Matthew 12:36-37 NLT tells us we will be called to give an account of every idle word we speak. Our words will either acquit us or condemn us. Pretty heavy message, isn’t it? As writers, I think we also need to include every word we write.
The questions are:
As writers, do our words edify?
Do they help readers draw closer to God?
How do we as writers edify our readers?
In fiction, most readers turn to books for entertainment—to be thrilled, to solve a mystery, to laugh, to lose ourselves in someone else’s story, to escape our own, even if only for a brief moment.
As authors, we don’t want our words to be idle—careless, vain, impertinent, not edifying, without any useful purpose.
But novelists usually don’t write to teach or convert or convict. At least that shouldn’t be our primary purpose.
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.
We’re not called to preach, cajole, teach, shame, or lay a guilt trip on anyone.
We reveal the 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 strong, 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.
On the other hand, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm pilloried Communism through story, through characters, through allegory, satire, and plot.
Isn’t it a stronger testimony and witness to present our characters as real people dealing with real problems in the context of the story world 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 to 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’ve written from the truth I’m trying to convey, I’ve failed. When I’ve written 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.
What’s been your experience in writing edifying fiction?
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