Thursday afternoon I had the great privilege of participating in a writer’s workshop presented by Athanatos Christian Ministries.  The whole endeavor was very encouraging for me and I learned many things.  In the afternoon I made my presentation about the hooks which make the story interesting.  Part of what it addressed was the three basic stories.  One of the participants asked I could make those three available in written form:  so, here it is!


Story One:  The Warrior

The warrior story is so common that it needs little explanation.  Indeed, it might be the oldest form as it is exemplified in The Iliad.  In most of western culture the King Arthur story is classic backdrop—knights running off to do battle.  The warrior story has a subset of rescue drama—rescuing the damsel in distress.  In many stories today the rescue story has blended completely into the warrior story as a patriotic tale where the warrior, whether male or female, is fighting to save or protect the nation (female persona).


Story Two:  The Sacrifice

The sacrificial story is one which believers in Christ immediately identify with.  It is the story of the person who gives his or her life so that other people might live.  Because of this connection to Christ the sacrifice story often has religious or metaphysical aspects which propel reader interest.  The best example of this is Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  He gives himself up willingly so that others might benefit.  The sacrifice story, though, does not have to involve death explicitly for the sacrifice could be time, relational, or monetary.  Jane Austen books tend to emphasize this concept.


Story Three:  The Journey

In American culture this has turned into the “Road Trip” motif, but it is a highly effective story.  The classic example is, to go back to Homer, The Odyssey.  Movement from one place to another always captivates an audience.  There are subsets to the journey story as well.  These include the love story, the coming of age story, and personal growth story.  A good example of this is the Harry Potter character.  The story is a journey, but it is the journey of the boy Harry becoming the man Harry and realizing his destiny.  That is what makes it compelling.  Wizards, witches, good and bad have all been done before, but Rowling hit upon a compelling image of this boys coming of age story mixed up in all of that.


The best stories will find a way to maximize all three of these stories by weaving them through the narrative.  Consider Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.   In so many ways Frodo embodies all of these stories within his one character.  He is waging a war although he is not the primary combatant, he is making sacrifice, and the journey motif from one place to another is the basic plotline of the story.  The trick is combing these instinctive and well-known stories into tales with characters and situations that do not seem forced or artificial.


There is a fascinating article in this months edition (November 2010) of National Geographic.  The cover story is about migrations, which is nice in an eye candy kind of way.  I love the pictures in National Geographic!  But that is not the article which made me think real hard.  No, it was the one near the back of the magazine.  It is a report on the archaeological digs in Mexico City of the Templo Mayor (

 The dig has been ongoing since 1978 and continues to increase in scope as more and more finds are discovered.  My interest in archaeology aside, there were two theological themes which stood out to me.  Granted this is comparative religion, but I have fun thinking about these things.

  • The Aztec practiced a ritual sacrifice of human beings which deeply disturbed them.  These sacrifices took place on top of large pyramids, like the Templo Mayor.
  • The writer, Robert Draper, refers to the Aztec religious thought as troubled.  He quotes one of the dig experts who label them as living with a “cosmic insecurity.”

Both of these religious themes are interesting to me.  As to human sacrifice, the article rightly indicates it was not uncommon in ancient, pre-modern societies.  David Carrasco, the Harvard historian on the topic indicates that the Aztec themselves had a great deal of anguish about the human sacrifice situation.  They were not psychopathic barbarians who enjoyed it.  They felt it had to be done, but it bothered them.          

It should have.  It is wrong to kill human beings.  However, there are innate human understandings that sacrifice and the shedding of blood is the only way to achieve atonement.  This deep psychological and spiritual need erupts in so many cultures that it cannot be ignored as an innate human characteristic.  As a person who claims Christ, I realize that it is not a victim or a conquered foe that must die.  Instead, it is Jesus who became the one human for all time that died for my sin so no one else has to.  Ever.

The second theme, “cosmic insecurity” is what any rational person would deduce form a world filled with chance and thousands of apparently meaningless, random actions each day.  Will it rain or will it not?  Does my child live at birth, and will my wife survive labor?  Why would I get this disease and not a thousand other people? 

The Aztec turned to superstition and ritual to guarantee some control of the randomness.  Of course their efforts failed; as do our efforts to control the Lord with manipulative prayer.

The world truly is insecure; and it is intentionally so.  It rains on the just and the unjust.  Yet there is an amazing difference between the workings of the One True God and the superstitious pagan rites of the Aztec.  The Aztecs were right about the role of chance, but the scriptures teach God himself is not insecure.  There is nothing that threatens him or that can thwart his purposes.  My temporary, individual cosmic fate is unknowable and seemingly prone to chance.  However, my eternal fate is far from insecure.  It is held in the tight grip of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As such the two concepts of sacrifice and security are woven into the work and being of one person. 

The Aztec performed ritual sacrifice as a means to keep chance at bay and buy a little security in an insecure world.  In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he secured for me freedom from fear and insecurity by trusting him to shepherd me through an insecure world.