Having Something to Say

I just listened to a CD I have of James Scott Bell teaching at an American Christian Writers (ACW) workshop in Anaheim, California, several years ago. One thing that particularly caught my attention was when Jim mentioned two books that came out in the 1970s that are still selling. He said the authors had something to say and conveyed their vision in their stories.

How revolutionary! Authors that have something to say, not just an entertaining story to tell.

For the last eight years or more, Christian writers have been brow-beaten by writing instructors to leave messages behind. Stories, after all, aren’t sermons. And message-driven novels are nothing but propaganda.

Might want to tell that to Ian Rand, one of the authors Jim Bell referred to. Here was an atheist writing a story that said something, that conveyed a vision of the world, and Atlas Shrugged has become in the minds of many, a classic.

Interestingly, there seems to be a parallel trend among Christian writers—and maybe among all writers: a return to the artistic. I say “return” because the great successes as far as sales were concerned belonged to “commercial fiction,” stories that weren’t attempting to do anything artistic.

How odd it seems to me that anyone would want to pour themselves into the work it takes to create a beautiful story, and yet say nothing. Or, actually, let whatever the story says seep from them organically, which seems to be the current belief: if a Christian writes, his Christianity will find a way into the story because it is so much a part of who he is.

There is a certain truth to that. I find any number of things I believe muscling into my stories though I hadn’t set out to proclaim them. But those are secondary. They aren’t focused or reiterated or recurring—because they aren’t planned.

If I have something I want to say, however, that comes through in a variety of ways and in the lives of a number of characters. It’s thought out and intentional, much as my non-fiction is.

There have been times when I sit down to blog and start typing about something unimportant because I don’t really know what I want to say that day, but those are the rare occasions. Generally I have a purpose, most often reflected in the title, since I write that first.

Sometimes I’ve found myself on a tangent and the title calls me back to the original intention, but usually, even in these short pieces, I have a purpose around which I structure the piece.

Why should fiction be different?

C. S. Lewis has become one of the favorite authors to quote for those who think great writing can just happen. Last week I wrote a counter to this view over at Spec Faith because I think he has been seriously misunderstood (though not misquoted).

In the true spirit of Lewis, then, I think Christian fiction writers should come to a story with something to say, with a vision to share. And bravo to instructors like Jim Bell who stand up and say so.

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