Making a Difference

Where is that magic line that delineates secular sci-fi/fantasy from speculative fiction? Must the name of Jesus be used "X" number of times? Must a salvation message be slipped in, thus providing a Sunday sermon dressed up in Monday's blue jeans? Or are we writing spec-fic for our fellow Christians, couched in the jargon of the sanctified, which unbelievers may not clearly understand?

Now before the indignant barrage of boulder-sized stones start flying, let me state emphatically that I truly want to glorify God with my writing. I want non-believers to be drawn closer to the Lord's embrace, and I want Christians to feel strengthened, encouraged, and uplifted. Now comes the "however" that you've already braced yourself for.

One of my "pet peeves" in Christian fiction is the author that batters the reader continually from beginning to end with Christian jargon or Bible verse after Bible verse. Obviously, I am not opposed to Scriptures, but it is not necessary to use every verse you know (or can find in a concordance) in your fiction. If the reader is not engaged by the characters, if he/she doesn't care what happens to them, it won't matter how many Scriptures you've quoted to back up your plot. The reader will sigh, close the book, and place it - unfinished - on the darkest corner of the bookcase.

Personally speaking, my goal is to write memorable literature, good stories with strong characters, and plots that won't easily be forgotten. I want my readers to see people they can relate to, struggling with moral dilemmas that they face themselves. My goal is to build the story around the characters and how they deal with life, spiritual battles - whatever pitfalls I've created for them to overcome. That's why people buy fiction.

I'll be honest here, although it may get me nailed to the nearest tree. I read very few "Christian" authors. Frank Peretti, yes, as I mentioned in my last post, and I love the fiction of Francine Rivers, especially her Mark of the Lion trilogy, which I read for about the thirtieth time last week. In fact, I've read the first in the series, "A Voice in the Wind", so many times I had to replace it about a year ago because all the pages were falling out! Her characters are so multi-layered and real, I don't even see them as fictional creations, but as living, breathing people I wish I could go back in time to meet.

An even better example is author Madeleine L'Engle. She has written shelves and shelves of wonderful books from adult fiction to young adult fiction to poetry to thought-provoking non-fiction. Her non-fiction is filled with her own struggles to reach out and touch Jesus, to overcome her own frailties, and to share her journey along the way.

But her fiction is an entirely different matter. Madeleine L'Engle is the author of the award-winning spec-fic young adult series, The Time Quartet, comprised of "A Wrinkle in Time", "A Wind in the Door", "A Swiftly Tilting Planet", and "Many Waters". She used the concepts of physics to create other worlds for the Murry family to explore in time and space. It's page-turning spec-fic for all ages. On the other hand, Ms. L'Engle's adult novels, "The Small Rain", "The Severed Wasp", "Certain Women", and (my all time favorite!) "The Other Side of the Sun", are not even classed in bookstores as Christian fiction. Her characters face life, death, wrong choices, unbelief, and spiritual darkness, but her faith rings clearly by the end of her stories. Very few writers have ever captured me and held me like this author. Her books are beacons of light, and examples I strive to live up to. They ARE the epitome of exemplary literature.

The point I'm trying to make is this. If you want to minister directly to a certain demographic or a particular issue, write a non-fiction book and cite references to your heart's content. Pull out that thirty pound concordance and preach, baby, preach! I'll sit on the front row and shout, "Amen!"

But if you choose to write fiction, particularly spec-fic, remember that the reader is buying your book to escape into another world. Create characters that will take the readers by the hand and coax them down Alice's rabbit hole. Build worlds that capture them so completely, they're ready to pack up the family space ship and fly away. If I can challenge the reader, slip the message of God's love between the lines, give them something to mull over long after they've closed the back cover, then I will have achieved what I set out to do. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. After all, we don't save people - Jesus does. If we give our Lord fine literature to work with, HE will have a vehicle through which to woo hearts, and we'll have the assurance of knowing that we are only vessels in the Master's hands.

It's been a privilege to work with the writers of the Lost Genre Guild to create the anthology you'll soon see on the bookstore shelves. They have all lived up to the same standards I hold dear, and hopefully we are sending our work out into the world to shine God's light in the world's darkness.

NOW you can throw those stones!


Literary or Real?

"Are you a real witch," asked Glinda, "or a literary witch?"
"Oh, literary, of course, dear," Griselda replied. As proof she pulled the Times Book Supplement out of her pointy hat and began to read.

