Fiction is …

C. S. LewisDuring the just completed blog tour for Cyndere’s Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet, I read two notable statements that spurred my thinking about fiction. One was Jeffrey’s comment to yesterday’s post about themes. The other was a Quote of the Day in the sidebar of one of our blog participants (I neglected to note who). The quote was attributed to C. S. Lewis, so I did a little research to verify that he actually said this. Apparently it is a line from one of his lesser known works. Which is fine. The key is, he said about poetry what I believe about fiction:

Every poem can be considered in two ways–as what the poet has to say, and as a thing which he makes.

– C.S. Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost

Through the discussions I’ve had in the on-line Christian writing communtiy and the articles I’ve written and the comments I’ve received, through personal conversations and emails and blog posts by other writers, I’ve come to the conclusion that most Christian fiction writers see fiction as either a means to say something or as something the author makes.

The first group generally has overt Christian messages and may be accused of being too preachy. Authors in the latter group stress their creation of a story as art and are often accused of being too secular.

As I see it, the problem is that today’s Christian writers—and today’s Christian writing conference instructors—apparently see fiction in only one way, not the two C. S. Lewis said are present in poetry.

For some of us, writing is a means to declare the truth about God to a lost and dying world. We see the power of story and believe it is a way to connect with people in our culture who may never consider the claims of Christ through any other avenue.

For others of us, writing is a form of art. It is something we can do only because we have been made in God’s image and the very act of creating is an act of glorifying Him. Consequently we want to make the best possible piece of art we are capable of, and “preachiness” doesn’t fit into the paradigm of excellence.

But couldn’t C. S. Lewis’s statement about poetry also be true about fiction?

I understand that “commercial fiction” isn’t looking to write timeless stories, but why not? We have a timeless message. Isn’t it possible to write a rip-roaring tale that will be around a hundred years from now and still be enjoyed as a rip-roaring tale, one that said something universally meaningful? Look at Gone with the Wind or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

My contention is, the best art always says something meaningful. That it doesn’t convey an overt message shouldn’t be misconstrued: despite the bill of goods Modern Philosophy tried to sell us, the purpose of art, especially written art, is still communication. Why else would an author want others to read what he puts out there? (And anyone who said, For the money, hasn’t been around the publishing industry very much. 😉 )

Of course, there really is “commercial fiction” that isn’t aiming to tell or to create. It exists to entertain, nothing more. It’s the “pulp fiction” of old, but evidently Christians want a clean version of it. I suggest we stop calling these stories “Christian.” They aren’t. They are clean stories. I think there might be a big market for them, beyond the Christian audience. But that’s another subject for another day.

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