1. Esther says:

    I think it depends on who you’re writing for. If you’re writing for the market, then write dreck if it sells. But if you are crafting your art FOR God and BEFORE Him, then you have a higher responsibility.

    Part of art’s job is to give us a glimpse of those higher things we are supposed to be focusing on, to give us a taste of Heaven, and to educate our taste FOR Heaven.

    I don’t intend to just promote my own blog here, but the definition used to define True Art over on that blog helps to clarify the conundrum presented in the article above: “True Art magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit illustrating God’s Word through the artistic medium thereby motivating the gathered Church to proclaim the Gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.”

    If you are an artist, and a Christian artist, then my opinion is that you have a responsibility to reach for that standard of art every time you produce a work of art. But if you’re goal is simply to make a living…I don’t know. I guess if your family is starving and writing dreck will fill their stomachs, then it would be better to write dreck than let them go hungry, if you are trying to hold to scriptural priorities.

    I think it takes “keeper” books to achieve the standard of True Art. Not every book will be one, but every one written by a Christian ought to have that as its goal even if it doesn’t reach it.

    Frankly, bad writing ruins a story for me. I DO notice. And I won’t think the story worth reading if the grammar is bad, the story crafting clumsy, and the characters bland. I promise I won’t finish the story. If you’ve got a good story, why dress it in rags? It deserves to be well written.
    my .o2

  2. Bob says:

    What are the standards for art.

    C.S. Lewis’ fiction would rate sub-par with today’s standards, and I’d guess that modern art would’ve be considered inferior with Rembrandt. This would indicate that standards, if they are objective, are only during a specific period of time. Does that mean they’re really subjective? So why are the works of the two above mentioned artists keepers?

    Maybe the absolute standard is what God calls good. Why did God call his work of creation good?
    Because it was perfect. OK, let’s skip that one. Because it was imaginative, creative, unique, orderly, diverse, deep, mysterious, wonder-full … If we can emulate some of this, I think we’d have more keepers.

  3. Galadriel says:

    Bob has some really good points

  4. I find it inconceivable that any author would set out to write something he or she considers substandard just to make a living. I honestly believe that almost all writers agonize over every word they put on the page. Am I being naive? I don’t know. I just know that all the writers *I* know–self-published, traditionally published, unpublished–Christian and non-Christian–set out to write the best books they can from beginning to end.

    I understand Duran’s argument that we shouldn’t aim for mediocre. I agree. I aim for perfection, knowing I’ll fall short of it. But I can hit the point where I think it’s as perfect as it’s going to get and *still* have a lot of people saying, “this isn’t a keeper.”

    And even when I think something is as perfect as it’s going to get, I could improve my craft and story-telling ability and look back and think, “wow, that really stunk” somewhere down the road.

    Should Christians strive for “perfection” or whatever human equivalent? Absolutely. Should we worry whether consumers are going to see our books as “keepers” or not? Well, not as much. I still think Terry Goodkind’s “Wizard’s First Rule” is a keeper, even though it has huge flaws. But I’ve tried to read “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss, and I just can’t get hooked, even though other fantasy fans say it’s brilliant, life-changing, and a keeper.

    Maybe I’m missing the point of this post or of the argument altogether. I’m left scratching my head at the concept that any writer doesn’t give it his/her all every time, straight out of the gate. Again, maybe I’m naive… It just seems like this isn’t the kind of thing you do as a lark, intending to produce substandard work just to make a buck. If making a buck is your own goal, there are WAAAAYYYY easier and more lucrative ways to do it.

    • Patrick says:

      Has anyone here written a keeper? Did you believe it was a keeper when you arrived at the finished product after all your time and effort you put into writing it? Has anyone here intentionally written a book you knew was dreck, rationalizing that because it’s a popular sort of dreck it’s fine because it sells? It’s easy to make harsh opinions when we think we are talking about other people- but with the nature of this particular blog I suspect we are really talking about ourselves.

  5. Morgan Busse says:

    Keepers for me are books that I will read over and over again. The story resonated with me. As Bob pointed out, there are many old books out there that would be considered sub-par by today’s standards. If they were entered into a contest, they would rate average or less on POV, too much description, not enough active verbs, etc…

    However, these are the books on my bookshelf that I will read over and over again. Books by Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), Maude Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and many more.

