Since I seem to be unusually maudlin at the end of this year, I might as well exorcise this particular demon. Blame the ever-perceptive Mike Duran again, though not intentionally. He had a post about the dangers of sanctifying the act of writing, which I do agree with. The point is that we shouldn’t always spiritualize what we do. While writing is a calling, many aspects of performing our calling require our direct agency, and turning to God at times is as much a defense mechanism as well as being dishonest.
However, one of the comments awakened a response in me I wanted to hash out here. Commenter Keith wrote about not reading Christian Fiction due to message first, story often second if that. Again, this is something I agree with. I am not always a fan of didactic fiction of any kind, and strong messages can make for bad stories. But something in the resentful part of me rose up in reply, and I’ll let him have his say.
Why bother to write a message at all? Why write Christian fiction?
Let me explain. Keith made me think of three ways to respond to the issue of message first, story after:
1. Write mainly for evangelical Christians, and message first.
The problem with this we often argue over at Mike’s blog, as well as David’s Crossover Alliance. This leads to fiction accused of being low craft, stuck in the CBA ghetto, and generally something which a smaller audience may like. While it isn’t Lifetime movie bad, there’s a lot of constraint to this form of writing.
2. Hope to balance message and story in their proper places, and write for both Christians and unbelievers.
This is what I and others advocate. The problem is, well…it only seems to work if your last name is Lewis or Tolkien.
No, seriously. It seems to get blasted on one end by Christians, who dislike the mature content often needed to keep the story from being a message even in its situations. From the other end, the often minor or encoded messages get hammered by unbelievers, who find it jarring to see Elric of Melnibone’s related cousin start going on about redemption and forgiveness for a few pages, then we get the climactic battle scene with violence. For some reason, it rarely ever seems to mix well, and when it does, it’s often forgotten.
There’s another element that adds salt to these wounds, but I’ll address it later.
3. Write a secular book, with no Christian message.
Wait, this is wrong and ungodly. Um, why are all you Christians reading Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Neil Gaiman? Why aren’t you giving THEM grief? Huh? You are finding Christian meanings and symbolism in these books? There isn’t any real outcry about their messages from you? In fact, when some overzealous fundamentalist picks on the book, you defend it vigourosly?
I apologize to the cool people who may recognize themselves in this. I picked these examples more for their popularity than that. I’m also guilty of this too, given how often I hold up secular books and anime here as worthy of praise. But when Keith posted his comment, I suddenly thought If there’s so much hassle about the message, why am I bothering so much? It honestly seems like that Christians give more grief to the books that try to talk about God than the ones that don’t, or do so in such an encoded way as not to be meaningful. Or, are vetted as safe by the Evangelical Establishment, i.e. Hobbitdolatry.
It’s been something that I’ve been wrestling with lately. Is it better just to write a secular, moral tale and let the Christians find their own meaning in it? Or should you try and juggle story and message despite the increased tension that seems to come particularly in Christian art? Should you just embrace the message, opinions outside of the evangelical crowd be ignored?
Honestly, I am not sure what to think. It’s an issue that has been bothering me of late, and I wish I could say “No, I must do this: here is a list with five bullet points why.” As the New Year approaches, I keep thinking and praying on these things. I’d appreciate comments and feedback on it.