Letting Your Novel Be Your Teacher
by Daniel Schwabauer
What I Learned from Writing Runt the Hunted
AMG’s release of Runt the Hunted, book two in my Legends of Tira-Nor series, is slated to be released in about a month.
I often talk about how writing a book always changes the writer, even if it doesn’t change the reader. As Tineke so beautifully pointed out in a previous blog post, this is one of the great functions of writing. It enables us to worship God. Selfless worship is transformative. Even though worship isn’t about changing ourselves, pure worship always does. We cannot step into God’s presence without something ugly falling away, and something beautiful clinging. Moses stopped worrying about his stutter and just let his face shine.
Writing Runt the Hunted was a little like that. It changed me.
The book is loosely based on the story of David and Saul from the Old Testament. I don’t like disclosing this, because I have tried to take a very different approach to Bible stories, and I fear people will misunderstand. I don’t just mean that they will think of my books as “mouse books.” (Another mouse story? Yawn.) And I don’t just mean that they might be shoehorned into the allegory box. (Not more Christian allegory!) To say that Tira-Nor is an anthropomorphic Christian allegory is, in my opinion, misleading.
It is hard to explain my desire to be faithful to the nature of Old Testament stories without trying to replicate them in a purely allegorical way. Most retellings of the story of David focus on the same highlighted events: his anointing as a young boy, his felling of Goliath, his sin with Bathsheba.
But these parts of the story do not demand to be retold in and of themselves. For a story to matter, it must matter to someone. When writing, that someone must first be me.
There must be something beyond the action and the characters—something relevant to the here and now. I never begin writing a novel until I have discovered what this point of relevance is.
To put this another way, I never begin letting a story change me until it has already changed me.
And the Bible has never changed me in a way that I might have expected. It is the most unpredictable book in history.
Runt the Hunted grew out of an obscure detail from the story of David that I hadn’t notice in roughly twenty years of reading.
So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place.
– 1 Samuel 23:13 (NIV)
Looking back on the moment this verse jumped out at me, I recall that it was the number that intrigued me, not the plain meaning of the sentence. Six hundred? But I thought it was four hundred. A few moments of puzzled backtracking led me to 1 Samuel 22:2, where this section of the story essentially begins. Sure enough, David only had four hundred men. So what’s the deal?
Rather than quote the whole Bible story, I’m going to sum it up in bullet points, because all blogs need bullets.
• David has been anointed king of Israel by the Billy Graham of the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel.
• Unfortunately, there is already a king in Israel, King Saul, and Saul is not happy about the idea of a backup king. Saul tries to remove David’s anointing by removing his head.
• David removes himself to various hiding places, and ends up in the cave of Adullam.
So now the story begins, and I’m going to show the beats of the story as I might write them in a story outline:
• 400 people show up at David’s cave. Apparently there are still some people in Israel who can tell the difference between a good king and a bad king, an old anointing and a new one. Of course, they are basically all losers, but David can’t afford to be picky.
• Saul is mad that David got away, so he kills a bunch of innocent priests to make sure everyone is in agreement about what constitutes a good king.
• The Philistines take advantage of Saul’s distraction and attack the fortified Israeli city of Keilah. Saul doesn’t really care, because, let’s be honest, Keilah is basically the Des Moines of the Middle East, except that it has walls.
• David hears about Keilah and asks the Lord if he and his little band of 400 losers should save the city since “saving the people of Israel” falls under the job description of king. God says yes.
• David and his little band of 400 losers save Keilah. (Fuzzy on the details here, but this part would probably make a great battle scene.)
• Keilah throws a party and tells David he is awesome and they will be loyal forever. (Wait, that won’t work. Not enough conflict and way too easy). Someone in the city informs Saul, who suddenly remembers how to find Keilah on a map and brings an entire army to arrest David and his little band of losers.
• David asks God, “These people aren’t seriously going to turn me over to the king who wouldn’t save them, are they?” And God replies, “Everybody loves a backup quarterback until he takes the first snap. Look out the window, David. That cloud of dust on the horizon is the exhaust from 10,000 horses. Time to move back to your earth home up in the hills.” (I’m paraphrasing a little from the original ephod.)
And this is where we get the odd number of followers in 1 Samuel 23:13. This is where David and his little band of six hundred losers leave Keilah.
Apparently 200 citizens of Keilah had a sort of spiritual epiphany. They looked at both kings and figured out something really important, something really dangerous, something that might get them killed, but might also be worth dying for.
Somehow, these 200 were able to put aside all the external differences between David and Saul and see the internal difference God had tried to warn them about years before, the difference in heart.
Differences in heart are always expressed most clearly under pressure, which is often the point of applying it. Saul used his anointing to serve himself. David used his anointing to serve others.
Here is what I learned from the 200 outlaws of Keilah who left their homes to follow a rogue: I have no excuse to not do what I’m called to.
• Lack of resources does not disqualify me; it might be a mark of God’s approval.
• An absence of supporters does not signal failure; it might mean I am on the right path.
• Being loved by losers is better than not being loved at all, and betrayal by one’s friends is much preferable to the approval of one’s enemies.
David acted like a king before he had the king’s resources. He defended Israel before he had an army. He dispensed justice and mercy before he wore a crown. He found ways to expand the kingdom in his spare time, from a makeshift office in the cave of Adullam.
In short, David was a good king before he was a king at all.
Runt the Hunted forced me to ask myself the question I was trying to brush off onto my story hero, JaRed son of ReDemec, a field mouse with more courage than I will ever have: Who do you think you are?
Like David, we’ve already been told. The oil was poured out on our heads when we were ruddy and young, when our friends and family didn’t believe. But we knew. We were called to a royal priesthood. We have been given the privilege of adoption. We have been called to be kings and priests.
Now we must decide what we will do with this anointing.
Will we be good kings before we are crowned?
Wow! What an amazing post, Mr. S! Thank you for reminding me that I have a calling, whatever that may be, and I shouldn’t be waiting for the “right time” in my eyes to start living it out! Congrats on Runt the Hunted!
I just love it when you post Mr. S! You have such a special way of putting things. I really need to read Runt the Brave and Runt the Hunted.
I love you, Daniel.
Thank you Mr. S. Those are great points; I love it when you blog. 🙂 And btw, the Legends of Tiranor series is EPIC. Thanks for practicing what you preach and giving us a great example to look up to.