The Unity Principle And Knowing The Bible Is True

open bibleLet me clarify one thing. I’m not writing these posts about the Bible because I think someone who believes it is a myth will be reasoned into changing his mind. It’s clear to me that spiritual truth is discerned spiritually. Someone who says God doesn’t exist is going to find plausible alternatives that explain away the evidences of God. So too, the evidences that point to the Bible being true.

Why then am I taking the time to write these posts?

I think Christians who believe in the Bible are a shrinking number. It’s easy when you hold a minority opinion to start questioning it. And asking questions is good. I’m hoping to provide a starting place where people who are asking can begin to search for answers.

One evidence that the Bible is true is the unity principle, or what some have called the “Consistent Message.” Though the Bible has diverse authors, diverse genres (law, history, poetry, prophecy, letters), diverse reasons for their authors writing, diverse audiences, diverse subject matter, though the Bible as a whole was written across centuries, still there is a clear core theme that runs throughout.

The best way to pinpoint the theme is by quoting a parable Jesus gave close to the end of His earthly ministry:

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.

“When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
-Matthew 21:33-41

In a nutshell, this parable is an outline of the Bible. The Old Testament records the Landowner’s creation and cultivation of His garden, His subletting it and His repeated attempts to receive payment of what He was due. The Gospels record Him sending His Son and the vine-growers putting Him to death. The New Testament letters explain the ramifications of what has happened, and Revelation declares what will happen when the Landowner returns.

People stumble over the Bible for a couple reasons. In some instances, they read the Bible as a list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not’s.” (Thou shalt pull thy neighbor’s donkey out of a hole, even on Saturday or Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.) Others read it as a list of promises they can hold God to (You said … so now you have to ….) While the Bible contains commands, it is far more than a list of commands. And while the Bible contains promises, these are not cudgels for us to use against God to get what we want. Anyone using the Bible rather than being informed by the Bible, will eventually stumble.

Another group, however, stumbles over the core message. They don’t want to admit that they owe God anything, that He, like the Landowner in Jesus’s parable, is just and right to come asking for payment. They especially don’t want His Son coming around because He will tell His Father everything. So they reject the Son and in so doing, claim the Father is dead too. Now they can brag about being free … as long as the Bible isn’t true. But if it is true, that means there will be a point when God will confront them and judge them.

Dismissing the Bible as myth allows this latter group to live under an illusion. They have a vested interest in discounting the evidences pointing to the Bible as true.

One such evidence is the clear message of sin and redemption stamped on every page. It’s taught through symbols, through ceremonies, through types, through parables, prophecies, sermons, personal testimonies, visions, dreams, historical events, answers to questions, examples … In other words, God saving sinners is what the Bible is about.

For someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge he is a sinner, this message is offensive. For someone who wants to believe he doesn’t need God, this message is offensive. And so, the Bible comes under attack. Dismissing it as inaccurate or unreliable is a form of shooting the messenger … in the same way an earlier generation stoned the prophets.

This post, with some revision, first appeared here in April 2009.

Published in: on July 7, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 3

DreamtreadersCover3So today is technically the day after the tour for Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson—I’m counting on a little grace, what with the computer issues I dealt with earlier this week (which mostly seem to be resolved. I’ve even been able to make the rounds and see what other participants are saying).

The consensus seems to be that this middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy is first rate, an enjoyable story well suited to its target audience. I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion about dreams and their significance or the weightier themes the story touched upon. I personally think the meat in this story is one of its strengths. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Review

The Story. Archer Keaton is an apparently normal though conscientious student by day. By night he is a dreamtreader, one of three tasked to patrol the world of Dream, standing in opposition to the Nightmare Lord.

When a new boy comes to school in the last month of the school year, everything in Archer’s daily life changes. His best friend, Kara Windchil, seems smitten by Rigby Thames, but so do most of the rest of the students. Still, it smarts that Kara no longer sits with Archer on the bus or talks with him or texts him.

Things in Dream are not so great either. An increasing number of tears in the fabric separating Dream from the Temporal—the real, though temporal world, as opposed to the real, though eternal world of the hearafter—have begun to appear. What’s more, the other two dreamtreaders are missing.

And off the story goes.

Strengths. There’s much to like in Dream Treaders. For one, Wayne Batson has a wonderful ability to portray young teens truthfully and accurately. He does not treat his teens in a condescending way or write as an adult who is living through his characters or, with one exception, create teens based on how an adult expects teens to act. Rather, they seem to come alive and each is a unique individual. The quirks and foibles of one are completely different from those of the other characters.

