Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shouts and Whispers

Lately I've been reading Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak About Their Writing and Their Faith, edited by Jennifer L. Holberg. It's a candid glimpse into the faith of authors such as Walter Wangerin, Jr., Jan Karon, Bret Lott and Madeleine L'Engle, and it's comforting to know that even seasoned, admired authors deal with angst.

In the chapter titled 'Whispering Hope,' author Doris Betts begins with Flannery O'Connor's quote, "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures." But whereas O'Connor's larger than life characters and often violent stories make their case, Doris asserts that a whisper can be just as effective in communicating the author's faith.

Most of us fall somewhere on the scale between the shout and the whisper, all the while trying to be true to our calling and not lose our own unique voices. We incorporate bits of what we believe into our writing, and we trust that somewhere there are people who need to hear what we have to say and are open to hearing it because of the distinctive way in which we've said it.

Ms. Betts says it this way: "Most writers set out to tell a story, knowing that who they are and what they believe will whisper its way in just as they do in one's daily life; their personality and beliefs will sink below the word-surface like a stain; they will be inside events the way the peach seed grows inside the peach." (pg. 40).

God can certainly use the overt statement of faith as well as the spiritual truth that is deeply embedded and disguised in story. In my writing, I stand back to see where spiritual insights need to be enhanced or tugged to the surface a bit more, like the dominant thread of a tapestry. To be realistic, the faith element must be organically part of the story, arising from the character's struggles and beliefs and and not viewed as an agenda. That is the type of book that most appeals to me, and the one I am most comfortable writing.

How about you? How do you incorporate your faith into your stories?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love that line, "tugged to the surface more."

When it's an agenda I'm immediately turned off. It feels false.

Spiritual ideas bloom organically for me and when it happens it's as exhilarating as watching one of those sped up tapes of a flower opening from seventh grade science class. It makes me thankful to be alive.

~ Wendy

Carla Gade said...

Absolutely. There's always a faith journey woven in. Depending on the characters, faith issues come out in dialogue and behavior.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I try not to start with a spiritual theme, for fear of having an agenda or coming across as preachy. Instead, I love developing my characters and letting the spiritual journey grow naturally from their story. Funny how the lessons they learn are often the same lessons I'm learning in my own life. :-)

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh, Debbie. You've drawn my attention to yet another book I can't live without. I just placed my order.

I don't really think about how to mix the faith element into my stories, since my main characters tend to be on spiritual quests from the outset. I do try hard to be deadly honest about these quests, to show how badly we go about them most of the time, how uncertain we are, how much they cost us. There's no point in saying to the reader, "it will be worth it all in the end," unless I've first answered the question, "worth what all?"

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks for all your wonderful comments, ladies. As Christian writers, it seems natural that our plots and characters reflect our world view and move toward satisfactory conclusions, even if they're messy - which life is. Writing from that place of messiness is both revealing and cathartic, and requires some guts.

Nicole said...

Unlike Sarah, I have a predominant theme which runs through my novels. But since it's to contrast the world's view to God's view of sexual matters, the world's way is presented without judgment through characters and their lifestyles, motivations, as is the Lord's view. As a result, somewhere the gospel is there.

I guess I have an unpopular interpretation of "preachy". I recognize it and don't recommend it to be agenda driven, overt and heavy-handed, but I maintain that every author "preaches" something. Be it secular humanism (i.e. Avatar) or the power of God (Redeeming Love; The Passion of Mary-Margaret; Dogwood), there's a message in art.

Having spent 30 years in the world without Jesus, I'm in no way going to leave Him out of my novels. But that's me.

Samantha Bennett said...

This post was so timely! I'm asking God where he wants to set the clicker on the whisper-to-shout scale. Great post!