The Valley of Elah


“Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.” –George Herbert

* * *

My husband and I hired a private guide to take us on a one-day tour since we were pressed for time. When our guide stopped her car by the side of the road next to a desolate field between two hills, we thought she must have made a mistake. There were no tour busses and no other people around. The three of us got out, walked into the valley, and stopped by a dry creek bed filled with smooth stones.

It was hard to believe the undistinguished field in which we were standing was the location of one of the most famous battles in the history of the world. This was the Valley of Elah, the site where David fought Goliath.

We’re all familiar with the story. Goliath wasn’t just some big guy. He was a giant who taunted his enemies and called them cowards. They were understandably terrified of him. All except David, the young shepherd boy who had no experience in warfare but  convinced King Saul that he (David) could defeat the Philistine giant with only his sling.

“Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:40

I’m not sure I appreciated the magnitude of David’s accomplishment until I picked up a stone from that same creek bed and realized how small it was. And yet one of those stones, slung more than three thousand years ago, saved the young nation of Israel and changed the world.

* * *

Many parents share the story of David and Goliath with their children to instill courage and faith in their offspring. They want them to know they will face giants in their lives, but they can overcome. However, one thing we don’t often talk about when we relate the story is the skill young David had with a sling.

David was a shepherd, certainly a lonely occupation. He must have spent many months alone, looking after his father’s flocks and protecting them from wild animals. David even explained this to King Saul who had doubted his abilities:

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.” ! Samuel 17:34-35

I’m guessing David got very good with his sling during those months and years. Besides fighting wild animals, I can envision him setting a tin cup on a tree branch and practicing his slinging expertise day after day.

In contrast to the slow-moving, armor-burdened Goliath, David was quick and agile. His stone wouldn’t be effective against Goliath’s armor, but he had a target that would bring down his opponent: Goliath’s unprotected forehead. It only took one shot, and the giant was dead.

* * *

Developing skill is obviously important in any field. I recently read an article on this subject on the Personal Excellence website. A couple of sentences stood out to me.

“… people are often impressed by what others have accomplished without realizing what they went through to get there. We see their accolades and victories, and make gross assumptions about what it takes to succeed.”

I think this is especially true of writers. We all know how to string words together to make sentences, and we’ve read lots of good books. How hard can it be to write one of our own? But TKZ regulars know it is oh, so much more than that.

I was looking for some straightforward guidance about the development of skills when I stumbled on the site of the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences that enumerated the necessary ingredients. Here are the basics they listed:

  1. Get training.
  2. Practice.
  3. Get feedback.

That looks pretty simple, but we know each one of those items is a world of its own.

So, TKZers: Do any of your books have a David vs. Goliath theme? How did your hero defeat the giant? (Or did he?)

How do you train for your writing? 

How much time to you spend practicing? What kind of practice do you recommend?

How do you get feedback?

26 thoughts on “The Valley of Elah

  1. What a great post, Kay! Simple and true.

    Not really Goliaths but characters with superior power taking advantage of the less powerful. In my stories, villains always get what’s coming to them, although not in the expected way.
    Training: Classes, conferences, craft books, TKZ, Jane Friedman, Anne R. Allen, and more.
    Practice: Daily. For hours. Write both fiction and nonfiction. Developing skills in one will help the other.
    Feedback: critique groups, beta readers.

    Do all of the above over and over and over and over…

    • Good morning, Debbie.

      I just finished Deep Fake Double Down. It’s a great book and a good example of Davids and Goliaths. It’s always satisfying to see justice served.

      You have a good list of things to develop writing skill. Like you said: “over and over and over and over…” I guess that’s the Never Give Up part of a writer’s life.

      Have a great week.

  2. Do any of your books have a David vs. Goliath theme?
    In some form or fashion, there is usually a David in one of my stories trying to defeat Goliath. The Goliath may take different forms and my Davids are battling for some form of justice. And the record of David’s life is excellent study for us even when creating fictional characters–David had faith, skills and abilities but he was also flawed. Just as a person can’t be one dimensional in real life, it doesn’t work for our fictional characters either.

    How do you train for your writing?
    TKZ, books on writing, an occasional online class or seminar

    How much time to you spend practicing?
    Not nearly as much as I’d like, but I make a little headway each week amidst many priorities and some practice is better than none at all.

    How do you get feedback?
    critiquers, betas

    • Good morning, BK.

      Great observation about David. Like you say, we can learn a lot from the multi-dimensional aspects of David’s character when we’re developing our own fiction.

