We have already seen …
- Too many Christian-fantasy blogs focus on the joy and business of writing rather than reading. That’s a grave miscalculation in engineering, designed as if to prevent a launch.
- Before teaching others, we must learn how to read and receive stories ourselves.
That last brought some just criticism, on which I need to touch before moving on.
R.E.A.D.-ing bad stories
Austin said this:
[The suggested R.E.A.D. paradigm] artificially limits the spectrum of discussable stories to the awesome end only, and requires all book reviews to constitute potential back-cover blurbs.
To which I replied:
True, I was thinking mainly of the “awesome end” of stories. Yet surely even subpar works should be Received, even if they don’t also lead to Delight.
So what if a story is less incredible, or at best awful? We might modify the megachurch-sermon-style acronym a bit. It still starts with Receive, for criticism must still be humble.
- Receive. Even a bad story deserves our attention first. We can try to “lose ourselves” in it. (Parallel: Even in church we would listen politely to a bad vocalist, and not boo her.)
- Enjoy. Thanks to God’s common grace, few stories are fully horrible. What is good about it? What was the author apparently trying to do, and how might we admire that goal? (Parallel: We can be grateful for a church vocalist’s goal to worship, even if she’s awful.)
- Ask. Here is where we depart humble optimism, yet with humility. What made the story so bad? How could it be better? (Parallel: gracious yet truthful suggestions for a church vocalist. Even those who know little about music technique know what sounded poor.)
- Delight. Even constructive criticism will bring hurt feelings and outrage, often of a faux-spiritual sort — e.g., how dare you judge my heart; this is the story God wanted me to tell, and there are many worse pagan stories out there. In this case we would want to point to truly objective Biblical standards for art that glorifies God. Our goal in criticism is not having fun or even Improving the Industry. Our goal is to encourage better worship. (Parallel: our off-key church vocalist should be asked what helps her delight in music, and then be encouraged to seek training as that artist did, or another worship method!)
Now for some explorations on how to encourage R.E.A.D. concepts — positive and negative, with or without the corny acronym — in others. Here I’ll touch on the three likely ignored reader groups I mentioned two weeks ago, and in a format very familiar to we “writicists”:
The elevator pitch
Consider this. We get plenty of blog posts and columns on how to pitch a work-in-progress to an editor or agent. Less often do we hear pitched pitches on how to address readers.
Below are my scripts, which I invite you to read, challenge, and modify.
“Oh, so you read and write Christian fantasy? …”
That’s fantastic. (If applicable) So do I, for my (child, [name]). And I don’t want only to find stories that will only edify, evangelize, or entertain, you know? They should be better.
“What do you mean?”
I once thought the goal of a story was limited to moral edification, or direct evangelism, or even just to distract the kids with entertainment. Since then I’ve found that God in His Story of Scripture doesn’t think like that. All those three things do matter, just as edification and pleasant melodies matter in a song of worship. But a story of worship should first glorify God and explore His beauty, goodness, and truth. That’s also why I want to enjoy stories for His glory. After all, if others don’t see me doing that, they may think that stories are only for those other things. (If applicable) My children should see that I love God-honoring stories.
2. “Lewis/Tolkien or bust” readers
“… I don’t read much other Christian fantasy. Just give me Lewis and Tolkien any day!”
I love those authors. We likely wouldn’t have any other stories today if it weren’t for them. But I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with us only enjoying their stories and not at least trying to determine if other God-honoring stories exist. They are out there; you would love them. Absolutely, some evangelical fiction is bad — but often because their authors get stuck on trying to imitate only Lewis and Tolkien, without tracing their art and beliefs to the roots. Let me tell you about this fantastic novel I was reading the other day …
3. Church folk
“… I don’t get into that fantasy stuff. I’m more of an Amish/historical/romance person.”
Ah, I’m certain every fiction genre can glorify God. Do you think fantasy or sci-fi can?
(If “yes”) Let me tell you about this fantastic novel by I was reading the other day …
(If “no”) How come? (Bypass objections to magic, someone-else-used-it-to-sin, etc. After this reply, the person will need to choose whether he/she really wants to call you a liar outright.)
Here’s why I think otherwise: because God’s Story is fantastic. I believe He is working today in miraculous ways to call out a Covenant people and redeem the world. He has promised that His people will someday live in a fantastic realm, when Heaven touches Earth to give birth to eternity. I love stories that help me think about such a time, and about good and evil, redemption, the miraculous. Fantasy and science fiction are fun, yes, but the central reason I want to love them is because they draw me closer to the Author of fantastic reality.
You be the editor. Revise those scripts. Add realism based on your own experience dealing with those groups — or your own script about another group. What has worked for you?
How have you previously explained your fantasy story enjoyments to such folks?