I hear it all the time – it’s the big debate in Christian fiction, the one that writers and readers buzz about, the one that makes us stop typing and ask, “Is this passage preachy?”
I think it’s a good discussion, one we should continue to have because it helps us shape the industry of Christian books. However, it is a mistake to think that Christians are the only ones who need to ask if our literature is “preachy” and packed with messages that hammer rather than whisper.
General fiction has just as much reason to worry as Christian fiction does that it’s preachy.
I read broadly, as I suspect the vast majority of us do. In my fictional travels I’ve come across general market fiction that was so preachy it made me put the book aside. The adage that “no one likes to be preached to” is one mainstream writers need to heed every bit as much as religious minded writers do.
I’ve been reading The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, a book I wanted very much to like for many reasons. First, the author is Canadian (from Winnipeg). I read vast amounts of Canadian fiction (and I recommend you do too – there is a delectable “otherness” about Canadian fiction that is at once familiar and foreign), and I was happy to add Davidson’s name to the list, especially after I heard about the large advance he secured for this, his debut novel. The premise is so strong and compelling, it’s no wonder publishers snapped him up. So, I bought the book.
Remember – I wanted to believe. I wanted to love this book.
There are two things that keep me from falling in love with The Gargoyle. First, the writing – with a wobbly voice that never finds its track, to Davidson’s habit of writing in a way that minimizes emotional impact, to his lack of knowledge of the psychological, the writing left me feeling – well…cheated. Still, there are moments in the book that shine, and I would have overlooked (on tip-toe, mind you) the writing if only he would have refrained from his preaching.
But the real reason I couldn’t love the book was because several times I had to check the front cover to ensure I had not, by accident picked up a book titled “I am atheist, hear me roar” or something of that nature. He spoke his beliefs loudly and from the soapbox on the corner street Christians are so often accused of standing on. He didn’t let the story just tell the story of a man who didn’t believe in God yet couldn’t explain the things that were happening to him.
I don’t mean to pick on Davidson and his book. But, for the sake of blog post brevity, I wanted to highlight a concrete example of what I am talking about. All of us, regardless of the religious/political/ethical messages we wish to incorporate into our fiction, need to remember to respect the reader, and respect the story.
For the Christian, that means creating salty stories – fiction that is flavored throughout with the truth of God and His character. You would never sit down to a meal and drown it with salt, covering your plate until all you saw was white. We use salt in measure and allow it to bump up against the rest of the ingredients, soak in, and change the flavor of the entire meal for the better.
Jesus said we were to be salt and light to the world. These two things are perfect examples of how God wants us to write as well as live. Salt and light both are, in and of themselves, overpowering elements when taken in large quantity. Salt burns the tongue, light burns the eyes. But used wisely and in measure they are indispensable. Keep in mind though, it isn’t the salt or light that matter most, but the effect the salt has on the food, and the effect that light has on a darkened room that make them transformative elements.
What have you been reading or writing lately that uses salt in proper measure? How did the writer accomplish this?