There’s been considerable discussion at Decompose, author Mike Duran’s site, regarding Christian fiction. The initial article, “The New Demographic: Christians Who Don’t Like Christian Fiction,” began by discussing an audience of Christians who want “faith-based” stories, but not the usual fare. The discussion, however, soon turned to why this audience wants something different.
One statement in particular generated much conversation:
THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHRISTIAN FICTION TITLES ARE STYLISTICALLY, CREATIVELY AND LINGUISTICALLY SUBPAR.
– Katherine Coble April 15, 2011 at 7:59 AM
Some commenters pointed out that not all writers, not even a majority of writers, publishing in the general market succeed in creating the best fiction. In fact, some suggest, the proportion of good writers to bad is the same in both the larger arena and the smaller.
All this conversation got me to thinking about speculation — how one person can make a statement like the one in the last paragraph, and people will leap to contradict it or repeat it based on their presuppositions. In the same way, a reader can read a small sampling of a genre and speculate that the entire genre is X or Y or Z based on how their one experience either met or contradicted their expectations.
All this to explain how I got to today’s topic. In the end, I found myself asking, Is one person’s good book another person’s mediocre fare? And if so, is there in reality a standard of art writers should be aiming for and readers should be looking to support?
Is “Art” a real thing, or is it merely a term we use for our subjective response to what has been created? I’ve made a case before that art is real in the same way that beauty is real. No one questions that sunsets or rainbows are beautiful. It’s a given that they are, though some might be more so. In the same way, I believe there is human imitation which we call art that draws closer to the reality of beauty than do others.
Which means, there are some stories that are “better” — more artistic, more skillfully created — than others.
However, not every reader may realize the difference or care for the books considered artistic. Does that make those readers ignorant or wrong in their assessment? I don’t think so.
Along with true artistry is personal preference.
Let me illustrate this with visual art. I happen to prefer landscape paintings to portraits. I’ve been to museums before where portraits by the masters hang. They’re fine, in my opinion, but not pictures I’d want hanging on my walls. I understand they are great works of art because someone has put them in a museum and the artists have great reputations, so I don’t disparage them. I may even appreciate them. I just don’t really like them. After all, I’m not a painter. I don’t understand all the things the artist accomplished in that work. I’m mostly looking at the subject matter and responding according to my preference.
In the same way, I believe most readers respond to novels based on subject matter and preference.
But here’s the key question. Wouldn’t the reader have a greater experience reading a story containing his preferred content if it was also executed with great artistry?
Back to my visual art illustration, because I prefer landscapes, I might choose an amateurish pastoral scene to put on my wall, but how much better if I had a true work of art depicting that same scene?
Taste drives our likes and dislikes. Many people like speculative literature. Many Christians like faith-based stories.
Writers of Christian speculative fiction can find an audience based on who likes our content — overt Christian themes or cool superhero characters or fast-paced car chases, or whatever else readers are looking for.
I believe, however, we can broaden that audience considerably by writing artistic Christian speculative fiction. The more we invest in our stories, the more content will be present for a wider audience.
Do readers love The Lord of the Rings for the spiritual message? Some do. Others may love the adventure or the magic or the characters. The point is, the more that’s there, the more reason a variety of readers has to like the story.
I suggest that the stories that aim to do the most have the best chance of reaching the greatest audience and staying around the longest.
What do you think?