The premise of this story is also fresh and interesting. Yes, as noted in an earlier post, there are dream stories or stories centered on the fight to control the mind, but this one takes a different approach and gives it some really strong elements—people capable of lucid dreaming, with the ability to think into being whatever they need, but also with rules they must follow if they are to avoid dire consequences.

The plot of this story is not particularly new, but it is well executed. It’s apparent from the beginning what Archer wants, and it’s easy to pull for him, to hope he succeeds, to worry when he makes a bad decision. The pace is fast but not dizzily so.

The theme is expertly woven throughout the story, not in a subtle way exactly, but naturally so that the important truths arise from the characters and not as an aside the authors tells the reader. And the truths are important. In yesterday’s post I dealt with the concept of an anchor—a thing that ties a lucid dreamer to reality. The point becomes clear that those in the real world also need anchors—solid, reliable constants to keep us from drifting away from truth. Coupled with the fight to overthrow the Nightmare Lord, there’s a lot of grist for the reader to digest.

Lastly, the worldbuilding in Dream Treaders is stellar—both that of Dream and of Dresden High. They seem like real places and are easy to visualize without having the action come to a stop while paragraphs of description paint the picture. Rather, Wayne Batson skillfully incorporates the details of setting with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. When I read the first chapter, I closed the book and realized I’d been entertained but didn’t really care. When I came back to the book and read chapter two, everything changed. The fact is, chapter one takes place in Dream and chapter to in the real world. Chapter one is immediate action; chapter two shows the main character in relationship with others. In short, once I got to know the character, I cared.

I don’t know if switching the order of the chapters would work or not. I do know, for me as a reader, getting to know the character was like throwing a switch from not engaged to engaged and caring.

There was one character, though, I think Wayne Batson missed—Archer’s brother Buster who supposedly was in love with all things Best Coast (though I think he called it West Coast 😉 or maybe even California). The problem was, he used slang that was fashionable in the 1980s or ’90s at best. I (living on the West Coast) haven’t heard a lot of those slang terms he used for a generation. His character, in other words, seemed forced and artificial—an adult’s idea, gleaned from old TV shows, most likely, of what a kid in California must be like. Fortunately, Buster had a very small role, and most people not living on the West Coast may not even notice the weirdness of his portrayal.

Recommendation. I think Dream Treaders is a triple (with nobody out) if not a home run. It’s a great book for middle grade boys, a reading group that is highly under served, in my opinion. I applaud Wayne Batson for such a wonderful story (and Thomas Nelson for publishing it). I think this one is a MUST READ for the target audience. I think readers of all kinds will enjoy it.

The Place Of Truth In Fiction

Truth in FictionFiction as truth? Almost any novelist will tell you that truth is an important component in storytelling. The setting needs to be believably true, the characters need to be true to their personality and experience, and the story needs to be true to its setup and foreshadowing. And all of it needs to ring true with the reader.

Behind the curtain, though, is a story’s theme, and the truth of the theme seems to be at the heart of understanding the place of truth in fiction. According to R. L. Copple in a recent article at Speculative Faith, there are two primary views of truth in fiction:

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.(Emphases in the original.)

“The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.” There’s some truth to this statement. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for instance, the important details about Aslan dying on a stone table as a substitute for Edmund didn’t need to be true in the sense that a real lion talked and walked or sacrificed himself. Nor did the details have to match up with precision to that which the allegorical sacrifice depicted–Jesus Christ dying on a cross as the substitute for sinful humans.

However, there were details that did need to remain truthful if the story was to be true. The White Witch, for instance, couldn’t win the battle and become the new Aslan. Such an ending could well have been engaging, and there might even have been an engaging theme, perhaps even a truthful one, such as “Looks are deceiving” or “It’s better to obey those in authority than to rebel.”

Nevertheless, such themes do not mitigate the falsehood of evil winning out against good.

Does that mean, then, that fiction is supposed to teach? Well, sure! Fiction is supposed to teach the same way all of life teaches. For the Christian, this is mandated in Scripture:

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 11:18-19)

And when you tell stories.

OK, the text doesn’t add he line about stories, but Jesus modeled the use of stories as a teaching device.

I honestly wonder what people mean when they question the idea that stories aren’t supposed to teach truth. It’s as if “teaching” has somehow become a suspect activity. We don’t want to indoctrinate our children or our readers or our colleagues or our friends.