      Have a great week.

  3. I’m not sure how, or if, this applies, but your questions “How do you train… practice… what kind of practice…” seemed to dovetail into something I read this weekend about where ideas come from… (here’s the link: ) – so I guess I train by staying interested in a number of things… many often not even related to each other until I see something that might connect them…

    As to David vs. Goliath – without getting all theological here, I think many times folks tend to misinterpret this story… David had “backup” Goliath (and everyone else it seems), didn’t consider… so perhaps when I think about using a D-vs-G theme, I tend to work with this in an “appearances can be deceiving” slant…

    • Good morning, George.

      Thanks for the link to the Smithsonian article on creativity. Reading about the study of Coleridge’s works was fascinating. It seems that creating something new is actually rearranging things that are old. That should figure into the “training” step. Reading widely and experiencing life gives us material to work with.

      I write mysteries, and an “appearances can be deceiving” slant is an essential part of my books.

      Oh, and I loved the story of the sea squirt. We must all be careful not to get too comfortable in this life! 🙂

  4. Wonderful post, Kay. I hope you were allowed to collect one of those smooth stones from the Valley of Elah. That would be worth framing. And I can think of multiple phrases and quotes on inspiration, practice, and success that could be printed below the stone.

    All of my books in my teen fantasy series have a monster, the Goliath. The magic gang, the cousins, are the David. And they use native American magic and the power of Omni to defeat the giant.

    Training for me is read, study, read – fiction and nonfiction.

    Practice is write, write, write, every morning if possible. There is never enough time.

    Feed back is from trusted readers and beta readers.

    Have a great day!

    • There truly never is enough time. Retired library patrons used to tell me that, and I never understood, until I retired from my library career. We still have the same 24 hours in a day.

    • Good morning, Steve.

      Yes, I did pick up one of the stones, but never framed it. The picture at the top of the article is one I took. Maybe I should frame that along with the stone.

      Your Mad River Magic books are great examples of the D vs. G theme. You’ve found a creative new way to tell the story to your grandchildren (and the rest of the world), with barrel carts and wits replacing the sling.

      Read, study, read and write, write, write sounds like a good routine. Now if we can just figure out how to extend each day beyond the 24-hour limit. 🙂

      Have a good week.

  5. Such a wonderful, inspiring post to start off the week, Kay.

    My Empowered novels have a David vs Goliath theme running through them. Mathilda Brandt is young, with a seemingly weak super power (plant control), facing much more powerful villains and a building catastrophe that is a Goliath in its own way. Mathilda defeated the giants by courage, by learning and growing in her own power, but especially by becoming able to see what was really going on.

    I train for my writing by reading craft books, articles, TKZ posts and other sites, practice by writing actual fiction, which almost always begins with outlining.

    I began my path of craft in late summer 2008 by taking an intense 8 week private fiction writing class, Become Your Own Story Doctor, taught by writer Eric Witchey, for four hours every Sunday. Each week we practiced a craft point, in a couplet of conscious practice and subconscious training.

    For instance, conflict in a scene, like Jim laid out yesterday. The character wants something, faces an obstacle, and then it resolves in an outcome, usually something other than a simple yes (No, No and Furthermore, or Yes, But…). We’d spend 15 minutes sketching out this in outline. That was the conscious training part. The subconscious was to pick three story prompts at random, and then write for 15 minutes as fast as possible, without correcting, holding the intention implementing the craft point.

    With mystery, I read several books, took Sara Rosett’s video course on outlining a cozy, and did a lot of outlining, journaling, practice scenes and wrote two different versions of the novel.

    Feedback: Beta readers are key for me. I did get developmental editing feedback on a detailed synopsis of my mystery last fall, along with the first three chapters, from author and editor Phyllis Radford, which was very helpful. My eight beta readers gave me extremely helpful feedback in March.

    Hope you have a great week!

    • Good morning, Dale.

      Your Empowered series sounds like the perfect D vs G theme. Davids and Goliaths come in many forms, and our stories build on them. (See the link above that George provided to a Smithsonian article.)

      I envy your “Become Your Own Story Doctor” fiction class. What a great way to start a writing career.

      Have a good week.

  6. Great post. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. (Tour guides know best.)

    My current WIP has a “Goliath has to control herself to help David” theme. Didn’t realize that until this moment, but it’s fascinating.

    Training: I’d add coming up with my own discoveries of craft to what’s been said above.

    • Good morning, Azali.

