Using the Bible for Writing Ideas

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Dwayne Phillips commented on my post How to Generate Hundreds of Writing Ideas to say:

I find lots of short story ideas in the Bible. As someone once said, “The copyright has expired, so you are in no danger.”

I agree that the Bible can be a very rich source of ideas. This doesn’t just apply to fiction writers – a blogger could adapt a Biblical parable as an anecdotal-style part of a blog post, for instance.

Christian Fiction is a big market, with expanded versions of Bible stories and novels based on Christian themes, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here. This article is about finding inspiration from the Bible for your own writing, whether or not you’re a Christian.

Ideas from Bible characters

The Bible is full of fascinating characters. Some are heroic, others are villains, and many occupy the intriguing grey area in between – good men who do something awful (Moses, who kills a man; Peter, who denies knowing Jesus) or cowards whose find courage (Jonah, who tries to run away from God).

If you struggle to come up with characters for your fiction, why not pick one of the people in the Bible? Here are some to start you off:

Peter (one of the disciples) – hot-headed and impulsive but truly loved Jesus

Judas (the disciple who betrayed Jesus) – interesting for any story about a traitor within a close-knit group

Paul (wrote many of the letters in the New Testament) – radical conversion to a cause he’d formerly hated

Daniel & friends (Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament) – sticking to what they believe despite persecution and death threats

One interesting fiction idea would be to use some of these characters in a modern day setting. I loved this article on If Bible Characters kept blogs… You could also try writing Facebook profiles for different characters.

There’s a list of famous Bible characters here.

Ideas From Parables

In the Gospels, Jesus tells lots of parables to His disciples and to various crowds. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Parable” as “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle”.

You can find a list of Jesus’s parables here.

So how could you use them?

Rewrite a parable in a modern-day setting

If you have a Christian background, you’ll probably have seen a few sketches in Church which involve a parable updated to a modern-day setting (The Good Samaritan is a popular one for this).

Try taking one of the parables and setting it in a modern inner city, or a high-tech office.

A twist on this is to update the parable and also change the ending – this can be very effective if your readers will be familiar with the parable and will think they know what’s coming.

Use a parable’s plot as the basis of a longer story

Some parables could easily be expanded and developed into full-length short stories – even novels. Ones I think would work well for this are:

  • The Unmerciful Servant (a servant is forgiven a lot of debt, but then demands repayment from a fellow servant who only owes him a little). You could try writing this as a tale-with-a-twist short story, perhaps leading the reader to expect that the servant would be merciful.
  • The Prodigal Son (a young man demands his share of the inheritance, lives an extravagant life until the money runs out, ends up destitute and returns home to his father). This would be great for a coming-of-age story of character change.
  • The Wicked Husbandmen (the people entrusted to take care of a vineyard kill the servants who’ve come to collect the harvested fruit, then kill the owner’s son). This could be a thriller or crime story.

If you’ve used the Bible for inspiration in your writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, tell us about it in the comments…

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42 thoughts on “Using the Bible for Writing Ideas”

  1. I’ve used this a number of times in the past for inspiration when writing short stories and even my poetry. Unfortunately I haven’t really gotten into the habit of writing for entertainment for a few years. Perhaps this will be my answer to getting excited about writing again.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. This is such manipulative to any would-be writer. By the logic outlined above, one can do this with any holy book; The Vedas, The Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Mormon, etc. Although I doubt the writers and webmasters of this blog are open to that. The writing tips around here border on evangelizing at times. The point of writing, however, is not mining your inspiration from ancient scripture or any other source (unless you are trying to sell your writing to a Christian book publisher for Walmart distro) Most of the books published “while considering Jesus” are poorly written, moral highground, suburban walmart sprawl nonsense or Anti-The-Other-Guys-Religion hate-speech. I would NOT recommend using the Bible or Jesus to write your masterpiece unless that is the subject of the book itself. Please read Moby Dick or some Hemingway and mine from that. Do us all a favor good writers, start reading actual literature and not ancient texts rewritten by thousands of editors.

    Writing tips like this need to be on a Christian Writing Tips blog, not a daily one for secularists and the public. Its manipulative and evangelicizing. This post really turned me off to this whole site. Very deceptive to masquerade as a”Daily Writing Tips” feed.

