater Sacrifice is an Indiana Jones-like treasure hunt complete with puzzles, mythology, cave-ins and booby traps, all things that play to the trends of modern day. But NGS is also a
story of loyalty, justice, passion and redemption. It’s about relationships and
the barriers we build around ourselves, of life’s challenges and how we deal
with them. Ultimately, the reader is faced with this question: what exactly is
faith? Is it what we’ve been told, or what we come to discover and embrace for
ourselves?


The adventure/mystery aspects of the story provide the vehicle for me to explore Reneé and David’s fears and internal strife. It is the construct that allows me to burden them with trials, like Reneé’s cancer
and David’s guilt. Their contrasting personalities spark conflict and sexual
tension. Where she is dangerously impetuous, he is steady and cautious. Where
she is outgoing, he is introspective. Her over-confidence is countered by his
crippled self-esteem.


Despite these differences, R&D share several important character traits. They are intellectual equals, each with a sly, witty sense of humor, each in desperate need of a partner. Both are cut from the same cloth of
decency. Both carry a burning desire to chase away the ghosts of their deceased
parents that, along with life’s other challenges, have contributed to their
individual shortcomings. As the suspense builds and the bad guys close in,
Reneé and David must confront their mutual stubbornness and realize trusting in
each other is the only way they will survive. That lowering of emotional
defenses, no matter how agonizing, of taking that risk, that leap of faith in
someone else, is a defining moment for each. It is here I pray the magic takes
over. That wonderful connection to characters that causes us to empathize with
their struggle that is secretly our own. Hopefully, that is where I reach into
the reader’s chest and grip them. Make them care. Where they root for our heroes
to understand that they are better together than they are apart. To be into it.
To care.


So now Giovanni and I ask you: what do other authors do that make you care?


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