Fiction is fictional, but some of it is more fictional than the rest. If I mention a real-world car or computer or a historical figure, the reader knows that the item or person is based on reality. But the historical figure in particular may do and say things not in the history books, so there is always some fantasy involved.

On the other hand, if I make someone up, like Glinda or Griselda, do I want you to think they're real? No. I just want you to think my character is realistic--and I don't think we ever call something real "realistic." Tolkien called this Secondary Belief: the belief we're willing to grant something fictional. He also said that it was dangerous to confuse Secondary Belief with Primary Belief (belief in real people and things), and sane people can generally keep them straight.

But what about fictional witches, for example? There are real people who claim to be witches, though their beliefs vary widely and none of them strike me as authentic. But they don't usually fit the literary stereotype of broom-riding hags stirring eye of newt and wing of bat in a cauldron. They're also a far cry from most "witches" in modern fiction. You see, most fictional witches (aliens, elves, superheroes, etc.) are literary devices: they have some gimmick that makes the story work, which is all that matters to the author. If that's all the magic is--just a gimmick--there's not much to worry about.

Slippery Slope?So are all fictional witches innocent? Isn't there a slippery slope that leads readers to accept what is wrong? There can be, especially these days. There are two main danger signs:

1. Instructions. If the witch (Red-Eye Knight, whatever) is purely literary, the author probably won't go into a lot of detail about how to do it yourself. On the other hand, if you have practically an instruction book on how to cast a spell, summon up a vision, or move a book with your mind, then it's not wise at best and probably plain wrong.

2. Preaching. I always get a chuckle out of Christians who don't want to write preachy spec-fic. It would be interesting to find out about their home planet. Spec-fic has been preachy for decades; consider Star Trek (all forms), Star Wars, and the Matrix. Any preaching there? And what are they preaching? But in any case, just as you should avoid something that preaches a false gospel, so you should avoid something that glamorizes witchcraft or psychic powers. (Tolkien and Lewis didn't; witches in "Narnia" are a loathesome lot.)

If these two things are missing, then the magic or other oddity probably is nothing but a plot device. If it truly makes you uncomfortable, you're better off avoiding it. But don't knock the gimmick.

Tune in again next time for "It's Not the Deus, It's the Machina":

"What the deuce is that?"
"Deus. Deus X. Machina. There's a god in this box, you see. Very useful."
"Must be rather small, though."
"Folds up nicely, that's all."


The Meaning of Life

Cats were made to be cats. Tuna + laser-pointers + super-balls + string + sunbeams = the 21st century cat. A cat glorifies Him in her simple cat-ishness.

You and I walk a more complex path. We're created in His image, have free will, and must make a choice. Then we choose Him. We joyfully discover that there is no tyranny in submitting to the Boss. We grow, and learn about “His will for your life.” We've got His rule-book, His gifts, and we experience space and time from the point He's chosen to insert us. We're awed when we learn that we, like a cat, glorify Him by being the best us he made us to be. But us does so by existing at the intersection of the passions and abilities that He's invested in each of us. —Matthew 25:14–30, the parable of the talents.

An athlete like Brett Favre glorifies God with his arm, an actor like Mel Gibson with his expression, an evangelist like Ravi Zacharias with his oration. All glorify Him by investing His talents, but a few are tasked with using their talents more specifically.

The literary arts are expressive, and authors are easily judged by their works. It amazes me that in a language as detailed as English, we've no more expressive a word than “Christian” for Christian fiction.

There are Christians who write quality fiction. Sue me, but I'm only listing speculative artists: Stephen King, Anne Rice, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip Jose Farmer, and Philip K. Dick all hold church memberships, and claim a belief in God.

Then there are Christian novelists who write fiction from a Scriptural world-view and framework: Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead, Donita K. Paul, Karen Hancock, Bryan Davis, and Rick Sutcliffe.

There's no distinctive terminology between Christians who write fiction and Christians who write fiction of Scriptural standards. For this reason, I propose the following definition for criticism:

Biblical speculative fiction [Bib-spec-fic], noun: stories with settings or races that are significantly unlike our own, told through a Scriptural world-view and framework.

A compiled definition will be submitted to Wikkipedia, and credited to the Lost Genre Guild.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” –Martin Luther.