    I think (if I were using the hamburger analogy) that it comes down to our different tastes. For example: Red Robin is a gourmet hamburger joint. All their burgers are gourmet, but I do not like all of them. Same with books. There are some well written, award winning books out there. They’re just not my type.

  6. I have a new rule. If my comment is over 400 words I put it in a blog post instead of in the comments. My comment today came in at over 500 words. So, thanks for the interesting topic. Becky. I will be blogging about it soon. 🙂

    My short comment is that a good book, like good food, takes time to prepare, and shortcuts never make anything better.

  7. Oh, so to answer the question you posed…I think readers are reaching for the best they can get, but that many writers are cranking out fast food—assembly line burgers—-and I think they do it not because they don’t know there is a better way but because they are too addicted to instant gratification to take the time to prepare the healthy, tasty, artfully prepared meal.

  8. Sally, I think you’re right. I don’t think writers are TRYING to write subpar material, but they end up doing so because they a) fool themselves into believing their fast-food fare is just as nutritious as the gourmet burger; or b) don’t really care because they know they have buyers who love what they’re putting out and they’re pretty sure they’ll be able to sell another billion since their last burger sold a billion.

    I have a suspicion that those in the latter category are ignoring the critics, saying the book buyers know best, and that’s who they’re writing for. I think they’re oblivious to the fact that they could maybe double their audience, or more, if they wrote their stories with more attention to craft.

    And Morgan, I agree that there is always some part of the reading process that has to do with our taste. But my point is, when you find something to your taste, there is OK and there is Great of that particular item. So, yes, I wouldn’t like a gourmet burger that had bleu cheese on it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer a gourmet burger without bleu cheese to a warmed over microwave burger from a fast-food chain.

    And yet we too often settle for the fast food burger saying we prefer burgers to linguine. Fine, I say. We should have burgers, then, but they ought to be Great burgers, not fast food burgers. We should have the best kind. The ones that make us healthier.


  9. Morgan Busse says:

    Great point. To be honest, I have very few keepers on my own book shelf because I’m hoping for the gourmet burger to come along (lol).

  10. Morgan Busse says:

    Just thought of another point. When does a writer admit that they are only a grade B writer? Perhaps there will be improvement over the years as they learn, but in the end, they will never be a Hemingway or Tolkien? When does a writer finally be content that God made them a grade B writer, but as a writer, they are still reaching people?

    I don’t know the answer to that question myself, so I thought I’d throw that one out there 🙂

  11. Bob says:

    Do your best and don’t worry about the grade. Somebody will give you an A, even if it’s from your own family.

  12. Morgan, I’ve actually been asking myself a similar question. But then I read something from a well-known novelist writing in Writers’ Digest, and he said every author at some point during a novel goes through doubts about ability. It was an interesting perspective.

    I call it discouragement, but could it be realism? It’s at points like this that I have to hold onto the fact that God knows what He wants to do regarding my writing. It might be something He wants me to learn about Him. It might be something He wants me to learn about writing. It might be something I haven’t even thought about yet. The key is for me to hold the course and not be swayed from doing what God wants me to do.

    Ah, I can hear some say, how do you know God wants you to write? That’s back to that “calling” discussion we had a while ago. But I’ll say, I do know God has made us in His image and we are therefore creative and we are communicators. So why not writing as an expression of our reflection of Him?

    What I wonder at times is if discouragement isn’t part of a spiritual battle. Could it be Satan wants to dissuade writers from proclaiming God’s glory in story form? I would think that fits his strategies.

    The other thing about writing that I’d heard so often and now believe to be true because I see it for myself is that writing makes you a better writer. So if we want our writing to come out fully formed (like giving birth to a fully developed son or daughter the day after conception) without going through the growing processes, we are setting ourselves up for discouragement.

    OK, I needed to hear all that. 😆


  13. Kaci Hill says:

    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?


    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?

    To be completely trapped in one-liners: “We are far too easily pleased.”

    But that said, I don’t immediately write something off just because it follows a formula. Bad dialogue, terrible execution, sure. But just because I see it coming doesn’t mean it didn’t work.

    Amy:Should Christians strive for “perfection” or whatever human equivalent? Absolutely. Should we worry whether consumers are going to see our books as “keepers” or not? Well, not as much.