  3. Sorry, Jimmy, but I completely disagree.

    First, there are a lot of really well researched and well written books out there in relation to the Bible and faith. There are some highly educated people in the field who are also gifted writers. For you to make such a broad sweeping statement smacks of ignorance or…perhaps…prejudice.

    Second, the parables in particular are rather mainstream thoughts on how to live one’s life. For a parable to be set in modern times, in a fictional setting, one does not have to “preach or evangelize.” One just tells the story.

    Third, inspiration comes from an unbelievable number of sources. I’m curious why you would eliminate the Bible from that list? Is it an “unworthy” source in your eyes?

    You expressed an opinion. I will fully uphold your First Amendment right to do so. I am certain you will uphold my right to respond.

    DWT, you keep doing what you are doing. It is a good post.

  4. Jimmy, I’m very sorry that my article came across as manipulative to you. That was really not at all my intention. I wrote in the introduction to the article that “This article is about finding inspiration from the Bible for your own writing, whether or not you’re a Christian.”

    I *am* a Christian, which is why I focused on the Bible rather than other holy books. Suggesting using a holy text as a source for fiction could, as I am sure you will understand, be seen as quite a dangerous idea by some faiths (and I am sure there are some Christians who would be offended by what I wrote above). I felt it safest to use a holy text with which I was familiar.

    I agree there is some dire Christian fiction out there — and some dire mainstream fiction! — but I did try to make it clear that this article was not about writing CHRISTIAN fiction but about simply using the Bible as a source of inspiration.

    Whether or not you believe the Bible has been changed by a multitude of editors (let’s not get into that here — as you rightly say, this is a writing blog, not a religious one), surely you can agree with me that there are plot situations, characters and ideas in there that a writer could use to jump-start an idea of their own?

    B J, thank you for your support, I’m glad that the post was helpful to you!

  5. The main problem with religious stories is that they often don’t make a lot of sense. Characters behave totally arbitrary to the point of being unbelievable. This holds especially true for the Bible,which is rife with non sequiturs and Deus Ex Machina moments.

  6. When I decided to go back to school, after a divorce, I took a literature class. Reading and analyzing novels. The teacher had trained in the Bible Belt and let us know, so we would know his direction. He was not teaching “Christian” literature, but straight literature.
    His comment/stance on the Bible was that any plot or any character ever written could be found in the Bible. War, love, murder, incest, mystery, good, bad, evil, smart, dumb, drunk, industrious and more, it’s all there.
    As a source, I’d say that is pretty good. If the writer wants to put religion into it, that is their choice. There is no requirement.
    By the way, one of the books discussed in the class was Joyce Cary’s “The Horse’s Mouth”. I don’t believe that is of a religious bent.

  7. I disagree with the opinion that the bible is mediocre. It is, in fact, a collection of many different texts written by many different authors, so, naturally, those texts are of different quality. Apart from that, however, it has inspired millions of writers so far and I think it will continue to do so because of its strong hold on European/American imagination. So many things go back to the Bible that it’s getting ridiculous. And it’s not about preaching or christianizing, it’s about a very old book that everyone has heard of but few have read and the way it has been able to influence the Real World.

    Consider these examples:
    – A story of a young person obsessed with religion to the point that they start to… (fill in your idea)
    – The things that happen in a small Christian town when a stranger arrives. Is he the devil himself, the Antichrist bringing the Armageddon with him, or just a vagrant with an imagination.
    – A man is trapped in a mysterious maze/prison/dungeon, and the only thing he has to kill time is the Bible.
    – A father of a drug addict wants to save his daughter by preaching to her from the Good Book. But will he do any good?
    – A short story to explain why they want to put a Bible in every hotel room.

  8. Mari, as I said to Jimmy above, that truly was not my intention. If you can point to any places in the article that made you feel preached at, please do. I’ll be more than happy to edit it. My intention was purely to offer a rich source of character ideas, plots and themes for writers in need of inspiration — I truly did not intend anything more than that to be suggested by the theme of the article.

