Monday, December 19, 2011
Define "Preachy Fiction"
Years ago, I used to just sit down with a notebook and just write. I did not look at what the books were on the bestsellers list or take a poll of my family and friends to see which topic would be the most popular with them.
Then, about a decade ago, I began to wonder what it would be like to incorporate more overtly Christian themes into story. I wanted to add these elements because they were organic to the story and not because it was the latest trend or because I wanted to see how much sermon material I could pack into a novel.
So I started looking around at various forums and reading some distinctly Christian novels. I also "reverse engineered" some novels (both Christian and secular) and read a lot of blogs. Over and over on forums and in articles I kept seeing a familar theme: don't write preachy fiction or worse, don't write agenda-driven fiction.
I thought to myself, "What's preachy fiction?"
In the meantime, I kept reading my Bible and saw God move in some dramatic ways.
Then I started seeing awkward but well-meaning conversations of how to stay true to Christianity but not write preachy fiction. Often times this was accompanied by comments about the current state of the CBA, the CBA's rules, how agents just don't understand, how readers are just misguided, or that current Christian fiction was not edgy enough and needed more gore, violence, or whatever. Then there were comments about how to work Christian "themes" into a story without any type of reference to a Bible, Jesus, or God in any recognizable way.
Throughout all these conversations I kept thinking, "Who are these people truly writing for? Are they writing for themselves or for an ever-shifting market?"
The reality is, in a profession filled with rejection, writing Christian fiction will probably garner you even more persecution, even if your writing is top-notch. Will this cut into sales? Who knows. Yet the Bible talks about being persecuted for being a Christian, whether you are a farmer, a trucker, a writer, a lawyer, or a football player. After all, numerous prophets in the Old Testament were persecuted for their message (and God even told some of them this would happen ahead of time) and Jesus makes it clear persecution will happen.
So again I ask, what's preachy fiction anyway?
If you have a Christian character in your story and your book is read by an atheist, does that make the book preachy?
If a character cites a Scripture verse and makes a stand based on their faith, does that make the book preachy?
If you create characters with authentic traits that also have a Christian worldview (complete with real-world struggles) yet the reader cannot relate to them because they never attended church does that make a book preachy?
Let me put it another way. A while back I watched the movie Tron Legacy in 3-D. Great special effects aside, I noticed the story seemed to have a Zen/Buddhist feel to it. I then read reviews about the movie and did not see any comments anywhere about it being "preachy".
Likewise, I'm sure someone could write a book or make a movie with characters that have completely relativistic worldviews that continually contradict one another. Would that make it preachy? Would anyone even notice?
What if someone makes a movie which is filled with non-stop gore, has heads being severed and blood pours forth in every other scene for the sake of being edgy and "realistic"? Would anyone call that movie preachy?
What about books like Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and others of that nature? Aren't there inherent messages in these books? Although they really don't deal with Christian themes they are generally not considered "preachy". What if you want to write a book similar to these and it contains a Christian character or two?
Congratulations! You just wrote a preachy novel!
Or so lots of articles tell us.
At what point, though, does a writer stop writing for themselves (or God) and write based on whatever way the critical wind blows? By the way, the critical wind always blows, regardless of whether you write with Christian or secular content. At what point does a writer lose interest in what they are doing because of this?
Whatever happened to working on your craft, putting out the best stories that you can, and writing from the heart? Either your writing ability is a gift or it isn't. Is it better to put that gift to use or bury it in your backyard?