Writing how *I* Think: Halloween Edition

9154997-cartoon-zombie-isolated-on-white-he-is-lurching-with-his-arms-out-stretchedHappy Halloween, everyone! Sorry about being out of commission last week- I feel like I lost a day there. This week I’m delivering on my promise to demonstrate my writing process with a little short fiction, so without further ado, have a story with zombies in it.



“Hey John, get over here. You’ve gotta see this.”

John tossed his empty can of beans over the edge of the convenience store they were camped on and crawled over to his brother. He leaned over, putting his eye to the rifle scope.

“Well would you look at that. He’s a big boy, ain’t he?”

“I told you we’d see somebody from up here.”

“Yeah, well scoot over so I can take a better look myself. For all we know it’s just another of those zombies just all riled up and bashin’ on the others.”

“With a hammer? In that get-up?”

John set up his own rifle, adjusting the lenses in his own scope. There was someone out in the parking lot a block down the street, a large man with a big gut swinging his huge beefy arms wildly. John zoomed in a bit more and could see he was smashing at the group of undead with a warhammer and blue shield bearing a triangle made up of three smaller yellow triangles. He seemed to be holding them off, but the monsters were slowly closing in around him.

“Shoot, there’s gotta be at least thirty of those things. Guess his shoutin’ got their attention.”

“Think he’s gonna make it?”

“Doesn’t look easy, but- whoa  Did you see that? He knocked that one critter right off its feet!”

Mash got up as John continued to watch. He dragged over their box of ammunition and started loading a round into his rifle’s chamber.

“What, you gonna start shooting at ‘em?”

“It ain’t Christian to leave a poor fella blowing in the wind out there, John.”

“Now hold on, little brother. I don’t know if we’ve got enough food for a guy like that. We’ve got enough for ourselves for a while until this thing’s over, but if we take in boys like that we won’t last long.”

“The whole reason we came here is so we could help folks, now you’re tellin’ me we don’t got enough food?”

“Well no, I mean, we do for, like, women and children and stuff but this guy can handle him- whoa, look out!”

Before the man could turn to react to the zombie that grabbed his hammer-arm, the creature dropped with a bullet through its skull. The man looked around frantically, trying to scan the surroundings, but apparently couldn’t see anything before he went back to fighting off the shambling hoard.

“Looks like he can’t see us with that big ‘ol helmet on. Alright Mash, you win. We can always use some more muscle, I guess. Let’s help this guy out.”

John and Mash then set to work picking off the zombies as the large man fought, slowly working from the outside in and taking out the ones the man had trouble with.

“Where’d King Arthur here come from, anyway, John? And what’s that he’s wearing? Looks like its made of chains or something. Do we got a time vortex now or something?”

“You need to stop watching so much tv. We had that festival thing last week, you know, where everyone dresses up as knights and stuff? He must’ve been in that or something.”

“Yeah I guess. Hey, looks like he got the last one. Yuck, good thing it don’t look like the ones of us left get turned into those things if we get splashed or nothing.”

The man slouched, setting his hammer down and pulling off his horned helmet. He looked around, scanning the buildings near him and shouting. Mash started to stand up, but John grabbed his arm.

“Look, we helped him, alright? Maybe he’s got his own place and don’t even need us.”

“John, it ain’t Christian leaving him out there like that. Poor guy’s tired and he’s got all that gear to drag around.”

“Alright, alright. Just get ready in case he decides to knock our heads in too and take our stuff. I’ll get a white tee shirt or something and flag him down. You get the shotgun.”

A pretty simple story, but I think it illustrates my point. Below is the outline I worked from:

  • John and Mash lying prone on a building with their eyes to the scopes of their rifles
  • They see a large man fighting off a group of zombies with a warhammer and shield
  • John and Mash debate whether to help the guy as he keeps fighting, clobbering every monster as it gets close. John thinks he doesn’t want to waste the ammo and that the guy seems like he can handle it, Mash says “it ain’t Christian to let a fella hang in the wind like that.”
  • A zombie manages to get behind the nerd/warrior but John takes the shot and blasts him. The nerd/warrior is surprised, but takes advantage of the help and beats down the rest of the zombies as he’s supported by the gunfire.
  • John and Mash talk as they shoot, wondering where the guy got all that stuff. John speculates he was in the recent Renaissance festival “with all the knights and stuff.”
  • The last of the zombies is put down and the nerd takes off his helmet and looks around. Mash gets up and starts waving an old white tee shirt. John protests, saying they don’t have enough food for a fella that large.
  • The nerd sees them and starts making his way over to their building.  Mash says “It ain’t Christian to leave a fella out there like that, and you know it.”Paul gets up and comments: “Yeah fine, but lets get ready just in case this fella decides to knock out heads in too and take our food.”