  9. I’m sorry here, but I have to agree with Jimmy. I don’t like being preached to, and this article smacked highly of such. I probably won’t be back here.

  10. I think the Bible is a great source of story ideas. That is true, because Bible character are usually not one-dimensional cartoons. David, for example, was manipulative for his own advantage, he committed adultery and then murder, he didn’t enforce any discipline on his children, and he suffered terrible grief at their hands. I have seen all sorts of stories that pick up one or more threads from David’s life. They don’t necessarily have Christian themes, either.
    Some people believe that the people in the Bible are some sort of superhuman holy people. That could not be farther from the truth. They are completely real with all the warts and faults of humans since the dawn of time.
    I haven’t read the Koran or the Hindu Vedas. I can’t say if their characters seem real to the reader or not. But I have read the Bible, and I definitely identify with the character issues and complications of the people in the Bible. You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate the multi-faceted humanity of those characters. Their behavior is recorded in some very complex and rich stories, and we could all learn from the artistry of telling those tales.

  11. Ancient texts rewritten by thousands of editors – that’s one reason why folk songs and folk tales are so powerful. Frankly, that’s one reason why your writing isn’t as powerful: you didn’t enjoy nearly enough feedback. That’s one reason why using traditional literature as a source for your writing ideas is a very wise approach for a serious writer: the plots and themes are audience-tested. The stale claim that the Bible was rewritten thousands of times has been disproved by 20th century scholars, but most of it was passed around verbally for years – like a haunting folk tale – before being written down.

  12. Mari, thanks for clarifying there. I accept that I may have been woefully off the mark with the above post, as evidenced by your commetns and Jimmy’s. My *intention* certainly was not to preach, but as a writer, I do place considerable importance on how readers respond to what I write.

    I do hope I’ve not put you off DWT for good — there’s loads of brilliant content from other writers on here, covering everything from vocabulary and grammar to freelance and business writing. Please do stick around!

  13. Ali, I could be very wrong, but I don’t think I am. When you’re trying to reach a “general” audience, posts like this are always going to fall flat. When you post things like this to a “general” audience, yes, they do come across as preaching – because there’s no way of knowing what faith all the members of said audience are. Posts like this really belong in a “Christian writing group” – where you know everyone is of the same stripe and interest.

  14. Did Mari completely misread the comment? I felt the comment Ali made to Mari was very nice and upheld Mari’s concerns. Perhaps Mari took the comment just below that one as being from Ali. That would make sense, I suppose.

    Ali, I sat down yesterday and wrote down 30 different plots from the Bible…none of them religious or even faith based (except two, that would fit well in a fantasy or otherworld setting). The book IS an excellent resource for ideas. Where else can you find such greed, avarice, murder, stubbornness, rape (yes, even rape), promises kept at great cost, and hope, too! I am also a Christian, though the 30 plot lines I wrote down yesterday are anything but. I put them on my forums if anyone wants to check them out.

  15. B J, thanks for your comments, and wow, 30 plots — fantastic stuff! I took a look at your post on the forum, and I’m impressed how you’ve drawn general, and compelling, plots from specific situations. It also struck me how very differently a group of individual writers might develop those plots — it would be really fun to give a few of them to a writers’ circle or similar, and see what was produced by each member…

  16. I agree with B J. There are so many books and movies out there that have a Savior theme. Hence the word Savior. Armageddon and also that loveable movie the Iron Giant, which had nothing to do with Jesus, Superman. I also might add that Christianity and all religion is so controversial that it can not be avoided. Bravery is a must but also it can lead us to truth which we can find in all things. Which has nothing to do with Religion. We don’t need to be apologetic about it, for those who are sensitive. It is what it is.

  17. Yeah I just saw B J’s plots that he wrote, taken from the Bible at that website. Only because I am familiar with the Bible, do they ring a bell in my mind what stories they came from. It is hard to believe that alot of those plots came from the Bible. Wow, I don’t think that anybody can not objectively disaprove at the creative writing skills of some of those….

  18. LoL my mother is still trying to pinpoint a couple that she doesn’t recognize out of the list of 30.

    I’ll be using one plot from that list for my NaNoWriMo effort. It is in a fantasy setting and nothing like the two biblical tales it is drawn from, but it was most definitely a plot drawn from the Bible.

