Faith in Fiction


When I first became active on the internet, a friend introduced me to Bethany editor Dave Long’s blog and the associated discussion board known as Faith in Fiction. While Dave is no longer an active blogger, there is a lot of interesting material in the archives at his site.

Lots of intense discussion on the FIF board too. So much of the interaction that took place there helped shape my thoughts about fiction and how it intersected with my faith—that is, how faith comes into a story.

I think FIF was the first place I encountered writers who claimed Christians should stop making theme the point of their writing. They didn’t say this in those exact words, but the idea was clear: Good writing might have an accidental theme, but anything else would be too preachy.

I’ve long countered this view and have been pleased to see authors such as Andrew Peterson and Athol Dickson discuss theme in a positive light.

Still, I have to admit, as much as I believe theme is an integral part of stories and should be crafted as carefully as any other element, I was surprised to see a writing book that takes this same view.

The book is The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. Here are a few pertinent quotes:

We might say that theme, or what I call moral argument, is the brain of the story. Character is the heart and circulation system. Revelations are the nervous system. Story structure is the skeleton. Scenes are the skin.

KEY POINT: Each subsystem of the story consists of a web of elements that help define and differentiate the other elements.

No individual element in your story, including the hero, will work unless you first create it and define it in relation to all the other elements.

Wow! The theme is the brain and must be created and defined in relation to the other elements. Then this:

The theme is your moral vision, your view of how people should act in the world. But instead of making the characters a mouthpiece for a message [!], we will express the theme that is inherent in the story idea. And we’ll express the theme through the story structure so that it both surprises and moves the audience.

Well, I can tell you, I can hardly wait to get to the Moral Argument chapter (Chapter 5) and see what Truby has to say.

Already I’m learning more about theme. What Christian writers call preachy or propaganda is characters acting as mouthpieces for a message. There is a better way. The choices are not a preachy message versus no theme at all. I’m so excited that a writing instructor has tackled this subject.

Published in: on February 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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