Matthew 12:36-37 (NLT) tells us we will have to give an account of every idle word we speak. Our words will either acquit us or condemn us. Heavy message, isn’t it? I think we also need to include every sentence we write.
Do our words edify? Do they help readers draw closer to God?
Are we fiction writers even supposed to build up our readers? I see writers of devotionals and teaching books and articles and those who write inspirational books as people who would edify their readers. To me, that would be the goal of why they write.
So, how do we, as fiction writers, edify our readers?
In fiction, most readers turn to books for entertainment—for thrills, to solve a mystery, to laugh, to lose ourselves in someone else’s story, to escape our own, even if only for a moment.
As authors, we don’t want our words to be idle—careless, vain, impertinent, with no useful purpose.
But novelists rarely write to teach or convert or convict. At least this shouldn’t be our primary purpose. If they write like that, the stories come across preachy and judgmental.
Our primary purpose is to entertain. We can use our stories to do many other things, but we need the foundation of entertainment first. We do this through our characters, their journey through the story, and their transformation at the end.
As fiction writers our calling isn’t to preach, cajole, teach, shame, or lay a guilt trip on anyone.
We reveal truth through the lives of our characters, through how they handle the problems, crises, and issues we throw at them. We don’t contort our characters or our stories to make a point, either political or religious.
We’ve all probably read books where the author’s agenda was so robust the characters became wooden, stereotypical, unrelatable, and unbelievable. They were stick figures, puppets used by the author to beat his or her theology or politics into our heads.
George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm pilloried Communism through characters, allegory, satire, and plot.
Isn’t it a more persuasive testimony and witness to present our characters as real people dealing with real problems in the context of the story worlds we create for them?
Let the reader see our heroes struggle to maintain a Christ-like attitude in a world that wants to shut them up, even to the point of killing them. Or have them discover a deeper meaning to life in Jesus as they seek the resolution of their story problem. Let it flow naturally through the events and the decisions those events force on our characters.
Tension and conflict, not preaching, are the heart of storytelling. How many times did Jesus use parables (stories) to teach the principles of his kingdom?
Does this mean we have to weave profound spiritual truths through our stories? Not intentionally. By this, I mean we can write stories where the spiritual truths come out through the characters’ lives, not through our forcing the truths into them to meet our needs as Christian authors.
When I write from the truth I’m trying to convey, I’m likely to fail. However, when I write from my character seeking the truth or, even better, discovering the truth as she faces her story challenges, I’ve had a much better story and a more powerful unveiling of the truth through my hero’s transformation.
In this time of Covid-19, we can use our stories to encourage our readers and entertain them. Many readers feel isolated and scared by all the restrictions and constant harping on the negative in the media. Our stories can give readers hope as they follow our characters achieving their goals and their dreams.
Never lose sight of the power of our words to minister to hurting, frightened people even in the midst of a pandemic.