Novelist: Read the Bible!

14 Aug

Whatever your religious affiliation or views, if you wish to enrich your writing in English, it’s in your interest to familiarize yourself with the language of the 1611 translation known as the Authorized Version (AV) or King James Bible.

More recent translations are preferable for purposes of textual criticism, but for the lover of English, the AV belongs right next to the dictionary on the writer’s shelf of essential references. The Bible is not one book, it’s a library of different kinds of writing: poetry, history, laws, drama, and philosophy.

I don’t recommend struggling through the food laws or the “begats” (long genealogical lists), but the poetic books like Job and Song of Songs provide an inexhaustible mine of balanced phrasing and indelible imagery.

Hemingway took his title The Sun Also Rises from beautiful, world-weary Ecclesiastes:

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Some other writers got titles from the same place:

  • Earth Abides, by George R. Steward
  • Earth Abideth, by George Dell
  • One Generation Passes Away, Another Generation Comes, by Joyce Jones Roe

And then there’s this passage from the Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon):

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land…
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

NOTE: In this context the “turtle” is a turtledove.

Here are some titles that this passage seems to have inspired:

  • Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, by George Victor Martin
  • The Little Foxes, by Lillian Hellman
  • The Voice of the Turtle, by John Van Druten
  • Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
  • Among the Lilies, by Mary Adriano and Mary Bruno
  • Winter is Past, by Ruth Axtell Morren

Some readers may balk at the old -eth endings. One way to deal with them is to read them as -es verbs. Another way is to read from the Revised King James version which modernizes the grammar:

One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever.

Thanks to a multiplicity of websites equipped with great search engines, you can go directly to the stories you want to read.

A good place to begin is The Bible Gateway.

Who knows? You may find the perfect title for your next novel.


Where do you usually find inspiration for your book/novel? Let us know below!


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