I changed a few things here and there, but the idea is to start with a simple outline of actions and scenes and to gradually fill in more and more detail.

I hope you enjoyed my story! Be sure to check out our new ezine today. I’m not in it this time, but we’ve got a bunch of creepy stories for you. Until next time!

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Review: Beversluis

Note:  This review was originally published in Mythlore: The Journal of the Mythopoeic Society105/106, Spring/Summer 2009): 168-70.

C. S. LEWIS AND THE SEARCH FOR RATIONAL RELIGION.  Revised and Updated.  John Beversluis.  Amherst, N. Y.:  Prometheus Books, 2007. 363 pp.  $20.00, pbk.  ISBN 978-1-59102-3.

Surely one of the most controversial books in the history of Lewis studies was the first edition of John Beversluis’s C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, originally published by Eerdmans in 1985.  Billing itself as the only book-length critical study of Lewis’s rational apologetic for Christian faith, it concluded that none of his arguments succeeded.  Reviewing the first edition in Mythlore 43 (Autumn 1985), Nancy-Lou Patterson called it “as waspish a work” as it had ever been her “disagreeable task to review,” concluding that the faith, “including its reasoned elements” would survive the book (42).  Patterson was right: the first edition sometimes gave the impression that Beversluis thought accusing Lewis of a fallacy was equivalent to demonstrating that he had committed it.  Few readers who had appreciated Lewis’s apologetic works were convinced by Beversluis’s arguments.

Now we have a new revised, updated, and expanded edition.  It has already caused much exultation on atheist websites and much dismissive eye-rolling among Lewis fans.  Neither reaction is justified.

Beversluis has responded to his critics, continued his own thinking, and rewritten each section to the point that this version is almost a completely new book.  In the process, he has strengthened his presentation considerably.  While in the end I still find it mostly unconvincing, it does keep its promise to provide the strongest sustained critique of Lewis’s apologetic on the market.  As such it performs a valuable service.  Those who wish to continue using updated versions of Lewis’s arguments for Christian theism will have to get past Beversluis in order to do so with credibility, and their arguments will be stronger for the exercise.

C. S. Lewis’s Desk–photo by the author


Beversluis sets out to take seriously Lewis’s statement in Mere Christianity that he does not ask anyone to accept Christianity “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.”  Beversluis approves of Lewis for demanding evidence and wants to know if he has succeeded in showing that the best reasoning supports Christian faith.  Beversluis concludes that Lewis’s own best reasoning fails to do so.  While he examines several of Lewis’s arguments—the argument from desire, the moral argument for theism, the “trilemma” argument for the deity of Christ, the argument from reason for the self-refuting character of naturalism, Lewis’s theodicy, etc.—in great detail, his objections can be summarized in two points.  First, the “apparent cogency of [Lewis’s] arguments depends on his rhetoric rather than on his logic” (20).  Lewis was such a good writer that people are carried away by his words and do not notice the fallacies being committed under their cover.  Second, Lewis’s arguments are fallacious, and his besetting fallacy is the False Dilemma.  Lewis will say that there are only two (or three) choices, refute one, and thus seem to leave Christian theism standing in sole possession of the field; but in reality, there are other alternatives he has not considered, and the one he is rejecting is a straw man.

It should be immediately obvious to Beversluis’s readers that his first criticism of Lewis is valid only if, and only to the extent that, the second is upheld.  It is hardly a fault to write well unless that writing can be shown to be in the service of error.  The details of the second criticism will likely be debated in the journals for some time.  The question will be whether the additional alternatives Beversluis tries to posit do not in fact ultimately reduce to the set of choices that Lewis’s more incisive analysis had set before us in the first place.  In most cases, I believe that they do.

