Do Christian writers want to write great literature? You know, the kind that will be around for another hundred years (provided Christ’s return doesn’t come before that)? Do we even want to write books that will stay on bookstore shelves longer than six months, or ones that won’t be the first to go on the yard sale pile or become donations to the local used bookstore? Do we want to write books people will want to re-read?
I ask because it seems like so much Christian fiction today is the temporary kind.
I work in my church library, and more than once I’ve helped a patron looking for the right book to read. They’ll often stand before a shelf of books by their favorite author and say, I don’t remember if I’ve read this one. They’ll read the back cover, thumb through the first chapter, then chuckle and say, I think I’ve read it, but I’m not sure.
Books like those are not “keepers.” They might give moments of pleasure, but they are just as quickly forgotten.
Shouldn’t Christians write “keepers”?
In the discussion to last week’s post, it seems we (writers and readers) might be divided on this subject. Author Mike Duran, implying he believes Christians should aim to write books that fall into this keeper category, said
As to the art is subjective issue, I am growing weary of Christians using that argument. From my perspective, it is usually employed when defending a work that others don’t like. Frankly, I wish believing artists would spend more time raising the bar, than arguing there isn’t one.
Others, however, defended the notion that readers could care less if a book is poorly written as long as it tells a good story.
Author and Tuesday’s Spec Faith contributor Fred Warren said
there’s a lot of pure dreck on the market that people embrace because it resonates with them on some level.
I was recently thinking to myself that even if you divide art into catagories based on skill, there are times when lesser works are just what is needed.
If readers are like me, the story is the most important thing and the telling of it shouldn’t interfere by being too stylized.
So did Morgan:
The more and more I find out about the writing world, the more I realize I do not care as much about style and artistry as much as I care about a really good story. I will forgive an author of almost anything if they hook me.
The thing is, I think both positions have merit. I agree that “style and artistry” should not spoil a good story. At the same time, I think Christian writers should raise the bar because a lot of our books are not keepers.
Of course a lot of general market fiction isn’t of the keeper variety, either. But we Christians are writing about timeless, universal themes of eternal value. We understand the core needs of the human heart. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. So why are so many of our stories so … temporary?
I return to the idea that many people are looking for nothing more than a good story, a brief respite from the daily grind. But I wonder if that wouldn’t define almost all fiction readers. The difference might be in how we define “good story.”I think an analogy might be helpful here. Everyone boarding a plane from LA to Denver wants to reach Denver. The destination is the same. However, the flying experience isn’t identical for every passenger. Some want window seats. Others sit in the turbulent tail section while others pay the extra fee and enjoy the ride in first class.
But if money wasn’t an issue, wouldn’t all passenger opt for first class? They might have different preferences — window seat or aisle — but I have to believe that no one would rather be cramped or prefer not to have special amenities or personal attention from flight stewards.
Is first class necessary? Clearly not. Every passenger will arrive in Denver. Not every passenger will have fond memories of the flight, however, or want to take that airline again. Some will consider the flight “good” as long as they arrive in Denver safely. Others insist the flight can’t be considered good because they hated the movies that were showing.
Of course, I can already hear critics of this picture saying, Some people don’t even want to go to Denver, they want to go to New York, so the destination for all passengers isn’t the same.
I agree. However, the destination in the analogy, I think, more nearly represents genre preference, not quality. Let me tap into another illustration.Some people are regular meat-and-potato folks. They don’t need fancy French cuisine. In fact, they’d opt for a good burger and fries from Carl’s Jr. any day over caille en sarcophage from Lavendou. Preference. And yet … can’t even a burger be better? Carl’s itself advertises their burgers are “Six dollar” burgers, only at a lower price. But how about a ten dollar burger or a fifteen dollar burger — more meat from a better cut of beef, garnished lavishly with the freshest ingredients and arrayed on the plate in an appealing fashion. Wouldn’t that burger be better? Still a burger. But the meal would be more nutritious, less apt to clog the arteries, more apt to give the body its necessary fuel. And I have to believe, the eating experience actually might be more pleasurable, too.
The question is, do we settle for the fast food version of our fiction because we don’t know we could have gourmet burgers instead?