    I prefer telling people to strive for excellence. It’s measurable and attainable. Like my dad says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

    • Kaci, I agree. But even “excellence” is subjective.

      I hate to be the grouchy one here… I still think I must be missing the point… I think my novel is a “keeper,” but I suspect most people on this blog and in this comment section wouldn’t because of some of the content. As far as the quality of writing, I’d hold myself up next to most of the quality writers out there. I think I do characters as well as (or, dare I say, perhaps better than) Stephen Lawhead, but he leaves me in the dust on sheer poetry of writing. I think I do dialogue as well as David Eddings did in the craft department, but he smokes me in snappy comebacks. I avoid adverbs, I use normal dialogue tags (said, asked, and the occasional tag to indicate volume), I vary my sentence lengths, etc. etc. There are still going to be people who hate my work and people who love it, and some will be Christians and some won’t be. In both camps.

      When I think of “keepers,” I think of books like Pride and Prejudice, Call of the Wild, Little Women, The Old Man and the Sea, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Chronicles of Narnia, Goodnight Moon, Oh! The Places You’ll Go!, Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, A Song of Ice and Fire (by George R. R. Martin), several series by Stephen Lawhead, Dune, A Wizard of Earthsea, Sense and Sensibility, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, everything by David Eddings…. I could keep going. You see a pattern–there is no pattern. I have eclectic tastes. And I’m positive I’ve listed at least one book or series that someone on this blog or in the comment section will say is a terrible book.

      By the same token, if anyone ever wants to torture me, just force me to read some Steinbeck or Faulkner. And, horror of horrors, I’m still struggling to read through the Lord of the Rings.

      I guess I don’t understand why “subjectivity” has to be a bad argument. ALL art is subjective. There were probably storytellers in the crowds around Jesus who said, “that whole thing about the prodigal was good and all, but he could have given me a better sense of setting. Also, the dialogue was stilted.” And surely there was a crowd of little old ladies outside the Sistine Chapel saying, “Well, this isn’t the art *I* grew up with, and must he really cover the entire ceiling?”

      Here’s what I’ve come down to: I write the story in my head to the best of my ability. The audience’s reaction isn’t my responsibility. It’s my responsibility as the artist to craft a good story that’s as representative of truth as I can make it.

      If we’re all going to wait for God to come down and personally bless our books as “keepers” before they go out the door, we’re most likely going to be waiting a very, very long time.

      *ducking now while people throw things and I’m banned forever from commenting*

      • Kaci Hill says:

        If we’re all going to wait for God to come down and personally bless our books as “keepers” before they go out the door, we’re most likely going to be waiting a very, very long time.

        Haha. Of course. I wasn’t suggesting we try to ‘rate’ ourselves or anyone else – that was the point. “Excellence” is both striving for your best and challenging yourself beyond what you’re currently capable of. Everyone’s got their own mix of strengths and weaknesses, yes (I won’t forgive Tolkien Tom Bombadil).

        The subjective part is a matter of taste. I don’t like Renaissance art much (not into nudes, don’t get why they’re all nude), but that’s not what makes it excellent or not. I’m annoyed by most classics, but that’s a matter of flavor (I think many are convoluted and I have little respect for writers who penned work while high).

        What every book you listed has in common is that it’s well done, whether we like it or not.

        As for being realistic about ourselves, I think you illustrated that nicely.

        Assuming that makes sense….now I have an assassin to write…

  14. Martin LaBar says:

    I agree with Kaci Hill, on all points (the ones in her comment, anyway).

    Keep up the good work, Speculative Faith!

  15. Morgan Busse says:

    To somewhat answer the question I posed above, I think we should strive for excellence as Kaci stated, but we also need to find contentment in the writer God has made us. I say it this way because sometimes in our strive to be the very best we lose ourselves. I am a competitive, driven person. And if I let those aspects of myself rule me, then I will turn into a person I don’t want to be. I must be ruled by God before I strive for excellence.

  16. […] slightly, I want to move from how a writer writes (see “Good Versus Mediocre” and “Another Look At Good Versus Mediocre”) and how a reader reads (see “Readers, Writers, And What Each Understands”) to what a […]

What do you think?