When Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit to experience the taste of both good and evil, they consciously rebelled against God. Broken, they plunged into an existence fraught with sorrow. In the shadow of their future, the rest of humanity plunged as well. We now live submerged, choking on water we weren’t meant to breathe. The people around us thrash and cough and drown every day. But how often do we think about the fall when we’re developing characters?
Have you ever heard that gospel presentations ruin novels? Or that entertaining stories with good morals but no references to the Bible are humanistic? I’m familiar with both these convincing arguments. I don’t want to waste my life by not advancing Christ’s kingdom, but neither do I want to spoil art with pragmatism.
When you claim to speak truth, opening your mouth is dangerous. Words are not idle collections of syllables in a conversation or symbols on paper. The pen is mightier than the sword, causing both greater good and greater harm. Wars, racial slavery, and genocide are all carried out by the sword, but words provoked or justified those actions.
While scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a recent quote by S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember. The words made my head snap up and the gears in my brain start turning.
“Bad books are a myth because the only measuring stick is people’s whims.” I ended my first article in this mini series with that provocative and troubling conclusion. But hopefully you followed my reasoning. Since even literary-minded readers occasionally enjoy “bad” books, how can we make any objective assessments?
We all have books we hate where we can’t fathom how anyone else could enjoy them. And yet scrolling through the reviews of even your least-favorite book on Amazon or Goodreads will inevitably reveal a number of five-star write-ups. Why do readers like these books? And why does this matter to authors?
Have you ever set down a book, startled that the author turned your outlook upside down with tiny black marks on paper? Do you want to write stories that have the same effect on others?
As I stared at the blank page beneath the title of this article, my mind revisited all the stories that have given me a transformative experience. I love when my heart skips a beat and I pause to process the exhilarating symphony that the words are orchestrating in my imagination. Or when I come to an ending so satisfying that I’m amazed.
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?
How is fiction useful? Is devoting our lives and careers to it appropriate? Most of us have wrestled with these questions. For some, concern has been posed by parents, who want to ensure that their children spend their time constructively and seeking truth. Others have sensed unspoken skepticism from the culture around them, as if writing couldn’t possibly be a meaningful pursuit on its own.