A NYT-bestselling author I heard once argued that readers tend to “read fiction to escape. Authors are entertainers,” and whether we like it or not, we need to give people what they want. But is this really accurate? Or is there a deeper reason for why people read fiction and what we need to thus provide them as storytellers?
Although Christian readers enjoy consuming material from authors who share their faith, some of it can be difficult to digest. Maybe a turning point in the protagonist’s arc fails to evoke any emotion, or the attraction between two characters involves awkward prolonged glances and tingles. How can people who understand God’s design for life and the sin that tainted it botch those portrayals so badly?
As a Christian storyteller, trauma scares me. I want to touch readers and leave them with more hope than they carried in. My concern makes me hyperconscious of how they might respond to unsettling content, and I’m tempted to cushion gore and grit.
Writing is hard. Life is harder. It’s full of tragedies, grueling work, annoyances, setbacks, frustrations, and disappointments. Nothing at all like a fairy tale. Yet fairy tale retellings have become increasingly popular over the last several years—from Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder to Kara Swanson’s Dust. But what is the value of this subgenre besides marketability, and how does it relate to real-world issues?
I used to believe that a writer’s mission was to tell the world important truths through stories. Talk about pressure. If you’re like me, you don’t handle pressure well. I’m generally laidback, but when I start worrying that I’m not as intentional, skilled, or efficient as I should be, my life can get wild in a hurry.
As Christian writers, stories offer us a purpose to fulfill on a daily basis, as well as a pastime that refuels our energy. Whether we’re obsessing over choosing the right theme or admiring the protagonist’s grit in our latest read, one of the reasons we’re passionate about fiction is because we know it has the power to irreversibly change lives. But sometimes we forget that God designed a unique character arc for each of us that predestined when we would meet Him and He’d begin cleansing and shaping us.
Many of us sit down at our desks with a list of criteria we believe we must meet before we can be confident that we’re honoring God with our writing. Our stories need to be thought-provoking, spiritual, and compelling, to name a few expectations I’ve heard or held myself to. The commission to impact others weighs heavily on our hearts because we know that our writing is an outflow of our Christian witness—and we long to capture our Creator’s magnificence in our own small sphere of creativity. But when we ask how our faith should influence and set us apart as writers, the answers vary as widely as all of humanity.
When you think of Christmas shopping, visions of toys, jewelry, clothes, and candy probably dance in your head. That’s if you’re a normal human being. If you’re a little weird and a lot nerdy, you get starry-eyed over Lord of the Rings mugs, graphic T-shirts with famous literary quotes, and stacks of books as tall as skyscrapers. I’m guessing that everyone reading this falls into the latter category. Am I right?
If no one’s ever told you, you’re a liar. And you’re allowed to be proud of it. As storytellers, we’re engaged in a ministry that’s centered around imaginary realities. We carve out mythic spaces and beckon readers to enter in the hopes that they’ll gain a better understanding of themselves, their world, and God’s purpose for them. We’re masters at weaving beautiful lies, but not at ignoring ugly ones.
As writers, words are our swords and pain is the process that tempers those instruments. Death, divorce, disease, job loss—with the crises we face mounting on a daily basis, we may sink into an egocentric realm of despair where we can’t write, can’t ideate. But through these stressful circumstances, God challenges and molds us. And when we endure, we can mine our experiences to commiserate with hurting readers.