      “Goliath has to control herself to help David” — now that sounds like a fascinating take on the subject. I’d love to hear more about your WIP.

      Have a good week!

  7. Great post, Kay! Got me going this Monday morning . . .

    The best part about the David and Goliath lesson (for me) has always been this: don’t wear someone else’s armor. Before the battle was joined, King Saul offered his armor to David. David put it on, but quickly realized he couldn’t move about freely, which could be fatal. So he went to the battle with the skill he had, in his own clothes.

    In my stories, the Davids and Goliaths are mostly internal. My characters fight wars inside themselves. I guess it’s because that’s what I do. A lot. 🙂

    • Good morning, Deb!

      “don’t wear someone else’s armor.” What a great observation. I’ve always loved the scene where David puts on Saul’s armor. It’s almost funny, like a little kid walking around in his father’s clothes. But like you pointed out, there’s a deep meaning in that simple scene.

      Goliaths come in many forms. Maybe the scariest ones are the ones inside.

      Thanks for your insightful comment. Have a great week!

    • I love this too, Deb. Don’t wear someone else’s armor is a great reminder . . . and like you, I tend to do most of my battling internally. 🙂

  8. What an enjoyable post with an insightful message, Kay, thanks for writing it.
    I love the David vs. Goliath theme, probably because I grew up being teased a lot. Like you mentioned in the article, it’s a great account to share with our kids (and ourselves) because of the important reminders (if we’re Believers then we’re not alone, stronger isn’t always better, everyone has unique skills and abilities, etc.).

    There is a strong thread of good overcoming evil in all of my books (most have supernatural suspense themes and Christian cameo characters).

    Training in my writing is something I do most days of the week as I write for clients (paid work) and myself/my fans (fiction work).

    As you mentioned, feedback is really important. Like others mentioned, I use beta readers but also really listen to what my readers tell me via email, reviews, and at in-person events. I’ve had more than one reader tell me that I’ve “converted” them to mystery/suspense, a genre they hadn’t previously enjoyed which is a wonderful thing to hear. 🙂

    • Hello J.P.!

      Thank you for your insights. The story of David and Goliath has much to teach us.

      I love the way you describe your own work: “There is a strong thread of good overcoming evil in all of my books (most have supernatural suspense themes and Christian cameo characters).” Very interesting!

      And I especially love that you’re “converting” people to mystery / suspense. Keep up the good work!

  9. What a fabulous post, Kay! Yes, my last two books (and all future Mayhem books) have a David and Goliath theme. Three unlikely eco-warriors fight the country’s largest animal trafficking organization.

    • Good afternoon, Sue!

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I like the way you describe your current works: “Three unlikely eco-warriors fight the country’s largest animal trafficking organization.” David and Goliath to be sure.

      Have a great week.

  10. Kay, one of the keys to a good plot is that the Opposition is stronger than the Lead, either in skills, weaponry, associates, etc. So in a sense, there’s a David v. Goliath vibe in all plots that work (it may even involve an inner battle).

    • Thanks for this insight, Jim. As you note, it wouldn’t be much of a story if the hero could just pound the villain into the dirt. No suspense there.

      I think the story of David and Goliath is so powerful because every human being can identify with it.

  11. ❖ Do any of your books have a David vs. Goliath theme?
    ❦ “Sorcerer of Deathbird Mountain” has 16′ wingspan flying critters summoned from some hellish place by the Sorcerer, Mogrovat.
    ❖ How did your hero defeat the giant? (Or did he?)
    ❦ The castle armorer has let Hirand practice with a sword after he polishes suits of armor every day. Thus he can parry the beak of the deathbird that attacks him at full speed, and impales it, though he almost dies when the dying monster collapses on top of him.
    ❖ How do you train for your writing?
    ❦ I read craft books at the PV libraries and take courses at Harbor College. Screenwriting U has free short courses, and I’ve taken a half dozen or so of their full courses. I do read, too, but have less time for that recently. Online: Jane Friedman. Jeanne V Bowerman. Scott Myers.
    ❖ How much time do you spend practicing?
    ❦ Not a lot.
    ❖ What kind of practice do you recommend?
    ❦ Reading, writing a short story or a play, mulling stuff over. Brainstorming.
    ❖ How do you get feedback?
    ❦ Beta readers and a weekly workshop.

    • Good afternoon, JG.

      I like the idea of the armor polisher getting his chance with a sword. Glad the young man survived the monster bird.

      Sounds like you have a good schedule to train, practice, and get feedback.

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