Monday, July 22, 2013

The Variety of In-Not-Of the World Writing - Part 1

God likes variety.
If you’re not sure about it, look out the window. This world is full of color from sea to ever-changing sea.

God's imagination, in amazing color, is everywhere.
So why are we surprised when God takes the same variety and imagination into fiction?
Why do we get stuck in a 'category' of what Christian fiction is 'supposed' to look like?
Isn't there variety within this category too?
Time for me to get a little technical here and pose a few interesting questions.

Does God only create one type of story to get His Gospel out to the world?
Did He in the Bible?
He used the perfect story for a particular audience at a certain time in history.
Same truth. Different 'way' in which the story was conveyed.
To farmers, he talked about seeds. To workers, he talked about 'talents'. Paul even talked about an 'unknown god' when speaking in the courts of the Gentiles.

The Bible itself is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly in stories - and God doesn't hold back on some real-life, tough issues.

He uses different stories to convey one truth in different ways.
Just like he calls us to do.
So here’s my ‘table’ to talk about God’s story variety:

In the Christian community we sometimes forget God’s great imagination and how he uniquely fits the perfect story to the right audience.

Most stories are a mixture of 3 of the six above options. Any combination can work and NONE of them are the wrong combination for God to use His story to reach the people He wants to reach.

Let’s go over each of the categories in this post and in Part 2 we’ll talk about different novels which are examples.

1.       Simpler Story-Line – fewer subplots and less complex story line.

2.       Complex Story-Line – more deeply and complex story line

3.       Subtle Christian Themes – A read-through of this novel will not show obvious Christian themes, but because the novel is written from a Christian world-view, the natural story of God’s grace comes through in the way the characters interact with others and their world.

4.       Overt Christian Themes – This novel has obvious Christian themes, possibly with Scriptures, prayers, and conversion scenes. There is a clear Christian worldview, and though the characters show their faith, they also talk openly about it within the story.

5.       PG – themes and language – This is a gentler story. The problems for the characters may be true-to-life, but are described in a gentler more PG related way. The language is usually gentler too as well as the romantic elements. Maybe a kiss or two, but not enough to heat up the collar. The suspense is more “Nancy Drew” than Ted Dekker - and usually this novel is less likely to cause any controversy by topics discussed or situations presented within the story.

6.       PG-13 – themes and language – This story is considered more ‘edgy’ in themes, perhaps in language also. The romance usually sticks to closed-bedroom doors, but the sexual tension has a tendency to be portrayed in a more intense and possibly physical way. There’s usually more than 1 or 2 chaste kisses (think Julie Lessman here) and possibly a struggle with sexual purity. The suspense thread may have more vivid or even harsher crimes with some real-to-life language exchanges. It also may possess a more intense spiritual struggle from “old-self” to ‘new-self” in Christ.

In our attempts to write the perfect novel, why are we writing it? Who is our audience? What do we hope God will do with our story?

Why do you read different books? What do you hope to find within the pages?
If I’m a woman whose past has been built on harsh choices, deep wounds, and rough words, what book might God have written for me?

If I’m a man who has chosen to leave my wife for another woman, only to realize the horrible mistake I’ve made – what book has God written for me?

If I’m a happy homemaker looking for an opportunity to escape the demands of the day or the seemingly mundane scenarios of my life- which book has God written for me?

Does a Christian author only write for CBA? Can he/she also write for ABA?

What’s your opinion? Just like the Apostle Paul modified his story to meet his audience, should we? Can God use our variety for His glory?


Dorothy Courtis said...

Very helpful, thank you! I'm about to start the read-through of my completed first draft and it's good to see where it fits and how it fits

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

LOVE this!!

Joanne Sher said...

So much to ponder - and so freeing to think of the many options we have :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

I adore this post, Pepper!!! Yes and yes!!!

Mari Howard said...

Very interesting how obsessed "Christian fiction' is with sexual matters... as is 'mainstream' fiction. Now, here's my comment: what does sexual tension add to a good story? My writer's mag (Mslexia -for women writers) rightly advises we get ourselves feeling sexy in order to write a good sex scene. Hum: both provocative, obvious, and also, actually, interesting. To get oneself sexy (alone) when writing... now where might that lead? Back to basics: WHY are we writing whatever scene it is? I h ave one published novel and am doing a follow-up, where my main character couple are married with small kids. I haven't yet found it necessary to do a sex scene... I would write one if it were, but somehow the story works without the need, even if people are coming out of the shower (or going into it, or undressing) the act doesn't seem to be needed... Is it just that some Christians don't read other novels,and they have a need for sex scenes somewhere in their fiction lives? (There is the results of marital rape in the first novel... but not the act... as we don't happen to ever be in the mind of the characters involved..) Mmm interesting... What do others think?

Pepper said...

Hope it was helpful, Dorothy!

Pepper said...

Thanks Karen and Julia

Pepper said...

I love the idea that no two stories should be the same even though we might be using the same faith to share the story :-)

Pepper said...

Thanks for bringing some great discussion. Sex or no sex, a story must stand on its own - so it sounds like you have the right focus in mind :-)

And I love how you've discussed how scenes need to be an organic extension of your story. I think that's vital. If it isn't organic to bring a certain type of tension into your story, then it's not going to work, right?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Good stuff here, Pepper! I would say yes to all of the above. I think Christians could even write ABA, especially when it is a bit edgier and not accepted in CBA. ;)

Bethany Macmanus said...

I've been called a "tweener," between the CBA and the ABA. I don't feel like I straddle any fence when I write, but I do like my characters gritty and real. I leave out sex scenes and expletives, but somehow I am still labeled "dark." I really appreciate you posting this and showing us writers like me are out there, and our stories can and will be used by God to speak truth into people's lives for His glory. Love it, Pepper! :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I'm right there with you, Bethany. Absolutely love this, Pepper!

Nancy Kimball said...

I actually had a very similar discussion with a beta reader of mine this past weekend who encouraged me to consider publishing beyond the CBA. So very timely Pepper and I think that like Bethany, a good buddy of mine, that it has to be the grit and violence in my novels that are keeping the CBA doors closed. Because the writing is quality. I wouldn't win the awards I did if it weren't. So maybe it is time to consider the ABA market, and if they will be more tolerant of my spiritual thread and overt Christian world view than the CBA seems to have been of the "dark" tone and themes of my novels required to adequately reflect the redemptive process for my characters as I envisioned it.