Sugar-coating Christianity in Fiction

I listened to part of a writing instruction tape recorded years ago at a now-defunct writing conference. The author holding the seminar said first that writing, particularly for children, should be entertaining. Then, the writing should sugar-coat the message.

The reason behind this approach seemed to be based on the assertion that readers don’t want stories heavy on sermonizing. But this author’s solution was to “sugar-coat” the gospel or the moral or whatever is the point of the story.

Sadly, I think this idea caught on. Rather than asking, “How can I best show the truth through story,” writers adopting this approach seem more caught up with how they can wrap truth in the fad of the day, be it humor or suspense or vampires or angels.

I want to be clear here. I believe wholeheartedly that believers need to meet our culture where it’s at—which is why I write fiction, and in particular why I write fantasy. But I’m not trying to sugar-coat the truth.

This may be a fine line, but I think there are significant differences. For one, there’s the artistic aspect. Themes are part of stories. To say we must sugar-coat a theme is to approach the idea of including theme as if it is something we are trying to slip past unsuspecting readers. Not only “something,” but something distasteful, though good for them.

Sorry, but I don’t see truth as distasteful. And I don’t think writers should try to smuggle truth into a story. Instead, truth should be the vital gold thread around which the story is woven. If done so with skill, the story will be more beautiful because of it.

I also think there’s a difference in substance. A story with sugar-coated truth is either adding unnecessary sugar, thus bloating a story, or forcing truth into a story that doesn’t require such.

Truth, whether presented subtly or overtly, should be a necessary component for the sake of the story and the characters, not for the sake of the reader.

There’s no sugar coating in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis didn’t make Aslan a tame lion so the story would be more kid-friendly. He didn’t back away from the fact that Edmond would die unless Aslan stepped in. He didn’t back away from requiring Aslan to sacrifice himself for the wayward son of Adam.

Truth should not be sugar-coated or tacked on. What ought to set Christian fiction apart from all other is that authors who know The Author have deeper truth to tell.

4 Comments

  1. But then again some people are in the mood for light reading, at least some of the time. (Of course, right now I’m writing a story where the main character’s mom may have died unsaved — gored by an enraged elephant— so maybe that’s not such light reading?)

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  2. preach it sister! And no sugar coating, even.

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  3. I would just reply to Nissa that “light” reading can still contain the beauty of truth told with humor, fun, or a light subject/plot.

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  4. Rebecca, I agree. You and I are probably both groaning under the load of politically correct stuff we read or hear every day and it is going to turn us into a bland shade of beige someday. Whether it’s classroom bland or storybook or movie or social time bland, our kids will miss the wonder! I notice God uses vivid colors to define His rainbow, a sunset, a goldfish, a peacock! Help! We’re smothering ourselves in pablum, or is this humus? What if we give our kids the truth…starting with Santa??? See Bob Bennett’s book about the REAL St. Nicholas: what an eye opener. Read the kids Joshua 7 about Achan’s sin and punishment..then ask them who wants to knock of a 711 tonight?They do the violent video games all day and we offer them Tinkertoy theology. Shame on us.

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