Saturday, October 25, 2008

Conveying Truth Without Preaching

I’m going to take a break today from talking about my progress (or lack of it) with Tangled Strands and talk about some of the changes in Christian fiction over the years, and about one in particular. I’ve referred in this blog to things that have resulted from cultural changes—readers wanting less description, more action, and consistent point of view. The truth is, two or three decades ago, Christian fiction did not have a good reputation at all.

Author and literary agent Ron Benrey in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction (yes, one of those, and it’s really good) writes, “The complaints of critics and book reviewers that Christian fiction was boring, preachy, formulaic, heavy handed, and clumsily written…drove Christian publishers to hire editors who truly understood the craft of fiction. In turn, these editors found writers who could write compelling novels that simultaneously delivered explicit Christian content” (p.24).

He goes on to say, “Editors at Christian publishing companies have set high standards and expect authors to deliver high-quality manuscripts and proposals.” They “quickly reject manuscripts that have weak stories, sloppy prose, poor characterization, tacked-on Christian messages, . . . and careless point of view” (24,25). When I was an editor for Zondervan many years ago, a manuscript came in that had a story my boss thought was worth publishing, but the author had used the book as a platform for propagating the denomination’s theology. There would be a chapter or two of story, and then the characters would sit down and talk theology for a whole chapter. My boss gave the manuscript to me with instructions to cut sixty pages of it, including all the “preaching.”

Tangled Strands doesn't contain any preaching. In fact, it doesn’t even include a church service. It does carry strong Christian messages about forgiveness and God’s sovereignty, but they are woven into the story. Sometimes truths are shared from one character to another, but sometimes a character discovers something or works through a challenge on her own.

It took me a while to appreciate the changes that have come about, and I admit that I thought of them as simply style differences and perhaps whims of current writers. Now that I understand the quality issues better, I have more respect for these changes I am trying to implement. I guess all this effort I’m expending is to try and become one of those who can write a “compelling” novel that still delivers a Christian message. At least I will have tried.

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