Teaching is not indoctrination! In fact, the best teaching spurs the learner to think critically, to ask the hard questions, to dig for answers, to mull, cogitate, meditate, debate. The best stories, the truthful stories, ought to do that.

The problem isn’t that some stories teach truth and others let readers experience. Rather, it’s that some stories which teach truth do it badly. Of course, some stories that let readers experience, do that badly, too, because they aren’t truthful stories. The Shack had lots of people praising it because of what they experienced, but in the end, the story was filled with falsehood.

The place of truth in fiction? Right dab in the middle, as far as I’m concerned. Stories by Christians should be all about truth. But they ought to be artful in their expression of it, and yes, they should show truth instead of telling readers what is true.

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 he added this piece of advice: the writing should sugar-coat the message.

Apparently this approach is 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 approach 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.

This article is reposted from November 2009.

Thinking About “Theme”

“The art of [including themes] is to infuse them into a dramatic story that compels on both levels: the dramatic and the thematic.”

So says a commenter to the StoryFix article, “The Thing About Theme – What Are You Trying to Say?” by guest blogger Jessica Flory. Interestingly there was no discussion about the problems of writing stories with a message.

How different the Christian writing community is. The discussion over the last few years has run the gamut — from those eschewing any message, claiming that saying something in fiction is propaganda, to those on the other end who think a long speech setting forth the plan of salvation should be in every novel called Christian.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of theme and have been gratified to see others address the topic too. But there still seems to be some misunderstanding. Some people believe that an overt message is automatically preachy. That’s not close to the dictionary definition:

having or revealing a tendency to give moral advice in a tedious or self-righteous way (Oxford English Dictionary).

What makes the theme of a novel seem tedious or self-righteous?

Tedious would be “same ol’, same ol’.” Self-righteous, I believe, would be the author spelling out the message to make sure the reader gets it. It’s an insult to the reader, and it violates the story.

Unfortunately, Christian fiction has become known for both those problems. Just last week I was bemoaning with a friend the tendency for Christian romance to tell the story, and retell the story, of a Christian girl falling in love with the Bad Boy, only to convert him in the end as they fall in love and begin their happy lives together.

That scenario suffers on two fronts. First, it has been done before … with some frequency. Nothing other than the salvation message comes through the story — nothing new for the reader familiar with salvation to think about. Secondly, stories with that basic premise may focus on spelling out how conversion “works” so that the reader gets it.

I’m not opposed to romance in fiction, and I’m not opposed to conversions. Both can work and they can work in the same story. However, to avoid being tedious, something different, interesting, unusual should be added. Or the expected should be turned on it’s keester. 😉

To avoid being self-righteous, the author must muzzle himself. He must also resist turning a character into his mouthpiece.

Here’s what writing instructor John Truby has to say about theme:

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 (from The Anatomy of Story).

On his web site, Mr. Truby addresses the approach one movie takes to theme:

The Constant Gardener shows us what happens when a film’s moral argument outweighs its story. The film has a serious thesis it wants to express concerning the plight of Africans and the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies that supply them with drugs. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a theme and creating a story from that. But it had better be a good story. [emphasis added]

Some people argue that many who read Christian fiction like overt Christian themes. That’s why they choose to read those novels. Overt is not at issue. Overt themes are not by definition tedious or self-righteous. Overt themes do not, by nature, cause readers to feel as if the author is talking to them about Christianity rather than telling them a story.

The classic example of stories with overt themes is C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. No one can miss the good triumphing over evil with the king comes into Narnia, or forgiveness purchased with sacrifice, both of which are at the heart of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. Though the themes are clear, I have never heard Lewis accused of being preachy.

In short, we Christians would do well to stop quibbling about whether or not stories should have themes. Yes, they should! But whether they are overt or subtle, they must be crafted well so that they don’t “overwhelm the story.”

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , ,

If More Isn’t Better, What Is?

Last time I made a case for writers slowing down their writing rather than flooding the market with less-than-best novels. With the change of status of the e-book and the ease, as well as the lower cost, of publishing that format, authors may be tempted to increase how fast they put out books rather than to slow down. I think that would be a mistake.

Writers should continue to improve. How can they when they barely have time to get a story down and turned in on deadline, even as they put in hours promoting the previous book?

But how, exactly, can a writer improve?

Last time I mentioned that characters can improve with time. As a writer gets to know the characters, they become like real people and therefore behave on paper in realistic ways. Gone will be the lines of dialogue the author forces on them because readers need to know certain things. Instead conversation, thoughts, and actions will fit naturally because this particular character would say, think, and do these particular things.

