In Response to Jeff Gerke; Blog Tour—T.L. Hines, Day 1

First, a HUGE thank you to Jeff for taking the time to blog and then to answer our questions. What a treat!

And being a fantasy writer, I found myself saying, “That’s what I want, too” to many of the things he said yesterday, because his words resonated in my soul.

Until the end.

Some of you who have been reading for some time here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction may already know what I’m about to say.

Before Jeff’s wonderful concluding sentence, he played the current CBA mantra that he had pretty well shot a hole in with his previous comments:

Let me hasten to say, however, that evangelism and apologetics, or any other agenda, should never be our motive for writing any fiction. Agenda-driven fiction stinks. And readers can smell it a mile away. Story is king. If you can write a story people care about, presenting interesting ideas along the way, you can do it. But the story has to come first.

If by “agenda-driven” Jeff means poorly crafted theme so that the message is transparent, even, perhaps, bordering on moralistic, then I have to agree—that stinks. But the comment “Story is king” is the mantra to which I referred, and I think it is an under-examined statement. Writers kowtow to it without really understanding the implications.

What, after all, constitutes “story”? Are we referring to the plot? The premise? The characters in action? What about the setting—does it have a part in creating a story? Isn’t the theme also a part?

To all of it, I say, Yes. Story is constructed with all those parts: a well crafted plot, characters that engage, a setting that takes readers to another place, ideas that provoke thought. All of it.

Hence all of it needs to be crafted well. But the current trend among Christian writers seems to be to “let the theme rise naturally from the story.” Which I take to mean, from the plot and characters. So if you craft the plot and the characters well, you don’t need to craft the theme.

This idea, I believe, explains why much of CBA fiction does not have staying power—the ideas are too underdeveloped.

When I began A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I posted on this subject at some length. Those posts, starting with March 17, are filed under theme.

Turning the corner here, I am delighted to say I suspect T. L. Hines is a writer with staying power.

Today starts Hines’s blog tour, highlighting his first novel, Waking Lazarus.

I just finished reading the book this morning and will have more to say tomorrow and Friday, but in my opinion, this is a novel that will not only garner some rave reviews, it is one that readers will flock to. It’s a complete story—which means it includes a well-crafted theme.

Published in: on June 28, 2006 at 11:00 am  Comments (6)  

6 Comments

  1. I must admit I had a little bit of a hard time justifying these thoughts:
    ###
    Fantasy is, in a sense, the perfect vehicle for the elements of Christianity.

    I write fantasy . . . because it gives me the opportunity to show Christianity in a new light. When you can strip away the trappings of something people think they know, leaving only the essence, you can begin to truly communicate.
    ###
    with Jeff’s later declaration about the evils of agendas.

    =0)

    Knew you would trounce all over it, Becky, so I just sat silent waiting. heh heh

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  2. Heheh—I was pretty sure people like you who were here for the discussion on theme would know my response.

    The thing is, from his remarks, including the part you quoted, Sally, I don’t really think Jeff and I disagree.

    I continued to ponder the subject after I posted. I, too, do not believe a theme should overpower a story (premise and plot), but to accomplish what Jeff talks about and not have those ideas detract from the characters and events, in my opinion they need more crafting, not less.

    Becky

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  3. Please convey my thanks to Jeff for his comments. They were just so encouraging to me personally.-C

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  4. People read fiction to be entertained, and that is any fiction-writer’s first job. Readers want to find likeable Christian characters living out their faith in spite of the most dire consequences. If the quality of one’s fiction is not entertaining, one’s theme or moral will be as stuck as the wisdom in a dusty Bible.

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  5. Frank,

    Thanks for entering in this discussion. Your point is well taken, but this highlights the thing I want to see changed.

    Writers approach this theme issue as if having an idea to communicate precludes writing an exciting, conflict-filled plot with engaging characters. I don’t think that is necessarily true.

    That some writers of earlier eras wrote in this way points to poor crafting of their stories, not to the inherent weakness of including theme. My statement to the Christian writing community bent on improving the quality of Christian fiction is this: pay attention to ALL aspects of story, including theme. It all needs to be crafted well.

    Becky

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  6. Chris,

    I e-mailed your comment to Jeff. 🙂 He was appreciative.

    Becky

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