To God be the glory,
Scott “Frank Creed” Morris

Frank Creed site
Lost Genre Guild site
A Christian Writer's Notebook
A Frank Review
Lost Genre Guild BLOG



The Imp in the Closet

Why do we create--

It's a question artists, musicians, and yes, writers, have asked for centuries and
one that will continue to be discussed in classrooms, books, and coffee shops
for as long as people seek to express their creative gifts. For the Christian
writer, the question "why do I write" is not merely a call to examine
intellectual motive but to search the heart.

Ask a roomful of us why we do what we do, and you'll mostly get variations
on the same themes-- glorifying God, spreading His truth, and giving vent to
the fire burning in our bones. These things aren't just easy to say; they are
what we sincerely want our writing to be about. Our redeemed hearts desire to
create out of pure, selfless service to God...but our hearts are not yet fully
redeemed. And neither are our motives for writing.

I suspect I'm not the only one who has a closet in the back of their mind, in
which lives a short, rather grubby imp that has nothing better to do but stir
up selfish reasons to write, distracting me from my true calling. The promise
of a nice, fat paycheck. The sound of applause. A chance to make a name for
ourselves. I don't like to admit to myself that the imp is quite noisy at times,
even though I try to ignore him. I don't like it that no matter how many times
I clean out the closet, he comes back, causing my to doubt even my most
sincere desires.

When does recognizing a God-sent call to words become pride? When does
wanting to use words to reach others become presumption? When does
wanting to present a beautiful, well-done story turn into a desire to please
man? And when does the desire to communicate truth become a desire
for someone to listen to me talk?

The imp knows his craft. Sometimes I find myself wondering how it is that
any of my so-called service to God will pass through the fire without
evaporating into smoke. A sense of self-betrayal rises, with the words
of Paul, to my lips-- that which I would do, I do not. That which I would
not do, I do.
It would seem that every time I renounce the path of self, it
weaves another by-way to beckon my feet. I suppose that is why we are
told to daily take the cross.

Our writing is not exempt from the war which wages in every part of our lives--
whether we will serve God or serve ourselves. When we are most weary of the
corruption within us, when we most long to shed our old nature like a
worn-out skin, we can take comfort in that God sees our desires to serve Him.
Through His grace, He strengthens the parts of our hearts that long to commit
our words to Him, and the longer we spend in His presence, the fainter the
voice of the imp grows. It is in this slow, beautiful renewal of soul that we
find hope that despite the weakness of our flesh, we are able to strive daily
to create in His honor. We find hope that someday we too may stand before
him and hear well done.



Infinite Answers From a Finite Medium

(Posted on Susan Kirkland's behalf)

Great authors strive for many things, but these rank at the top: to leave their audience hungry for more -- to draw them in with plot twists, vivid description and characters we will love and truly care about. Ours is a tricky art--knowing where to add color and texture and when to leave a bare canvas. We must allow our readers to draw their own conclusions and then question those same conclusions. There's a certain genius to getting it right, and the Greatest Author did it with his Holy Word.

We have all fallen in love with Esther, David, Paul and Christ Himself through the Word of God. Many are curious to meet these legacies when we get to Heaven.
What did Daniel feel when the lions breathed on him in that pit? What was it like to raise the son of God? What happened to Joseph? Did the apostles have a sense of humor? As a result, we are left longing for more, wanting to the next chapter after the book ended.

Not only is He the Greatest Author, but also the Greatest Editor-in-chief. He knew when to add details and when to omit them, leaving us to ponder, to question, to seek His voice and His will to answer those questions He knew would linger after the last chapter. We answer those questions ourselves by seeking His guidance and pouring over His clues He left. In this life, we'll never know for certain if we answered them correctly.

That's called faith.

He did that on purpose. He did it to leave us hungry for more and to draw closer to Him. It's our object lesson. How do we respond to doctrinal differences amongst ourselves? Can science fiction, horror and fantasy exist in Christian fiction? Do women have to stay at home, or may they labor for a paycheck? Is Christian rock music evil? If all theories have clues -- Scripture -- to back them up, who is right?

Being right isn't the important part, it's how we respond to other believers' answers to those questions. "They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another." We can disagree and still love like Christ loves us. Otherwise, Satan has divided the house. As long as we are drawing closer to God, He'll reveal His answers, one detail at a time, but His is an individual unveiling that has to be done by Him.