Setting Coordinates

From the series Breathing Life

“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of the land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel (Tigris): that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.” – Genesis 2:10-14

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-high-quality-resolution-downloads-public-domain-archive-7Was that a wordy set of directions? Did you skim over it? It doesn’t mean much to me because I don’t know these places. They aren’t giving me a picture in my mind of the setting, but I love that aside Moses gives them. “…Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of the land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.” Like any wealth-loving humans, you know their ears perked up at that. (“Oh, yeah! That Havilah!”)

Maybe the river Pison doesn’t relate to you, but what if I told you about a Native American girl living in the 1800s?

“Talula and her tribe never explored the Grand Canyon to the west or went beyond the Mississippi River to the east. One year, her tribe migrated as far as South Dakota, so she may have been near Mount Rushmore — you know, where our four presidents are inscribed in stone today. When she and her Chahta family returned south, they settled in the marshlands near the Gulf of Mexico.”

Now that I’ve given you U.S.-savvy readers some boundaries, is it easier to map it out in your mind’s eye? This is what Moses was doing. He was using current-day names and locations so the children of Israel would know the general area where the first man and woman lived. It wasn’t some legendary Atlantis.

Eden was a land in the Israelites’ memory, as well. We call it the Garden of Eden because that’s how Moses described where it was to the people; it was in the land of Eden. But it was just a garden on earth for Adam and Eve. It was only when they and their descendants began to walk the earth that places started getting named. And don’t we humans love to name things after ourselves? (Because of this, Oregon residents are probably still getting flack about that town, Boring.)

Recap: When setting your setting, remember readers need coordinates that are relevant to their interests.

Naming gets serious next time.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

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With Mankind in Mind

From the series Breathing Life

Consider this statement from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell when he explains the condition of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky:

“When the area was first settled, the plateau was covered with a dense primeval forest.”

Does this mean when the area was first settled – at that moment – someone covered the plateau with dense forest? Before the area was settled, no dense forest existed? This is obviously not the meaning of the sentence at all. Records from previous explorers tell us the primeval forest was already there when the area began to be settled. Sometimes the meaning of a sentence requires looking at its context and timeline.

“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” – Genesis 2:8

So, did God plant a garden after man was formed or before? Looking back at the order of creation from Genesis 1, vegetation would have been planted on day 3, and man would have been created on day 6. This is considered a discrepancy by some readers. Some think God planted a garden the day Adam came along. Others get really zealous with this and say the whole creation story is a bust. These misconceptions assume the narrative is still focused on the chronological order of Genesis 1.

Instead, Chapter 1 is an accelerated run-through of how the world and the universe came about. It’s the ultimate synopsis. The writer in me yearns to be so concise yet thorough. By separating the story of mankind after telling about the creation of the world, the narrative of Genesis 2 is way easier to understand. Imagine if all of this had been placed into chapter 1. It would’ve read something like, “On the third day, while God was making these grasses, herbs, and trees, and creating the laws of reproduction for the plants, He designed a garden, a dwelling He was preparing for man and woman—who hasn’t been made yet. The trees He grew in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve—whom, again, you know nothing about…” This explanation didn’t belong in the first chapter. God waited until I knew about the creation of humans to begin to describe man’s birth and his home. That way I can understand a little at a time. Isn’t that the only way to get the whole picture, a little at a time? The writer side of me is eating this up!

“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9

So, I just mentioned the trees in the previous paragraph and totally ruined my build-up. I said, “the trees in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve.” Maybe you just accepted that assertion, but it is an assertion that God made them for mankind’s benefit. Nowhere in this passage does it say that. (Plus, Adam and Eve’s names haven’t been introduced yet.) In the past I’ve just taken it for granted that it was made for the first man and woman. Readers often take for granted descriptions that involve the senses, but writers never should! An appeal to the senses is the most natural way to connect with a reader. We experience life through our senses, and our needs are bound up in those senses, as well.

apple-tree-14709299832f4The Creator is capable of creating something from nothing. Physically, ‘nothing’ is an enigma for me. If I can’t see, taste, touch, smell, or hear it, I have trouble comprehending it. God doesn’t have my problem. Does He need pleasant-looking trees or a tree growing food for Himself? I gather He’s not hurting for pretty things or for food to fill an empty human stomach. He’s thinking in terms of human needs and senses when the passage says the trees were “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.” So, it’s a reasonable deduction that God had humans in mind, even though the way I introduced it by jumping ahead in my narrative was lousy. The writer of Genesis does a much better job. By telling a little at a time without introducing ideas that need to be developed first, the narrative becomes more crisp and understandable. Great writing lesson, eh?

Two trees are mentioned in the passage that God separates from the rest of the pretty, nutritious ones. They have some additional purpose, but I’ll wait to talk about them later. Ah, a cliffhanger! Annnd… I’m a nerd.

Recap:

  1. A writer should build onto the skeletal outline of the story’s introduction.
  2. Use descriptive words that appeal to a reader’s senses.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.