    When I was done with the initial thirty, more kept coming. I’m keeping a list in my journal.

    Ali, I think it would be AWESOME to see what a writers group would do with some of these. They are general enough to be taken just about anywhere, aren’t they?

    Brian, thanks for your comments. I appreciate them very much.

  19. all i have to say is that the Bible doesn’t say do everything written in it, NO… the Bible is a manual script for life like i had made clear in my other post on this same affair. it is like a sign post that’s aimed at showing us which way to go and which way not. it’s up to an individual to choose which then later facing the consequences there after.

    i will not go light on this matter and i heroically declare that if you are going to be dissent to the word of God then you’re deemed to failure and eternal damnation.

  20. personally i think d bible is the greatest source of inspiration for all types of writing. i agree completely with Ali. my muslim friends and friends of other faith use the bible more often than some christians for varied reason but they all agree it could be a source of inspiration for fictional writing. i think jimmy and mari are just plainly bias and there intolerance of smart ideas sounds to me like an agnostic preachin his own sermon.

  21. I think that the Bible should – and can – be used as story bases. The moral guidelines in it should be used to benifit mankind. When a book is written, there is a certain level of right and wrong – and the original origin of right and wrong came from the Bible. Turning a TRUE parable into a plot outline is a very god thing – as an author – you are using God’s words to benefit mankind!

  22. Rachel sounds like you hit the point correctly, when you said that there should be a certain level of right and wrong, and I also agree that the Bible is a very good basis of guidelines. But also I just wanted to add that I think that this page was trying to tip us off on how to be creative in writing and how we can also use charaters from the bible as examples. In regards to those who might find the bible offensive to them. We got’s to give them a chance to express their opinion.

  23. Grow up guys! I am not a christian, but neither am I offended by a person’s belief. To not visit a site because someone posted an article that smelt of preaching is ridicules. If you want to get angry about something that tells you what to think, why not get angry at TV commercials and forgive the people who actually want to do good in the world, whether or not they are right? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There is some good advice in this article.

  24. I have to agree with Mike. I am not into religion whatsoever, and I never thought to one degree that it sounded anything like preaching. I feel that everyone is entitled to their opinions but come on the site was giving “ideas.” That is what it is here for. In fact I thought it was a great idea. Remeber the parable about the woman claiming the “child” was her own, but she was willing to kill it for the sake of winning. I can’t recall the name but I always liked it and I am definitley going to go find my Bible.

  25. Great post – I also use the Bible as inspiration – and yes I am a christian too. You gave me lots more ideas about how to find more inspiration from the Bible.

    Re some of the comments above, glad to see many of you who are balanced in your thinking and consequently not offended by this post.

    This blog does belong to a christian and from what I have read, there is certainly no intention of any manipulation at all.

    Any real writer will write from the heart and from their experience. They will also write about things familiar to them. That is normal and to be expected.

    Keep blogging! I love this blog. Thanks

  26. I would argue that almost every novel ever written has some connection to the Bible.
    East of Eden? Too obvious, Steinback meant it as a retelling of the story of Caine and Able
    How about every love triangle ever? That goes back to Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar/Rachel, Leah, and Jacob?
    A woman wronged whose husband/family member seeks revenge? That’s Dinah
    A man who’s betrayed by his brothers? Hi Joseph!!!
    The Bible is a collection of archetypes that defines our culture. It would be useless to try and write a book with no influence from it/some other holy book

  27. I also agree with Sarah it would be useless not only to give credit to stories that have already been written centuries before, but also it is impossible to act like the bible doesn’t exist so that others won’t be offended.

  28. Thanks for such a great post. I agree that the bible is such a great source of inspiration for any writer, Christian or non-Christian. We can learn a lot about creating believable characters because the characters are well rounded. Also we can get many ideas for plots and learn a thing or two from the great imagery it contains.
    Its shame that some people find this post offensive, I cant see why. There is a lot of useful stuff here, and it seems more like a personal attack to me, which is sad. I guess you can never please everyone.
    Once again thanks for another great post Ali.