For example, Beversluis argues that Lewis’s refutation of moral subjectivism is vitiated by the fact that he treats it as a single genus, when actually “there are more sophisticated and nuanced versions that . . . cannot be disposed of so easily” (83).  The example we are offered is Hume’s theory of morals as based on human feeling, which Beversluis claims is not susceptible to Lewis’s “loose-cannon generalizations” (87).  Well, I think it is.  In fact, I think it can be doubted whether Hume’s view is properly a theory of ethics at all, as it has absolutely no answer to Lewis’s charge that subjectivist ethics is unable to account for the word “ought.”  When the philosophical jargon is stripped away from the allegedly “more nuanced” views, it is not clear at all to me that Beversluis has made his charge of False Dilemma stick rather than just muddying the water.  The other forms of subjectivism remain species of the genus.

C. S. L:ewis

In the discussion of the Trilemma (“Lord/Liar/Lunatic”—not Lewis’s words, by the way), the alleged missed alternatives include the possibility that Jesus did not actually say or mean the statements on which the argument is based, and that a person could be mistaken about being God and still be a great moral teacher.  In the first case, Beversluis himself commits the fallacies of dicto simpliciter and ad verecundiam, telling us that “All mainstream New Testament scholars agree that the synoptic Gospels are fragmentary, episodic, internally inconsistent, and written by people who were not eyewitnesses” (123).  All?  That generalization has never been true, and it is less true now than it has ever been.  (See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, 2006, as just one counter-example.)   Even if the “experts” were in fact unanimous, it would not make them right.  And surely one can be mistaken about a great many things, including one’s own identity, and still be a good moral teacher.  But we are asked now to believe that a person could wrongly think he is the Creator of the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal Being who thundered from Sinai now incarnate in human flesh, and still retain any credibility on anything else he might say!  Beversluis argues that Jesus’ moral statements would still be true even if he were a lunatic; but this misses the point completely.  Lewis assumes the validity of the teaching; it is the credibility of the Teacher that is on trial.  To say the least, I do not find Beversluis’s “alternatives” to Lewis’s allegedly prematurely limited choices terribly impressive.

A Better Book about Lewis?

What my best reasoning tells me at the end of the day is that people who want to escape the conclusions of Christian theism can always find a loophole that will satisfy them.  John Beversluis is particularly good at doing so.  It does not follow that theism is false or that Lewis’s arguments for it are bad.  Whether you agree with me or with Beversluis about Lewis’s arguments, one thing is certain: the discussion is sure to continue.  I for one look forward to that.

Donald T. Williams

 Check out Dr. Williams’ new Lantern Hollow Press books at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012).  Each is $15.00 + shipping. 


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Living Your Book: Doing Battle

Maybe I’m presuming far too much, but in my experience, most writers tend not to be very physical people.  It seems like the doers of society are often too busy doing to take the time to write and the authors are often too busy authorizing to do!  Perhaps the best of us are those who find time for both.  🙂

This month we’ll be taking a look at something that it is difficult to get on without:  real life experience.  Want to find a way to really spice up your prose?  Here is a key question: Are you just satisfied with living inside your comfortable shell, only venturing out by proxy through your characters?  If so, I doubt your writing is as vivid and powerful as it otherwise could be.  You can unlock your potential, but it will be harder than you ever imagined…but also perhaps more rewarding!


That’s me on the left.

Conflict:  It is something that no good book can do without.  Even my friends who desperately avoid it and are made uncomfortable when there is even the slightest hint of disagreement look for it in their fiction.  As modern authors, we all have generally experienced some kind of emotional conflict, but relatively few of us have ever had anything to do with physical conflict–fighting.  I find this very ironic since so many of us write it into our stories with a tone of complete authority.

My experience with fighting has thankfully been a choice so far and not a necessity. For ten years, off and on, I studied the Japanese art of kendo and, later, its Korean descendant, kumdo.  I have also practiced and tested a bit in a non-traditional form of aikido-jujitsu.  What I learned, particularly from kendo and kumdo, literally changed the way I look at the world, and it certainly changed the way I approach conflict.  After all, there is nothing like standing in front of a person you know could literally kill you and refusing to back down.  When you’ve done that enough, “normal” people just aren’t that intimidating any more!

A year or so ago I did a whole series on “Swordsmanship for Dummies,” (the run of which you can find listed at the bottom of this post), so I’ll focus here on some of the more general themes I’ve learned that might be of use as we write.  In any case, I certainly don’t want to overstate my experience–in kendo or in combat in general.  I am–and hopefully will always be–an amateur, no matter how many “black belts” I accumulate (I have one).