But it’s a stretch to make characters unique. No two people are alike, and an author needs to work hard to make no two characters alike, in what they do, how they think, how they sound. In addition, no character should fit a mold. Just like an author should avoid cliched expressions, she must avoid cliched characters.

Along those lines, a writer aiming for better, not just more, should avoid cliched answers to the difficulties she puts her characters in. Finding an uncommon way of escape is a challenge on several levels. One is to find something that hasn’t been done to death already. The other is to foreshadow it properly so that the problem isn’t solved by some force or mechanism that appears conveniently at just the right moment when nobody (especially the reader) expected it or looked for it.

Besides believable plot points that are properly foreshadowed, the better plots are not convoluted. Once I had an editor call a synopsis I wrote “convoluted.” He was right. I hadn’t written the book yet and put the synopsis together based on ideas I had for the story. I knew where I wanted to go but not what all I wanted to happen on the way. I put in all the interesting things I considered. It was too much and of course as I began to develop the story, it was obvious to me which ideas didn’t fit.

Unfortunately, it seems like some books retain all the interesting ideas even if they don’t fit. Plots should not be hard to follow. They can have interesting twists, certainly, but the bottom line should be, the protagonist has an objective and a plan of action. So does the antagonist, and the two are on a collision course.

Most importantly, however, books should say something. Unless they are modeled on fables in which a stated moral is part of the story, the something a book says should be woven into the fabric through symbolism, character growth, plot developments, and resolution.

Such weaving takes time and is often a result of extensive revision.

I could go on and discuss character motivation and language and imagery and subplots and a host of other things that better stories have, but I think it’s probably time I put this particular rant back into its cage for a while. Let me end with a simple answer to the title question: If more isn’t better, what is? Creativity — and that takes time.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 3

I personally will need to extend the CSFF Blog Tour because I’m still reading our feature, The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). I’ve been feeling guilty about this because I know if I’d pushed, I could have finished reading it on time.

But it dawned on me today, I didn’t want to push to finish. There are some books that drive me on with a fast pace, tension, and suspense. The Skin Map quickly introduces tension, but I won’t say it’s fast-paced. In fact, I’d call it a leisurely pace that builds as the plot weaves and dodges.

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to give a review of merely the part of the book I’ve read.

Instead, I want to talk about something this book has made me think of—the incorporation of moral or spiritual themes in fiction. I’m including “moral” because of the example I’m going to give, but the application for The Skin Map is spiritual.

A few days ago, I read a review written by a Christian about a secular book. This person was positive about all aspects except one. The author had portrayed a homosexual relationship in a positive light, rendering it a normal part of culture, no different than the existence of varying eye colors. In the comments, sadly, this Christian review got hammered by people claiming the blogger was hateful.

But here’s the thing. The blogger (I assume, correctly) identified a moral position woven into the story contrary to this person’s individual beliefs. I applaud the blogger’s alertness to recognize this theme. As I see it, that’s the discernment we Christians need to have.

At the same time, I think we need to write the way the author of the book under review apparently wrote. The theme meshed with the story, was a part of the experience of one of the characters (who had two mothers), and was presented as ordinary.

I believe Stephen Lawhead has done much the same thing with Christianity in The Skin Map. None of the characters (so far) have made any pronouncements of faith. But woven throughout the book are lines about such things as prayer, attendance in church, schooling by Jesuits, Providence, and God Himself.

In addition, I realized some two hundred words into the book that Mr. Lawhead likes playing with names. Early in the story, readers learn the adversaries are known as Burley men. Some chapters later we meet a character named Earl Burleigh. Not coincidentally, he shows himself to be the Man behind the men.

Later, when a new character comes into the story, Lady Fayth, niece of Sir Henry Fayth, Lord Castlemain, I began to wonder if there isn’t significance in these names as well.

Granted, one can get carried away looking for meaning tucked here and there (see for example, some of the works about the Harry Potter books), but in a story, by a Christian, involving the fabric of the universe—time and space—I can’t help but wonder if readers looking for the obvious might not miss the subtle.

As I see it, Mr. Lawhead has established God in his story world (throughout time and across distance) by the fact that some of the character have an almost nonchalant acceptance of Him and by the suggestion through names that some characters may represent more than what they first appear to.

These are things I need time to think about. Without a doubt, I’d miss whatever subtleties and secrets might be in the story if I had pushed to finish.

