Last week, I began a look at the Clive Staples Award voting standards in order to help readers make the tough selection. In summary, this award of Christian speculative fiction is not a popularity contest. Consequently, no voter should choose a book he has not read! Our aim instead is to honor fiction well written.
We are hoping to identify the best book, based on five categories: writing, setting, characters, plot, and theme.
In review, the standards for the first area–writing–can be encapsulated by saying good writing is not boring. I should also add, good writing is not distracting either, because of errors or because of an effort to be poetic which calls attention to itself.
The standards for setting, can be condensed to two questions: is the worldbuilding consistent and does it convince readers to believe it?
This brings us to the remaining three categories.
Characters. A well-developed character will be relatable, believable, and active. Many readers want to like the protagonist, but actually, that’s another way of saying we can relate to the character. We like characters we get; we care about ones with whom we can sympathize. Generally speaking, we don’t like ones who whine or who are selfish and prideful. We also are less likely to relate to perfect characters–though we admire good characters who suffer and handle their suffering courageously.
In reality, this issue of “relatability” bleeds into believability. If a character has motives readers believe, even odd or anomalous behavior is acceptable. Do monsters take care of the children they are supposed to scare? Only if they have a believable motive for doing so. Does a Texas Ranger don a mask and partner with an Indian to roam the country doing good? Only if he has a believable motive for doing so.
The third factor is this: a good character needs to be active. When confronted with a problem, strong characters look for solutions, make plans, do what they think is best to better the situation. They aren’t simply in reaction mode, doing something only because they have no other choice.
Which leads to the next area for consideration.
Plot. A good plot starts with a problem, has ever-increasing complications, and resolves in a satisfying way–none of which is predictable. A story needs a problem to be a story. Something must happen to disrupt the main character’s world and cause him to take action.
Of course his initial action must add to the problem, not solve it. This deepening of the problem can happen because of or in spite of his efforts; it can be a result of new information gained, new enemies encountered, new hardships uncovered.
In the end, the problem comes to a satisfying resolution–though not necessarily a happy one–without being predictable. If a reader “sees it coming a mile away,” the ending is too predictable. That’s different from thinking the ending might be X, Y, or Z or hoping that such and such happens. If the reader continues to think there’s a possibility the story could go in several directions, it isn’t predictable.
Theme. The story says something important that is consistent with a Christian worldview without being preachy. Sometimes this area is the hardest to nail down unless it has been done badly.
Because there’s been so much talk about Christian fiction being preachy, it seems some people have concluded that if a reader can discern what a story is saying, then it is preachy. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe serves as an example of a story that says something important without being preachy.
The key, I believe, is that the author doesn’t explain the message, either in narrative summary or through character dialogue. There is no, “So, dear reader, Aslan, like Jesus, sacrificed himself for the sin of the wayward son of Adam.” In fact, there’s no explanation of what Aslan did. The action is left to stand on it’s own, to show the reader rather than to tell him, what the author wants to say.
So there you have it–the ways we hope readers will evaluate the nominees for the Clive Staples Award.
As a reminder, to be a voter, a reader must have read at least two of these books. You can help by telling others in your network about CSA and sharing the list of nominees below (in alphabetical order by author’s last name). In the comments pass on to others any ideas you have about letting readers know about the upcoming vote for the 2013 CSA winner. Where have you shared information about CSA? Where else could you share it?
Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson (Risen Books)
Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press)
Devil’s Hit List: Book Three of the UNDERGROUND by Frank Creed (Splashdown Books)
Liberator (Dragons of Starlight series) by Bryan Davis (Zondervan)
A Throne of Bones by Vox Day (Hinterlands / Marcher Lord Press)
Mortal (The Books of Mortals) by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (FaithWords)
Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore (Thomas Nelson)
The Telling by Mike Duran (Realms Fiction)
Risk by Brock Eastman (P&R Publishing/Focus on the Family)
Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian (Muse It Up Publishing)
I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham (Splashdown)
Seeking Unseen by Kat Heckenbach (Splashdown Books)
Remnant in the Stars by Cindy Koepp (Under The Moon)
The Unraveling of Wentwater (The Gates of Heaven Series) by C.S. Lakin (Living Ink Books)
Prophet by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)
Judge by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)
Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)
Fire Prophet by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)
The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson)
The Wrong Enemy by Jane Lebak (MuseItUp Publishing)
Alienation (A C.H.A.O.S. novel) by Jon S. Lewis (Thomas Nelson)
Curse Bearer by Rebecca P Minor (Written World Communications)
Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell (Splashdown Darkwater)
Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin (Crimson Moon Press)
Prophetess (Winter Book 2) Keven Newsome (Splashdown Darkwater)
Failstate by John W. Otte (Marcher Lord Press)
Soul’s Gate by James Rubart (Thomas Nelson)
Starflower by Anne Elizabeth Stengl (Bethany House)
Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House)
Star Of Justice by Robynn Tolbert (Splashdown Books)
Daystar by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press)
The New Recruit by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)
Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson (Zonderkidz)