Good morning! I caught up with my friend Jeremy again. He’s graciously filled in for me this morning.
Jeremy McNabb is a steampunk author, youth director, and speaker. His latest e-novella, Gravesight, is available on Amazon Kindle. Hope you enjoy the read!
This is the Advanced Class
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to sit through several informative sessions on storytelling, given by Steven James. On the conference itinerary, these classes were listed as “Advanced,” suggesting that if you hadn’t the first clue about writing, you probably ought to enjoy a different class during that slot. I’ll give you the background to set the context of the scene.
Mr. James had just finished explaining that a writer must either give the reader what they want, or else, give them something better. In other words, if you’ve spent ten-thousand words on an amazing car chase, it’s unfair to the reader for the character to wake up to find that it was all a dream. In some Christian fiction, as Mr. James points out, what the reader gets is what seems best for the character—but not necessarily what is best for the story. The climax of many Christian novels consists of the protagonist’s inevitable and predictable salvation, and not something more unpredictable, revelatory, or powerful.
“But salvation is the best thing there is!” protested one participant.
Mr. James calmly and patiently articulated that many, many Christian novels end in a salvation, and that while the angels rejoice over the saved, rescuing a completely fictional soul from a literary Hell may cheat the audience of a deeper glimpse beyond the veil.
With great indignation, the same participant rebutted, “So you’re saying is that a novel is different from a sermon?”
Everyone turned their head at that point. Someone must have missed the boldfaced word “Advanced” printed on the itinerary, just above the class description. Mr. James answered, “Absolutely. A sermon gives answers. A novel asks the questions.”
There are dozens of differences besides this singular distinction. Sermons are spoken; novels are read. Sermons are short; novels are long. Sermons are given from a pulpit; novels, page by page. Sermons are concerned with conveying truth; novels are concerned with conveying the truth as a particular character sees it.
But none of those summarize the whole difference better than Mr. James did. Interestingly enough, most classes and textbooks on preaching advise preachers to incorporate stories into their sermons, while best-selling authors unanimously agree that a novel is no place for a sermon. Here’s where I should be expected to pick on the church, especially on preachers who aspire to be novelists. Throughout Mr. James’ sessions, he made sure to highlight the common mistakes that (even best-selling) novelists make. I’ll admit, my exposure to Christian fiction doesn’t compare to my exposure to mainstream fiction. It’s my dirty little secret. Most of the books people were talking about at the Christian writers’ conference were ones I hadn’t read. When Mr. James mentioned sermonizing, or a clichéd act of God, rescuing the protagonist from death, my mind went to mainstream novels.
Now, before this becomes a sermon: