Writing What Is

Writing What Is

I often get into some quite animated discussions about the shape that the writing of a Christian should take. There are several schools of thought, which I’ll condense down to two main ones:

1) Christians should write only explicitly Christian stories.

2) Christian should not write explicitly Christian stories, but rather bury hidden meaning that an unknowing secular audience will dig up and point them in the direction of God.

Both points are valid. Many people have come to Christ through Christian films, Christian concerts, and all those explicitly Christian things that get scoffed at. However, the power of the Gospel in them is enough for God to use them for His purposes.

Others point to the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who spread elements of the Gospel through their stories like bread crumbs that guide you home in the midst of a thick forest. I’ve heard several people at least say they came to know Christ through a journey that began with one of these books.

So, who’s right? Neither is. While both heavily religious and more subtle works have been successful in reaching people for Christ and being commercially viable, neither is the be all and end all.

The key is to write what’s in your heart and the stories you have, not to play your stories one way or another. The question shouldn’t be, “What’s the right approach to take to a story?” The question ought to be, “What’s the story I have and what’s the best way to tell it?”

God is always a part of most of my stories, particularly the good ones, but how he appears varies. In both my short stories for the anthology, God is talked about, but never shows up. In my novel, “Two Sides of the Hill,” God is at the center of the entire story, while in “Super Hero,” he’s only discussed every few chapters. I’ve written stories of great miracles and the chronicles of the mundane. Both have a place in my world.

The danger we face when we adopt a rigid view of what our stories will look like is that in that rigidity, we kill imagination. We try and fit our characters, our stories, and even our portrayal of God in a box and we end up unhappy with what we produce and stuck in a rut, because we’ve limited ourselves.

I write what I see in mind’s eye and I make changes to the plot if it makes it better or flows with my vision of the story, not to please a school of thought. The critical thing for Christian writers is to tell the stories we’ve been given, because if God is guiding us, they have an important purpose, no matter what form they might take.


Anonymous said...

In the beginning, when I first tried to write a story that would change the face of the world, I beat my brain into a tizzy trying to decide what message I wanted to put across in the story...without even knowing the story I wanted to write in the first place! Fortunately, a few people took the time to help me understand that a story with true emotion and well-rounded characters will inevitably have some themes or a "message" to it. Thing is, that message, principles, values, whatever, will be interpreted differently by every single person who reads the story. So, I try to now focus on enjoying the writing and the story, and let people do all that brain-beating to figure out what I meant. Heheh.


Daniel I Weaver said...

Good stuff here, Adam. I agree whole-heartedly. Every story should vary in its approach because every story is unique. If the main character in your story is a priest, then you're probably bound to have a little more theological discussion than if your main character is a coal miner who has never spent a day at church in his life.

If everything we write sets out to preach some message, then we will fail and probably never see our stories in print. But if we tell the tale He has placed on our hearts, then His message will come out all on its own. If you think about it, forcing a message into a piece of work He's laid on our hearts is sort of like superimposing our will over His. If we trust in the gift He's given us, if we believe in the story we're telling, He will always shine through. Sometimes sublty, sometimes like a beacon, but always in accordance with HIS plan.

God Bless,

Donna Sundblad said...

I agree, Adam.

I dedicate my fantasy works to the Lord for he is the source of my imagination. My stories tend to be about good vs. evil and people learning to live united. Windwalker is not a Christian book, but people have told me they see Christ in it. I do not argue it, but I did not intend it.

However, I also have a Christian fantasy novel written as an allegory. There you'll find Christ as a character named Truth.

As believing writers, we need write what we're given. It's a gift.


Deborah Cullins Smith said...

Great post, Adam. I wholeheartedly agree. We have to allow our characters to grow and breathe -- THEN God can shine through. If we attempt to engineer the concept too much, or force a specified plot, we'll wind up limiting ourselves and the Holy Spirit. I've found that God knows what He's doing with my work, even when I do NOT! I'd rather trust Him.

Andrea Graham said...

I love it when a book comes together as a seamless whole without a ton of careful planning on my part. I give Him the glory for that.