Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?—Part 2

Author Gene Curtis made the comment to yesterday’s post that the premise of “Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?” is wrong, that there is no one way and that God can use a Christian’s work regardless if it was intended as “secular or evangelistic.”

In large part, I think Gene has it right, but I think there are a couple things that need to be cleared up.

First, preachiness is poor writing, but a novel with a clear Christian message is not necessarily preachy.

Somehow the idea has filtered into the Christian writing community that a solid, clear theme equates with preachy, and that just is not so.

“Preachy” is when the message comes directly from the author to the reader. I suppose it could even be from a character to the reader. The point is, if the message is delivered in such a way as to intrude upon the story and make the reader think, He’s telling me this, then it is preachy. It’s bad fiction. It’s the exact same thing authors do with background or setting if they don’t understand how to skillfully weave the information into the story. (Those are sometimes called info dumps and feel the same as preachiness—this information is in this part of the story because the author wants ME, the reader, to know this).

Having said that, I want to clearly state, I do not think fiction should be a tract. Tract writing is non-fiction writing and therefore governed by a different set of rules. To write fiction as a tract would mean the author is employing non-fiction rules for a story. That will inevitably end up with a story that is preachy.

Please hold off on the comments because there’s more. Writers can write compelling stories with overt Christian messages. Sharon Hinck‘s Becky Miller books come to mind, as does Julie Carobini’s Chocolate Beach. From what I’ve heard Katie Cushman‘s A Promise to Remember would fall into that category as well (it’s on my to be read pile—Christy Award winner John Olson called it “flat out brilliant.”) I’ve mentioned George Bryan Polivka‘s Trophy Chase Trilogy as examples of overt Christianity in the fantasy realm.

Fantasy authors can also write allegory, or stories with thinly-veiled representations of God and Jesus. If these are done well, just like stories with overt Christianity, they should not be denigrated because they contain a clear message consistent with the Christian message. They are not tracts. They are not preachy.

They also may or may not be art.

If an author aims to create art, I think there is a timeless and universal value to the work that he aims for. Can such a work include the Christian message?

What else is more timeless or universal?

The next question then is, how? I’ve already said, I think overt Christianity is one way—the story is about Christian characters acting as they do, with the struggles they face. I’ve also mentioned “allegory” (we call it that, but apart from John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, few stories are real allegories).

Then there are stories like Auralia’s Colors, simply a fairy tale with no intention of showing God, but authors say they believe the art itself reflects Him.

Yesterday I mentioned a third way—not overtly Christian in any of the ways I described above, but also more than just a beautiful story. This third method of writing is to weave the message below the surface, below the thin veil, far enough below that people may miss it or wonder if what they’re seeing is really there at all. These stories would aim to employ unexpected types, not allegorical representations. Things won’t “add up” in a neat and complete way, but there will be truth moments when the character learns or grows—and does not summarize what it is he’s learned for the benefit of the reader.

I know that isn’t particularly clear. I think an illustration or two will help. Look for that on Monday. Or more on Book Buzz. Or something about something else. 😉

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