You probably think that fiction and nonfiction are on opposite sides of the equator—and I would say that you are absolutely correct. Each have different sets of rules, audiences, and goals. One is entertaining and the other is informative. One keeps us on the edge of our seats and the other keeps us on the edge of our brains. One lifts us into another dimension and the other pushes us down to reality.
The task of fiction writing is complicated. We make up people, places, and situations that are supposed to inspire readers to care and relate. We’re not trying to enchant anyone to the extent that they lose sight of the line between fiction and reality, but we are hoping to lift the veil of disbelief so that their imagination can run through the lush grass or the chipped pavement of worlds that don’t exist.
Have you ever been tempted to tear pages from your notebooks, toss the crumpled wads into the trash, and vow to never write again because it isn’t worth your time? Some days, the words refuse to come. On other days, people insist that playing around with imaginary characters and places isn’t a real job. And every day in between, you stare at the gaping whiteness in front of you and wonder, “Why do I bother?”
Since time began, spiritual beings have played a role in literature, ranging from stereotypical devils with horns and pitchforks to angels with halos and wings. These invisible, mystical creatures can raise the stakes and tension, rescue or endanger their human counterparts, and embody the conflict between good and evil, but since most of us have never laid eyes on one, how can we both accurately and artistically develop them as characters?
Christian writers who want to involve God as a character in their stories face an ongoing struggle. We’re acutely aware of how monumental the endeavor is, so we hesitate. If we’re too bold and dive in without forethought, we may make mistakes that mislead readers. But if we’re too timid, we risk tiptoeing around the real source of story, beauty, and truth—God Himself.
The divine is an elusive subject to capture, yet humans have been fascinated with it since the beginning of time, exploring it through poetry, stories, music, art, and various other mediums. Whether God shows up in a burning bush, as a thunderous voice accompanied by fire and lightning on a mountain, or in the humble person of Jesus Christ, incredible wonders are guaranteed to happen. Any moment that He steps into the story of humanity is powerful and purposeful.
Since the rebellion in the garden of Eden, our souls have longed for wrongs to be righted and life to be whole. Happy stories aren’t heaven on earth because they ignore our brokenness. One of the most challenging aspects of the human condition is when we fall into hardship, where we begin to question who we are and why God has seemingly forsaken us.
Books were history’s first long-range torture devices, subjecting readers to vivid renditions of holocaust, suicide, doubt, and betrayal. As the worlds and characters shatter, so do our hearts. But can we write about such situations without creating emotional scars? Should we even try?
Stories that focus on the rosy sides of reality are rarely compelling or memorable. They’re predictable—and indistinguishable from other patented plot lines. Just like Hallmark films. Although lighter fiction has a place in today’s market, I’d argue that we need more stories tackling the gritty sides of reality from a Christian perspective. We explored this two years ago with our Tricky Subjects series. And this year we’re addressing it again from a new angle based on the eleventh resolution of our Christian Storytellers Manifesto.