Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Magic Eraser: or Why Excellence in Christian Fiction

Why does it matter how well Christian novelists write?

Why does it matter if we master story structure? Why does it matter if we build colorful worlds or how we design complex characters and intricate plots? Why does it matter how we intertwine description or use voice?

For a long time I heard it is because excellence in art reflects the majesty of God.

I do not deny this. Excellence in art does reflect God’s majesty, His beauty, just like His creation and His tabernacle did. And this should be a motivator in producing the best work we can. But I think there’s more to it than that.

As humans, we were created for one primary purpose: to give glory to God. A fancy theological phrase, often tossed around by Christians without much though, but one that basically means we were created to make conspicuous the fullness of Who God is.

We can do this in any occupation, but novelists have been given an occupation where we can be especially open about Who God is, even without being blatant about it (yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it's not), because all story is bound to certain characteristics that make it ring true—characteristics that are tightly bound to the attributes of God. And we display all this through the thematic material—or the content—of the story.

But if we novelists primarily make God’s attributes obvious through the content, why does the excellence in how we write (or in the craft) matter so much?

Because excellent craft is the magic eraser in fiction: it removes all barriers between the reader and the content. So the better we write, the deeper the readers are drawn into the story. The deeper they are drawn in, the more they are emotionally moved. The more they are moved, the higher the impact of the content. The higher the impact, the more receptive they will be to the truth presented.

So why should Christian novelists strive to write well? Because great craft erases the presence of the author, providing a direct line between the reader and the God of truth.


Keanan Brand said...


One thing that has bugged me for years about many Christian writers is their apparent attitude that God will somehow imbue their work, therefore making it glitter and shine and reach the audience. And too much tinkering might ruin the work -- after all, it's almost God-breathed -- and we are, after all, supposed to go out and teach the nations about Christ, so a little teachiness/preachiness in our ficiton should be just the ticket.

This may not be a conscious attitude, but it's there nonetheless.

I view writing fiction like building a house: if I don't have a firm foundation or well-braced walls, it doesn't matter how pretty the paint is or how nice the roof looks. It's all coming down.

I wish more Christian writers would pursue craft with as much passion as they pursue God. He gives us the innate ability and the desire to write, but it's up to us to strengthen our skills, hone that talent, and present work worthy of His name.

I'll stop ranting now.

Chawna Schroeder said...

I don't mind the ranting. Especially since I agree with what you said. :o)

I'm with you, though. I long for Christians to work at their art with all their might, and that includes learning the craft, not only so we can exalt God through excellence, but so that we might clearly exalt Him before others in our art, which is largely done through making our craft so good, they aren't even aware of it, only of the content that the craft holds.

Chawna Schroeder said...
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