Everyone, no matter their profession, can benefit from the wisdom contained within the most-read book on the planet.
by Alicia Lawrence
To prove my point, here are 10 things the Bible taught me about screenwriting.
We Need a Hero
The need for a hero is never more evident than in the life of Christ as depicted in the Bible. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Isn’t that what’s expected of all heroes? Firefighters, policemen, mothers, fathers and all-around good guys are all expected to risk their lives to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
If you’ve studied scriptwriting, you might find it interesting that multiple stories in the Bible follows every single touch point on The Hero’s Journey. One touch point is “the supreme ordeal” where the hero hits rock bottom and is forced to deal with his possible death. Jesus’ death on the cross was his supreme ordeal; of course, he comes back to life to finish the journey and seize his prize.
Without a villain, of course, there’s no need for a hero. The ultimate villain, Satan, is depicted thusly in 1 Peter 5:8: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” It’s a highly visual and frightening description. Who wouldn’t want to be saved from a lion in search of someone to devour?
A Big Fat No
Think about your favorite heroes: Superman, Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, and David Burke from We’re the Millers. What do they all have in common… they didn’t want to go on their journey! Bilbo gives the most obvious example of this when he plain out says he’s not going. However, all heroes who refuse the call at some point become fully committed to it and gets past their fear.
Multiple stories in the Bible follow every single touch point on The Hero’s Journey.
Meet the Mentors
Step four in The Hero’s Journey is an introduction of a mentor to help the hero cross the first threshold. Ruth’s mentor was Naomi. Esther’s was her uncle. Most of the famous characters of the Bible had some kind of mentor helping them through their problems.
No Turning Back
William Shakespeare called this part of the plot “The Undiscovered Country.” For Esther, it was when she married the king. If you look at the Bible as a whole, Jesus’ first threshold was being born. He knew he would have to complete his task by dying and rising again before being able to go home to Heaven.
The Underlying Message
I think this is the secret to a great script. You can have every single part of “The Hero’s Journey” but if you don’t have this then your script is only mediocre. What do you need? A lesson. The best movies and books have an underlying lesson for the audience. Lord of the Rings teaches us to fight for the good in the world. Obviously, the Bible is about salvation along with a million other lessons on how to live life.
What do you need? A lesson.
If your first storyline isn’t compelling, you’ll lose most readers right away. Although you can start a story in many ways such as beginning with the end and telling the story through flashbacks, most writers choose to start at the beginning. So did the Author. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Who is God? How can I find out more about him? Keep reading, of course.
Sum It Up
As a scriptwriter you need to be able to sum up your plot in about 25 words. The most popular verse in the Bible is John 3:16. It reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That single sentence sums up the entire Bible. It covers the topics of love, sacrifice, hope, faith and life.
Most People Like a Feel-Good Story
Horror stories, depressing documentaries and heart-wrenching biographies have their place, but most people enjoy a feel-good story. That’s not new to our generation. Jesus comes back to life and saves the world. Esther saves her people and reveals the villain. The point is the return back to normal life with the result or “elixir.”
That single sentence sums up the entire Bible.
There are plenty of moral teachings in the Bible, but there are also lessons to be gleaned about every facet of life — including screenwriting.
Alicia is a content coordinator for Havahart Motion Sprinklers and blogs in her free time at MarComLand.com.
She graduated from Liberty University with a degree in video broadcast.
Photo credits: Graphic stock
Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.
Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.
2 thoughts on “9 Lessons the Bible Taught Me About Screenwriting”
Great article. I would also add Christ’s unusual talent for story telling. He chose unconventional heroes such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son. As a biased Christian, I can’t help but wonder if God embedded a thirst for “story” in our very DNA.
Your point about the underlying message is particularly powerful. The Bible cleverly weaves this in its “inciting incident” (the Fall of Man) and the back story (the Fall of Lucifer).
The Book of Job is one I consider key to understanding the underlying message. Its a conflict between Power and Truth. Satan accuses God of being unjust manipulating Job to serve the Almighty from selfish interests. How poetic then, when we see God himself enter into his story, completely emptying himself of power and overcoming death by the truth of his very character.
Satan, having himself fallen, accuses Mankind under what we would now recognise as the rules of Karma. Christ, redeems Mankind and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by the higher power of Grace. Grace (a free gift, undeserved) trumps Karma, every time. Its completely transformational. Which is why biblical themes in Les Mis and Babette’s feast are so very powerful.
The Bible also uses “set-ups” and “pay-offs” – a very common screenwriting technique. Eg. Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac (set-up), God follows through and sacrifices his son (pay-off). Jesus, a carpenter (set-up) ultimately dies nailed to a piece of wood (pay-off).
I could go on and on.
But I won’t :)
This is the tenth commandment: Make big promises, then keep them.