Practicing with the lovely Ahrum Han.  For the record, she was attacking me! 🙂

As we begin, it is also worth saying that martial arts are a very cultural phenomenon.  There is always more than one “good” way to do anything.  While I do believe that there are some martial arts that are better at some things than others, one of the first and most important points to remember is that different cultures develop their warfighting and personal combat traditions along separate paths.  In all cases, cultures take the routes they do for one simple, clear reason:  Doing it that way works for them in their situation.  The people who use techniques that don’t work die, pure and simple.  So, European knights tended to use bigger, slower, heavier weapons because that is what it took to penetrate their opponents’ armor.  The samurai of Japan never had to deal with a massive invasion of the islands, and therefore they generally focused on single combat between two honorable opponents.  Korea, given its location, was constantly being invaded by someone and its defenders were usually out numbered, so it’s martial arts tended toward techniques where a single fighter faced multiple opponents.  Capoeira can look a little strange, until you learn that it was originally developed by slaves who weren’t allowed to learn to fight at all (for obvious reasons); so, they disguised their fighting arts as “dancing.”  In all cases, the fighting styles, weapons, tactics and strategy result from a combination of culture and circumstance.

Here are some other things to bear in mind:

  • Brutal Efficiency:  While we like to think of fighting as flashy and impressive, most serious warriors and the techniques they use are simple, brutal, and efficient.  On the battlefield, martial arts are about one thing–killing your opponent in the quickest way possible (before he kills you).
  • Martial arts (eastern or western) often operate under a complex set of rules or expectations:  Kendo, for instance, has a very strict etiquette that practioners must follow.  Medieval knights had the laws of chivalry.  Even in less developed societies and systems, you generally tend to see some set of expectations that warriors believe they should be able to assume about each other.  When someone violates that code of conduct, it is often (not always) seen as a violation of a significant trust.
  • Conflict takes a toll, physically and emotionally:  Since I started practicing kendo, I’ve had to have two shoulder surgeries because of the damage that the repetitive motions did to my body.  One of my first senseis has had his knee replaced because of what tae kwon do and kendo did to him.  That, of course, was with blunt weapons and full protective gear.  Imagine what being in real fight after real fight would do to you!  I always find it funny when I see an “experienced” character in a story with no obvious injuries.
  • Conflict requires mental toughness:  As I progressed in kendo in particular, I was surprised to see how intellectual it really was.  The best fighters were the ones who could think as well as they could move.  Much of it has to do with your ability to control yourself, think ahead of the fight, and then impress your will on your opponent. As one sensei I worked under said, “You should sweat buckets, and 90% of that sweat should be from mental effort.  Kendo is chess with swords.”  While again this will look different between cultures, it is very often a similar over arching theme between them.
  • The need to overcome nature:  Standing in front of someone who wants to kill you isn’t “natural.”  Your body will choose “flight” over “fight” if you give it a chance.  Most martial arts have one answer to this problem–practice and discipline.  You literally ingrain your techniques into yourself so thoroughly that you can overcome your more basic urges (which never go away entirely).  In short, the greatest warriors take time to create.
Hip tosses are fun! Unfortunately, I seriously damaged my shoulder–eventually leading to surgery–when I failed to roll properly about ten minutes after this was taken.

If you would like to get some firsthand experience, it is easier than you might think: there are plenty of martial arts instructors out there willing to take money from just about anybody in any state of training so long as they have no outstanding medical conditions.  The main question you need to ask yourself is, “How serious am I?”  In my experience, the vast majority of Western instructors tend to teach a toned down form of their art, one that is pitched to a consumer who is unwilling to pay money to be put through the annoyance, pain, and suffering that more traditional arts will demand (and they certainly wouldn’t pay to see that happen to their precious children!).  If you’re out to understand what a “warrior” knows, that may actually mislead you.  If you are willing and able, I would suggest looking into those forms that are as historic an original as possible. On the other hand, you’ll probably find any experience in any real martial art valuable as an author.

Whatever you decide, look into your proposed instructor’s credentials. There are many people out there–particularly the “ninjas”–who will create their own “style,” declare themselves the grandmaster of that style, and then they start opening schools as fast as they can.  It’s always good to know who you’re dealing with.

Anyway, I can say that I do not regret my years learning martial arts.  It made me into a much stronger person with a clearer sense of purpose.  It gave an idea of what it means to fight and how to prepare for it.  If you take the time yourself, I think you’ll also find it well worth your while.

Next Week:  The last installment of “Living Your Book” (for now)–Terrain and How to Understand it.

Other Posts in the “Living Your Book” Series

The Swordsmanship for Dummies Series