Note: This is a slightly-edited excerpt from a very fine post by last week’s guest contributor, Mike Mikalatos, entitled, “Five Reasons You Should Write Contemporary Fiction.” It occurred to me that with a few minor adjustments, Mike’s suggestions could be addressed more broadly to writers of Christian fiction, encouraging them to improve their writing by venturing into secular venues from time to time. I’ve listed only three points because by then you’ll have the idea and will be able to complete the exercise yourself, if you wish. Trying to spin humor from Mike’s work is like spreading peanut butter on peanut butter, but fortunately, this was one of his more serious pieces. Do read the original.
I love speculative Christian fiction. The first movie I remember seeing (at about age three or four) was the movie Them Ben Hur. I had a Darth Vader Charlton Heston poster looming over my bed, and glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth a miniature chariot on my bedside table. The first short story I ever wrote (in
high school 4th grade) was about a guy who invented time travel went to New Guinea as a missionary, but neglected to take into account the movement of the Earth in his calculations culture of cannibalism, and found himself floating in Earth orbit a stew pot when he (successfully) tested his time machine went looking for a lost tribe all by himself. For some reason unclear to me today, he had an Irish a Canadian accent, I suppose in an attempt to make him interesting.
However, my favorite writing professor in college, Percival Everett Everett Percival, refused to let us turn in speculative Christian fiction for our assignments. No fantasy angels. No science fiction Last Days persecutions. No slipstream spiritual warfare or cyberpunk demonic possession or alternate histories sanctified historical romances. Contemporary Secular fiction or nothing. I remember one of my classmates defying him and turning in a fantasy an angel story. He returned it to her and said, “No dragons halos, harps, or flaming swords.” (As I recall her next story was set in modern day on Earth but had a girl with a dragon an angel tattoo … I bet she wishes she had
run flown with that now!) I gave him a vampire missionary story once and he called me into his office, stood up, and let it slip from his hands into the waste basket stew pot waste basket.
I was surprised to discover one day, reading some of my professor’s published stories, that he occasionally wrote speculative Christian fiction. I confronted him (of course! Because I was in college! And I needed more drama in my life to confirm his orthodoxy!), and he laughed at me and said something to the effect of, “So?” He went on to explain to me that I needed to be able to write
“real life” secular fiction before I would be able to write convincing speculative Christian fiction. The more I thought about it, and the more I practiced it, I realized he was right. So, here are five three ways that writing contemporary secular fiction will strengthen your speculative Christian fiction:
1) It will make your stories more compelling.
It’s easy in speculative Christian fiction to distract people with the special effects. If you have a mutated alligator demon chasing your hero through a museum an abandoned church, it’s simple to keep people turning the pages. Whole novels can be written with stock characters who have no reflection in real life. You can get away with it. In fact,
people the choir may applaud you for the great “spiritually-uplifting” ride. And if you’re able to pull that off in your fiction, it’s no mean feat great accomplishment. But if you can take that same ability and also bring in meaningful, moving character moments that cause your readers to reflect on their lives and the world around them, you’ve taken it up a notch and people are going to remember your work as more than a getaway from a fifty-foot lizard demon.
2) It will keep you from cheating.
When you’re writing speculative Christian fiction and someone asks you a question about a character’s motivation, it’s tempting to say, “Well, that’s just the way things are done in Faerie Land Christians are.” Yeah, but why are the faeries Christians stealing children from the humans reciting Bible verses instead of hiding behind rocks when the One World Government soldiers shoot at them? “Oh, that’s just something they do.” And what do they do with the children happens when they get shot? “Um. I don’t know. Hide them away where they never grow old the status of nominal Christians during the Tribulation is problematical.” And this is because? “Faeries are capricious Bible scholars disagree on this issue.”
That’s cheating. Any time you say, “That’s the way aliens think Christians are,” or “It’s different in the future Tribulation,” you’re cheating your reader. We don’t want mysterious, unknowable motivations. They can be alien Christian motivations. They can be strange moral motivations. They can even be hidden motivations. But at some point you have to reveal why the Morlocks One World soldiers are serving the Eloi shooting the Christians, and why the Eloi sleep inside Christians stand around in plain sight and get shot.
Imagine, now, that you were writing literary secular fiction and in your story you had a group of people who went around stealing babies. There’s no way you could get away with saying, “Well, that’s just what this group of people does” because we all know that people don’t do something horrible like that for no reason.
“Real life” Secular fiction shows the holes more readily when an author is being lazy or cheating on character motivation relying on Christian cultural assumptions, and learning to shore up those holes will help you in your character development and your world building communicate credibly with people outside the Christian community.
3) It will keep your reader better engaged in the story.
Let’s be honest, even books that are basically showcasing some world-building (Dune Narnia comes to mind) are, at the core of it, about the people. Dune Narnia without Paul Maud’dib the Pevensies would be a lousy story. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is essentially an epic filled with stock characters from epics with really
two three exceptions … the hobbits and Gollum and Tom Bombadil. Many of the memorable scenes of the books, of course, come from those characters.
Now, it’s pretty easy to keep people entertained with
stories allegorical fantasies about messiahs and furry animals saving the world. But what if you could do the same thing with a story about a man and a woman watching a television show together and wondering, without ever saying it, whether their marriage was going to work out or if it might be over? If you can hold attention with that story, I guarantee your next speculative Christian story will be better. Because that same couple will realize, of course, that their strange infant is actually a changeling left by the faeries autistic, and when they journey into Faerie to save seek God’s help for their daughter in prayer, they’ll also be discovering whether their marriage will survive. The reader will have a lot more to hold on to and to care about.
3a. The people who need Christian fiction the most aren’t hanging out at Christian bookstores.
3b. You may find you write better Christian fiction when you stop trying to write Christian fiction.
Apologies, Mike, for
mangling stealing plagiarizing exploiting re-imagining your article. I’m a lousy, good-for-nothing, lazy hack great admirer of your work.