Fantasy Friday – Faith and Fiction

There’s a phrase that appears on judge sheets for some Christian fiction contests: “faith elements.” The term recently came up again in an online discussion. I have to say, that phrase bugs me. It makes “faith” sound like some part of the fiction that needs to be crafted in, as the setting should be or the opening hook.

Pre-blog, when I was spending a lot of my time discussing fiction over on the Faith in Fiction board, I used to claim that the neglect of creating intentional themes led to tacked on “faith elements.” Perhaps.

But as I thought about the question, What are the “faith elements” in my story, I had to answer, all of it, and none of it. All of it, because the story (talking about my short stories as well as The Lore of Efrathah) is centered upon faith. It is foundational. Without the “faith element” there would be no story.

Yet there is no “element,” as in one particular, identifiable article. For example, in The Lore of Efrathah, I have created a world that has no religion. There is no God as our culture thinks of Him. A number of my short stories are similar.

As I thought about this, and how different my stories are to those of the writers discussing “faith elements,” I got to wondering if the difference isn’t one of the ways fantasy differs from contemporary fiction.

Over at Spec Faith, one of our contributors, Stephen Burnett, initiated a terrific discussion because of a review of The Dark Knight. (Just as he did some weeks earlier with a review of The Shack.) One visitor, an atheist, brought up some theological questions that some of those engaged in the discussion backed away from initially. But this commenter pressed the point with this:

the issues raised by the literature [discussed] on this blog [do] tend to raise these very fundamental issues [the origin of the universe; evolution; the existence or not of a good, omnipotent God; the origins of evil; suffering; and so on]

Did you catch that? Not issues raised by the blog. Issues raised by the literature discussed on the blog—science fiction and fantasy. There seems to be an awareness by those in society at large that speculative fiction does more than reality fiction.

As I close in on the end of The Lore of Efrathah (the first revision of the final book), I am more aware than ever of the awesome potential for fantasy to tell the whole truth, to be More Real than reality fiction. To produce an entire faith story, not just a single element.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. Rebecca,

    Thanks for the perspective of this post and your comment on my blog. Christian fantasy has not been a strong suit of mine, but now that I’ve read three works of CF, I’m developing more of an appreciation for the genre. Your post has helped further that development.

    Thanks also for visiting my blog and commenting. I’ve linked you as an author from there.

    Cheers! Bruce


  2. I agree it’s extremely difficult to reveal those faith elements in the first 20-25 pages as some contests ask. Although to be fair, ACFW Genesis Contest says not do score down if the elements don’t come up in those few pages.

    Fantasy (and somewhat for Sci-fi) has such ability to tackle major theme issues. You’re right, Becky, that reality fiction rarely has the same opportunity. Can anyone say, May the Force be with you?

    I hope the publishers soon recognize the awesome power of speculative fiction. Can you imagine the world-changing impact with a half-dozen Christian authors pumping out best sellers? Publishers could do it if they really pushed, but it seems like they take the approach of waiting to see what sells instead of launching a serious campaign.


  3. This is such an interesting post, because I think you’ve really got it. There’s something about fantasy that just needs to address the deeper, bigger, truer, whatever–issues in life. Great thoughts!


  4. Bruce, thanks for stopping by. I’m adding your link, too, and I’m excited that you’re getting a perspective on fantasy that’s new.

    Rich, I appreciate your comment. I don’t have a problem with contests judging “faith elements,” really. And you’re right about everything you say about the Genesis contest. It’s actually the idea that there is such a thing in a story as a “faith element.” It might just be me, but that makes it seem so tacked on.

    You went on to make my point. Speculative fiction has awesome power and could have world-changing impact. More and more publishers are adding fantasy titles, for their middle grade or YA line-ups at least. Now if we can just work on the adults … 😉

    Amy, beautifully put. Fantasy goes beyond the seen to the unseen and makes it seen. 😀 I’ve said before I think fantasy is more real than reality fiction for that reason.



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