What Can We Offer This Christmas?

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On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:11

Yesterday I read an article listing the ten best Christmas gifts for writers.  Pens and markers, Starbucks gift cards, back and neck massage — all good. This brought to mind the story of Harper Lee and an article that she wrote for McCall’s magazine in 1961 describing her best Christmas gift. She was staying with her friends in New York for the holidays. Christmas morning she was surprised by their gift to her. In a simple envelope on a slip of paper was written:

“You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

The family providing the gift was not wealthy; they were raising young children. With their gift they gave a young writer hope and encouragement. Who can measure the impact on hearts around the world of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee reflects on the gift:

“Outside, snow was falling, an odd event for a New York Christmas. I went to the window, stunned by the day’s miracle. Christmas trees blurred softly across the street, and firelight made the children’s shadows dance on the wall beside me. A full, fair chance for a new life. Not given me by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.”

What can we offer this Christmas?

Our best gifts are given not as acts of generosity but as acts of love. Take time to reflect on your giving this season:

Look at each person on your Christmas list and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can give? Maybe it is not a new tie or a gift card. It might be the gift of an affirming note or your time.

Look at your community and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can give? It might not be a check. It might be your prayers or the time to touch one person well.

Look at the world and ask yourself: What do they need that only I can provide? Maybe the words you write today will change the hearts of the world like Harper Lee’s words did.

Finally, look up at God and ask yourself: What does He need that only I can provide? He doesn’t need what we have materially. It’s all His anyway. But what about our love? Our worship? And our sacrifice?

Our prayer for us all this Christmas is that our gifts be given “not by an act of generosity, but by an act of love.”

Merry Christmas, The Writing Sisters

And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest.

They are the magi.

– O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi

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What’s Your Point of View?

jpcoverphotoWhen I wrote my debut novel, Into the Free, I never gave much thought to point-of-view; but as the words began to hit the page, they naturally fell into first-person narration.

First-person narration tells the story from the point-of-view of one character in a novel (usually the protagonist), and makes use of the words “I” and “me.” Critics point out that this style limits the perspective because it doesn’t allow readers to access other characters in the story. While this is a viable opinion, I argue that first-person allows the reader to gain even greater perspective by viewing the universe from the lens of that one character on a much more intimate level than anything an omniscient third-person narrator can provide. (We’ll leave second-person for another day.)

Yes, the view of other characters will be skewed by that one character’s interpretation of their actions, appearance, etc., but readers are granted full-access into the brain of that one narrating voice, even more so when that narrator is a trust-worthy character who isn’t deceiving us as we read. Essentially, we, as readers, are allowed to become that character. This enables us to enter that character’s world, interacting with the other characters, experiencing the events, and engaging at every sensory level throughout the story.

When an author delivers a story in first-person, we close the book feeling as if we have lived to tell the tale. This intrusive point-of-view makes the entire reading experience personal for us, moving it from the level of observation to participation. And because, by nature, the first-person perspective limits every scene to those in which the narrator is actively present (or his/her memory of such), we aren’t forced to pull back and watch something happening across space or time. We have no choice but to dive right into every single event of the story. We feel it, taste it, smell it, and react to it cognitively, emotionally, and instinctually.

As a reader, I have always enjoyed reading first-person narrations. Some of my favorite books were written using this point-of-view, and as a result, the narrators have become some of my favorite characters. Consider Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, who tells us the tragic love story between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom from his perspective.

Your turn: What point-of-view do you prefer to read? What do you prefer to write? Share some of your favorite examples, and introduce us to those characters who continue to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Writing prompt: If you’re stuck in a scene, try writing it from another character’s point-of-view. What can you learn from seeing the event from a different perspective?