  29. I agree with you completely that religious texts are a great source of story ideas. I and my family are Mormon, and we’ve commented multiple times that certain themes and ideas from the Bible and the Book of Mormon would make great stories. Like you are saying about the different Biblical figures and how they would make great characters, the same could be said about people in the Book of Mormon. I won’t make a list of them here, but you get my point. Religious texts, whether you believe them to be true or not, are great sources of inspiration for stories.

  30. Sometimes using story ideas from the bible and transfering it into mordern times can be a great idea! I know several stories that have sold very well!

  31. I was inspired by the “Left Behind” book series and have always had a passion to write a book or books someday. I am a musicians and song writer and have written songs to about 4 albums. This website is a great help and tool. Quiet enjoyed the comments from different people. It is sad that some people are just quick to judge something before they really listen and learn.

    Is there a quick was to learn about writing? I am willing to take part time schooling as I am busy working and supporting my family and cannot attend school full time. If anyone has a suggestion please pass it own. Would very much appreciate it.

    Yes, I do agree: The Bible is a great source for writing novels whether one is a devout Christian or not. I am a believer and follower of Christ and of course would recommend Jesus to anyone seeking, but I cannot say, I will not read a Biblical story written by non-Christian. That would be very ignorant of me. I am sure Biblical movies like “Moses”, Prince of Egypt, Joseph Prince of Dreams, Paul, Noah, etc were not all produced by Christians. Same applies to books. Jimmy Laz sounds like he hates the Christian religion for one reason or another. I hope someday he will change his mind….God bless his heart. Thank you all.

  32. Anyone read the book or heard David Haslam (father of late Paul, guitarist for the rock band Free) reading the old testament bible stories. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the stories – helps not to be in fact…

  33. Ali, I just want to thank you for your post. Please don’t give in to the people who say that you should modify your post.

  34. Ali/B.J.

    I agree, Ali. It would be interesting to turn B.J.’s plots over to a small circle of writers to see what they come up with. And I have just the right group. My students (high school seniors) will be participating in this YEAR’s NaNoWriMo challenge. B.J., with your permission, I’ll share your link to those who are still looking for that perfect plot.

    Ali, keep up the good work. This post was neither preachy, nor evangelizing. I think it likely that the two people who took issue with it have a problem with Christianity- which begs the question – why did they read the post in the first place? Your sensitivity and respect toward them was obvious (and, dare I say, decidedly the Christian approach.) Too bad they couldn’t respond in kind.

  35. See, now I am really ticked off. You get atheists, or unbelievers visiting a site and you have to walk on eggshells. Not me! I don’t have a problem telling people I am a Christian or that using the BIBLE as inspiration for writing is an excellent idea! You don’t like it unbelievers and atheists…tough! We put up with you people on a daily basis…it’s annoying…can’t you just thank the guy for his ideas and get over it already? Btw, thanks for the GREAT ideas…Praise the Lord!

  36. I’m also a Christian! =) But I have been reading the Psalms lately, and some of the verses have helped me with the setting of a story, or what happens in my story.
    e.g. How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down— this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
    ~ Psalm 62:3
    The picture this verse gave me was these people knocking down this fence or wall… I guess they were trying to escape from their city or town or something… anyway, I haven’t actually used the idea in a story yet, but it was just an example and trust me, you can get a lot of ideas from Bible verses.

  37. I thought this article was great – I’m currently working on a murder mystery/adventure story set in Ancient Egypt and inspired by the Bible. I’ve often really enjoyed just how real and human all the men of the Bible were – even ‘good guys’ made mistakes! As a Christian, I thought this article was great, and it was very neutral – neither preachy nor hinting that the Bible is just a story book! Thank you!

  38. I am an avid watcher of the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu series, and I once based some writing (post-“Rise of the Spinjitsu Master, season 2 finale) off of the parable of the Prodigal Son–although everyone seemed happy with the outcome, I couldn’t help wondering–what if someone wasn’t (taking on the role of the older brother)… 🙂

    Another piece (same show) I concluded with Matthew 3:17: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

  39. I’ve written a short eBook inspired by bible characters and it took me down a fascinating path which I would never have otherwise taken.

    You can’t go wrong drawing from the greatest story ever.

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