Bridging the Gap with Speculative Fiction

I have an internet evangelist friend who calls it "the old story about the old story." Ninety percent of Christian websites (or Christian books, magazines or music) are designed for other Christians. Even those who believe they are creating 'evangelistic' sites use church slang and Christian cliches assuming the reader understands. Others are so overt and obvious that the non-believer just turns off and surfs away.

Speculative Fiction has the potential of being a bridge strategy to open the door to consideration of spiritual things in a secular culture. Readers of speculative fiction already have to suspend some level of disbelief. They have to accept things such as faster than light travel, time warps, magic, alternate worlds, demons and monsters as part of the landscape of speculative literature.

Likewise, speculative fiction traditionally has created a good versus evil dynamic. Gene Roddenberry considered much of Star Trek to be a modern day morality play. That Christians have avoided these genres is a sad thing since the door is already open a crack and it may be enough to begin a conversation about spiritual things.

Of course, Christian speculative fiction writers must be careful to keep the fiction seeker-friendly. To do this we must do three things:

1. Avoid Church Jargon and Insider Writing. Christians speak their own language. We say the sinner will feel conviction then he will repent and let Jesus come into his heart. You realize how strange that sounds to someone without a foundation in Christian doctrine. And, if you are writing science fiction, do you think they will be using the same jargon a thousand years from now? Likewise, we must not assume that the reader knows the stories of the Bible. When making reference to Biblical events assume the reader is hearing about it for the first time.

2. Be Subtle. Nobody likes to be hit over the head with a heavy-handed message. Stories are stories and not sermons. The unbeliever particularly will visit your website to be entertained or challenged. However, he will not visit to be preached at. Let the message emerge naturally from the character and the plot in such a way that the reader can work it out for himself or herself.

3. Tell a good story. It seems amazing to me that some people miss this basic idea. The story must be entertaining, it must hold the readers attention, and it must surprise the reader in a rational way. This means creating strong multi-dimensional, complex characters that your reader can identify with. It means crafting a plot that flows naturally from the interactions of your characters. Conversions must come as the result of an ongoing process and be foreshadowed in subtle ways so the reader can say, "Oh, yes, that makes sense now." Write a story that is not just as good, but better than anything in the secular market. They must respect you as a writer before they will respect your message.

I may sound like a broken record in my posts about this. Maybe that's because it is something God is dealing with me about. Its good to entertain Christians. It's better to disciple them through fiction. But it's even better if we can help fulfill the great commission and go into all the world with speculative fiction as a means for beginning a process that can lead to salvation.


Anonymous said...

You'll get no argument from me; I've always been a vocal advocate of mainstreaming whenever possible. I've read Christianese SF, and want no part of it.

I want to write worthy of a Hugo, not whatever pseudo-Hugo-with-Bible-verse-inscribed passes for it in The Christian Community (TM).

I want my stuff to be up there with H Beam Piper and Poul Anderson, not Left Behind with LaHaye & Jenkins.

Ken Pick
Co-author, "Mask of the Ferret"
in Infinite Space, Infinite God

Andrea Graham said...

This advice certainly makes sense when writing for an unbelieving primary audience.

Me, and many other authors of biblical speculative fiction, we have a different audience priority.

God, first, and (at least for me) the Church, second. Evangelism comes in at a distant third, personally. It's easy for evangelistic writers or discipleship writers to feel like every writer should focus on evangelism or discipleship, that's a mistake we often make in assuming God's called everybody to the vision we see.

For me, He's laid discipleship more on my heart, but to God be the glory if He's laid evangelism on yours. Though I hope we all have the Audience of One in mind first and foremost, to paraphrase Paul, one sows, another waters, and another weeds, but God gives the increase.

cyn said...

Terri wrote: Speculative Fiction has the potential of being a bridge strategy to open the door to consideration of spiritual things in a secular culture.

Absolutely Terri, and a very laudable goal for this particular audience.

We cannot, however, forget about the Christian community who have already crossed this bridge, who are looking for fellowship, who have been searching for years to find CSF that reflects their worldview instead of an anti-Christian view. And, finally these works of CSF are available to this audience.

Granted, there was a plethora of poorly crafted Christian fiction in the past--why was it being gobbled up? because there was an audience who were willing to grasp at available fiction that was respectful of traditional values and the Christian worldview.

However, as fiction became more acceptable in the community, so did the sophistication of the readers. And, with it came increased pressure for well-crafted, entertaining reads--that were overt in beliefs; the market spoke and publishers had to respond in kind.

CSF on the market today is "all that." To give one example: Sue Dent's debut novel _Never Ceese_ has received many kudos, but in particular I draw your attention to a rave review from secular author Nick Grabowsky:

"Very imaginative, stylistic, and highly entertaining, she excels without compromise to personal belief and the learned expertise it takes to write so well. I highly recommend it, and I can't recommend it enough."

Well isn't that nice, some will say, but so what?

_Never Ceese_ has been shortlisted for a Bram Stoker (superior achievement in a new novel) and, at the same time, is up for Novel of the Year at ACFW. I'd say this is pretty impressive--an author who doesn't hide her faith yet is still recognized by her secular peers. It can and is being done AND, there is a market for it.

The prestigious SF writing awards do welcome works of Christian and Biblical speculative fiction, and trailblazers like Dent are leading the way--but, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket.

As for _Left Behind_ although I am not enraptured with this series either, LaHaye and Jenkins have obviously hit upon a need here and we are the ones being left behind if we don't recgnize there is a market for non-mainstream CSF . . . w-a-y behind.

Terri said...

I don't believe that the only valid spirituality based spec fiction is that written for a mainstream audience (although I do believe that anything we write should be at least somewhat understandable by outsiders and generally free of jargon which is often not even shared by all Christians). However, I would love to raise the awareness that there is a big need for writers of all genres to write good solid literature for a mainstream audience which simply has some spiritual value.

There is a market for that. I doubt that only Christians watched say "Touched by an Angel" when it was on TV.

However, this was written to hopefully stir a few who have a vision for bridging the gap and becoming part of the 10 percent of Christian writers/webdesigners/musicians/artists and other creative types who may want to walk outside of the bounds of the church audience.

I'm interested in cultivating those writers quite selfishly because I need them for WJ. But also because of the vision I have of not necessarily seeing not conversions coming from Christian influenced speculative fiction but conversations. I doubt any single piece of fiction will drive someone to their knees in repentance. But if it starts them thinking outside the secular, materialistic box and begin considering spiritual things, then the conversation can start with a Christian friend, family member or co-worker. It's not even sowing seed, but breaking up the ground.

It's not the only vision, but it is my vision and I just wanted to encourage others who might have the same vision

I certainly did not mean any offense to those who target a Christian audience with stories that encourage, challenge or call Christians to discipleship. We are all workers in the field.