My full review TBA. In the meantime, visit the blogs of others participating in the tour. You’ll find some excellent discussions and reviews. I’ll recommend Bruce Hennigan’s discussion of providence, Rachel Starr Thomson’s article about expectations, John Hileman’s comparison of the book to a corn muffin (don’t miss this one), and Steve Trower’s (who hardly ever gets books sent to him in the UK) review.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

Shaping Culture

I enjoy listening to apologist Ravi Zacharias on the weekend. In the talk that aired Sunday, he posited three ways in which culture is shaped. In essence, this process is actually the manner in which a person influences others, either their contemporaries or those of a coming generation.

One method a person can use to shape culture is theory. This method would include such things as reading Plato and Aristotle or any other philosopher who is working through a theory of how the world works.

A second method is through the arts. Here Mr. Zacharias gave the example of Albert Camus and his philosophy of the absurd (shown in stories such as The Plague and The Stranger) or existentialist Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis, The Trial).

The third method of shaping culture is by prescription—that is, by telling someone what to do. By preaching, you might say. Or dictating. Parents use prescription regularly—Monique, make your bed or Lee, do your homework.

As I listened to the descriptions of these three methods, I couldn’t help but think about Christian fiction, particularly that the Christian writing world wants to reduce our ability to shape the culture to just theory and prescription.

While some writers like Athol Dickson have declared the importance of having something to say in fiction, I continue to read others parroting the sound bite, If you want to deliver a message, go preach a sermon.

How clever. And how wrong.

Not that sermons don’t deliver messages. They should. But so should stories. Just not in the same way.

The message of a story—and we’re actually talking about its theme, a literary term for the idea that pervades a work—should not be delivered in the same way as the message of a sermon. Preaching, after all, is prescriptive. Stories should not be prescriptive.

However, it’s a mistake for an author to accept this last statement and then deduce that stories should not have a message, or that the message will somehow ooze out of the author’s pores onto the page. As if delivering a powerful, non-prescriptive message takes no purposeful planning, no conscious thought.

Mike Duran recently had an interesting blog post about the time necessary to write meaningful stories. Primarily he was pointing out the effect of deadlines on a writer. But I can’t help but wonder if haste doesn’t first strip away depth from our stories. Who has the chance to think about what he actually wants to communicate when he needs to create realistic, engaging characters and a plot that isn’t derivative or predictable.

However, I don’t think haste would strip our fiction of its meaning, no matter how hard it is to weave a thoughtful message into the fabric of a story, if we were committed to the idea that we are shaping culture by our art. And that it’s OK to do so. Really.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

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)  
Tags: , ,

What’s the Point?

From time to time I read on different writers’ sites that the main thing a novel should accomplish is to entertain.

The main thing? I don’t agree.

Think about it. Dirty jokes are entertaining. Is that as high as a fiction writer should aim? A Christian fiction writer?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe stories should entertain. If they don’t, few people will read them.

But I think entertainment is not the function of fiction. I think communication is the function of fiction.

That Christian fiction has been labeled as “preachy” by many tends to scare off writers from trying to say something important through story, but I think it should instead scare us into learning how to say what we want to say in an engaging way that uses story rather than fights against it.

As I see it, this approach is similar to the approach God wants believers to take in all of life. My real point and purpose for existing is to give God glory.

But what does that look like? If I go out to the busy intersection a couple blocks away and start shouting out truths about God, will that glorify Him? Maybe.

I tend to think, however, that a more effective way is to love those God puts in my everyday path. The harried mom I might run into at a soccer game. A distraught co-worker who found out his wife has cancer. A disabled gentleman I might sit next to in church.

There are lots of people God puts in front of me, and when I give them a cup of cold water, the act is as if I am giving that kindness to Christ. Does this not glorify God?

But back to writing—it’s a unique profession. Writers have the privilege of telling others what we think by putting words down for people to read at their leisure.

Two things, I think, make writing compelling. First, if the writer has something important to say. Second, if he says it in an interesting way.

Some people don’t think Christians have anything important to say. Is that true? Do we see the world through our $200 designer sunglasses instead of looking wide-eyed at the stark realities the rest of the world sees?

You might be surprised to learn that I do believe Christians have encumbered vision—we see through a glass darkly. The problem is, all those wide-eyed others are actually blind, seeing without seeing, knowing without understanding.

Enter the Christian writer. We have the chance to write about life in a way that opens up reality. We are not limited to the mundane or to the impoverished human coping strategies when we stare in the face of our damaged world. We have more to say than the unbelieving, not less.

Unless, of course, we only aim to entertain.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,