Friday, January 22, 2010

Oh, Just Cut it Out

Yikes! Did I just write "just" in the title?

Oh no! In my opening paragraph as well?? And after Bonnie did such a great job, telling us not to use the "J" word!

You see how very really diabolically easy it is to do the wrong thing? "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." That's the human condition. (That's also Romans 7:19, TNIV.)

Flawed as I am, I'm going to stick with the theme Bonnie and Debbie established, and add a few don'ts to the list. Only mine are slightly different, because they represent not only bad writing, but also bad theology - if you turn your head the right way:

Derivative plots and themes

When Francine Rivers said of Bonnie Grove, "Call her the Jodi Picoult of Christian Fiction!" we all cheered for her. When Latayne Scott's Latter Day Cipher was compared with The DaVinci Code, none of us were surprised, because she had explored the secrets of the Mormon church in a way that was fully as engaging as Dan Brown's novel - though more faithful to the truth.

Still, the thing I love about Bonnie Grove is that she is unreservedly Bonnie Grove, not Jodi Picoult. And Latayne is not Dan Brown. Both of these ladies can scare you, and amuse you, and thunder-strike you in ways that are truly their own.

Sometimes I see covers on bookstore shelves that broadcast - by their artwork, title, and back cover copy - that this Christian author is exactly like that general market author, only with a Christian message. It makes me feel creepy, because 1) it may well be that the general market author has actually told a story with a great, even a Christian message, though more subtly than his imitator, and 2) part of the Christian message is that each person - each author - is an orignial, made in the image of God, with a story and a style all her own. When I see a derivitive work, it seems to me like a failure of faith.

Straw characters

I've met them in too many novels. The unbelievers whose arguments against belief are simple-minded, thinly veiled excuses to protect the debauched lifestyles they would have to surrender if ever they knelt at the altar.

Don't write characters like that. It's lazy. It's not nice. And somewhere, some time, some unbelieving reader will see herself in your character and find herself ill-treated. Because maybe she lives by a moral code that in many ways resembles yours. And maybe her reasons for unbelief are honest reasons. Give her your respect. Explore her questions with her. And beware the easy answer. She's wrestling with angels. Hand her a towel.

God Saves the Day

The plot is simple: Main character gets into trouble. He loses his wife and his truck and his dog. He walks down the aisle and has a talk with God. His wife comes back, a check comes in an unmarked envelope so he can fetch the truck back from the bank, and his dog comes home - with puppies!

It's just bad theology. Because sometimes God saves the day, but most often he just saves us.

And one way he saves us is through suffering, and part of what that salvation means is that we have found something more precious than the things we once held dear.

Authors, go forth: Write about that precious thing.

And all of you, both authors and readers, please add to my list in the comments. What elements of bad fiction strike you as bad theology on the page?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I've been loving these posts. I can't write it in Chinese like the above, but I still love them. ;)
~ Wendy

Kathleen Popa said...

Ha! Wendy, I'd been scratching my head about your comment about the Chinese, till I saw in my email that someone had said something in a very nice type I couldn't read. It's gone now - did the commenter delete it? Or did one of us NM ladies decide it was spam? And how did she know?

Lori Benton said...

This has been a week of helpful and insightful posts. Thanks NM ladies! The part about straw characters hit home with me. I want to be sure I'm respecting every character in my stories as a human being, no matter how minor their role, full of layers that exist whether or not they have the story room to show them. However much they are on stage, they deserve better treatment than my letting them come off as one-dimensional stereotypes there simply to brain the reader with a message. This harkens back to loving our characters, something that was blogged about here recently.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks for the great post, Katy. I feel so strongly about respecting the character and his/her walk toward God. God is often subtle in his dealings with us because that's all we can handle. We are dust, and He is gentle. We need to treat our characters the same way.

Kathleen Popa said...

Lori and Debbie, thanks for your comments. Your commitment to your characters - and to your readers - shows in your beautiful writing.

Carla Gade said...

Ooh! Good post! Readers need to be respected, as well as the characters. It's so much better for all to create authenicity in these spiritual matters.