Story Structure from the 23rd Psalm

“Nothing is new under the sun.” Soloman, the wisest man who ever lived came to this conclusion after years of chasing for that elusive something new. The Creator of all things placed in his created the desire to be like him – to build with our hands, hearts, minds, breath, and bodies – to create something new, lasting or brief.

The problem is: nothing is exactly new. Rather, everything is twisted, spun, given a different purpose or place in time with different characters and goals, different obstacles. So, as writers, spinners of tales, we must realize this and work to create within the basic pattern, a story that uses the known in a way that feels new but is really only a new combination of age-old elements.

I listened to the familiar words and phrases from the Twenty-third Psalm recently and was struck by its structure. As many times as I’d recited, read, and heard the words before, I’d never thought of it as a story. Perhaps it is that I’m more familiar with the elements and workings of basic story structure and thus was able to take note. Or, perhaps I was ready to understand it in this way, and the Holy Spirit nudged my thoughts in that direction. Whatever the case, wonder radiated from my soul at this “new” discovery.

Let’s take a look at my revelation, shall we?

The first verse operates like an introduction – the normal world of the story. It introduces the characters.

We move directly to the inciting event. God wants us to rest, to lie down. Do we do as he asks or continue our own journey without him?

Not every character chooses to lie down, just as not all of the sheep in the photo are lying down. Those who choose not to go on the journey will not receive the emotional healing promised in the final phrase. Those who do walk through the doorway, begin their story in earnest, though oddly, it begins with spiritual refreshment.

Then, onto the first plot point where the characters strive to meet the story goals. They do everything, face every struggle, for the glory of their purpose and experience emotional change as they succeed or fail. Their lives do not go perfectly, but each obstacle challenges and equips our characters for the dark moment event.

The dark moment event is set up by the dark moment story – an event in the character’s past that has shaped the lie he believes and created his wound. If he plans to heal and cast off his lie, he must confront it. This could happen in a dark valley, an alley filled with shadows, or even an office break room. Whatever the setting, it’s the fight of his or her life and the climax of the story.

Our characters have developed weapons in their previous battles which come into play now, in the fight against their deadliest enemy whether physical or metaphorical. They have also gained companions, sidekicks, or others who provide advice, comfort, or strategy to defeat the foe.

With the victory won, or the battle decided, it’s time for our characters to feast and celebrate. Maybe they get the girl, or solve the mystery, or find the killer, but once that’s through, we eat.

After that, all that’s left is to tie up any loose ends and provide the perfect, happily-ever-after ending … or tease us to be ready for the next adventure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through the story structure embedded in one of the most memorized chapters in the Bible. And, hopefully, it will trigger a needed memory when next you struggle with the structure of your story.

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