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Whether we write novels, how-tos, devotionals, or articles, writers are Communicators. We want to engage and speak to readers in a significant way. And we want to be real. But is there such a thing as being too real?
Have you ever read a story that was not realistic enough (i.e. sappy, shallow, Pollyanna-ish) or way too realistic (wow, thanks, I now have that image burned on my brain forever)?
As a storyteller, my first goal is to engage and entertain, since readers don’t usually pick up a novel in search of a lesson or a personal challenge. For my own writing (and I love that we are all uniquely called to different goals with our writing), what follows hard on the heels of entertainment is to encourage hope and faith. And we are living in a time when people are desperate for hope and encouragement.
So how do we do offer bright hope and yet write real?
Set in 1953, it’s the story of an ex-Hollywood heartthrob turned born-again Christian who hires a modest WW2 widow to write his memoir. It’s a twist on the fated “good girl reforms bad boy” tale because in this case, the Bad Boy reforms the Good Girl through the telling of his life’s story. (I had to study the art of memoir writing to do this, which made for a challenging dual story writing experience . . . more on that another time. . .) But . . . if you know anything about the top-billed stars of the 30s and 40s (think Clark Gable or Cary Grant) you know that their off-camera lives were often quite sordid.
I’m guessing most readers who choose Christian fiction hope to avoid these types of scandalous tales. And the last thing I want to do is shock readers with a womanizer’s escapades. But imagine for a moment a handsome, well-known actor driven to tell his story,whose only goal is to show the transforming power of Christ, and to share the hope he’s found. Telling his story is difficult—even painful at times—and it becomes more so when he must dictate it to a respectable young woman.
What to do? Johnny has no desire to glamorize his past, and doesn’t like re-living things he’s now ashamed of, but for the heights of transformation to be fully appreciated, the depths of darkness must be shown. His past is what it is. He can’t sugar-coat it—especially if he wants to illustrate God’s amazing grace.
Perhaps Johnny will discover that gritty truths can be told with gentle tact, wisdom, and respect for the hearer.
I've heard testimonials at church from Teen Challenge participants who tell their dramatic stories of freedom from addiction and destructive lifestyles. The congregation holds their collective breaths as men talk about spiraling out of control with drugs or alcohol, and the subsequent impact on their lives and the lives of others. Most of the time, the details are presented with just enough reality to show the depth of hopelessness and yet not so explicitly that the hearers are overwhelmed and left with graphic images burned on their brain.
It’s possible to show reality in a way that doesn’t shock or grab people by the chin and force them to gawk at the wreckage as they pass by, leaving them with an indelible mental image. Yes, reality is gritty. It pummels and bruises and leaves us and those we love altered. It also reminds us that we need hope now more than ever. As if we need reminding.
Should we be real? Yes, please! No one wants to read Pollyannatopia. But let’s be real like a memoir—with wisdom and tact, not listing every gritty detail on some quest for full disclosure, but gently laying down key realities that point to a beautiful truth. Not hiding ugliness as if to fool anyone, but not framing it and hanging in on our front door either.
We must be real. And we can do so with wisdom, respecting our reader’s trust in us while using our powerful communication skills to convey the dark depths and dizzying heights of redemption.
Let's chat: How do you feel about this? What level of reality are you comfortable with writing about?
Yours Truly, Camille
Camille’s new contemporary novel, Like There’s No Tomorrow, released Sept 30, 2014 from Ashberry Lane Publishing. It’s a mildly amusing yet tender love story about two young, single caretakers, two quirky old Scottish sisters bent on reuniting, and too many agendas. It’s a love story with a tug-o-war over a daft old woman, family drama, faith testing, and the gift of each new day.
Camille Eide writes heart-tugging tales of love, faith, and family. She lives in Oregon with her husband and is a mom, grammy, church office manager, bass guitarist, and a fan of muscle cars, tender romance, and Peanut M&Ms. Find the book at: Kindle, Paperback, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords and Goodreads. Find Camille at: Camille’s Website, FaceBook, Twitter, Email Blogging on God’s grace at Along the Banks and about Fiction & film at Extreme Keyboarding.