The Risk Of Writing Well

I’ve written extensively to support my belief that writers need to include—even hone—themes in fiction. As I said yesterday, if a writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

Crafting a theme well, however, requires an author to write to a purpose without announcing it.

The easiest way I have of identifying poor handling of thematic material is by determining whether the story requires the passage or whether I’m writing those lines, that scene, for the readers. (This actually works for description, too).

In other words, am I writing down to my readers by spelling out the important information I don’t want them to miss?

Interestingly, readers will interact with a story more deeply if they must ferret out meaning for themselves. So the more I bring forward what I think is important, the less likely readers are to engage with that idea in a deep and meaningful way.

However, I remember when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I began hearing of groups of pagans who were holding Tolkien’s work up as their bible. They celebrated him as they engaged in earth rites.

How horrific, I thought, to have a work intended to bring honor to God actually misused, becoming fuel in the hands of those who oppose Him. In time I came to believe that was the risk an author must take.

Crafting theme well is just another of the many obstacles that can trip up a writer. Is it too blatant, too reader-directed? If so, many will put the book down. Is it too covert, too nuanced? If so, many will miss the main point of the story.

Of late I’ve had another thought as well. Allusions to spiritual things or subtle themesl may accomplish what God wishes though that accomplishment may be different from what I wish.

In my best-case-scenario imagination, I’d wish for readers to pick up my books (of course, that means they’d be published, so you see how this is my imagination 😆 ), read them, and see God more clearly, desire to know Him more deeply, be challenged to surrender to Him more completely.

But what if readers respond to my books by rejecting God? What if, instead of drawing near to God, they harden their hearts?

Somehow it’s not quite the grandiose picture I’d dreamed up, but shouldn’t I let God determine how He wants to use what is His?

I suppose that’s another risk writers must take.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 5:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. The truths in a story having both a negative and positive impact are akin to the intended purpose of Christ’s parables:

    Matt 13:10,11: And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

    Matt 13:13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.


  2. People will either respond to God positively, or they will reject Him, however they experience Him. Our job as Christian writers is to show something of God, and to make our readers think…

    The risk of some smart alec twisting the message is part of the job. In fact, I’m off to draw a Biblical message from The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because I haven’t done that for a while.


  3. It’s ironic and heartening that pagans in search of truth turn to a book written by a Christian.


  4. Jeff, my disheartening fear is that those pagans would be blind to the Christian truth and twist what was there to their own ends, but I think Thomas and Steve are right.

    It’s not up to me to force the truth down a reader’s throat (as if I could). In fact, just like Jonah shouting God’s message to the people of Nineveh, the Christian writer must trust that God will take the message and do with it as He pleases.

    In Jonah’s case he was very displeased with what God did with his message. It’s a sobering thought. Could be that I as a writer may see God do something with my writing I did not expect or even want. Will I react like Jonah did?



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