I’m grateful for Christians doing the arduous work of writing or selling fiction.
I consider fiction writers like Randy Alcorn, who challenges skepticism towards Christian fiction on this refreshing article. I consider non-fiction writers who select to put in writing novels—Jared C. Wilson, writer of Otherworld, and Trevin Wax, writer of Clear Winter Nights. In fact, I can’t fail to say nice works of literary criticism like Karen Swallow Prior’s On Studying Nicely.
I’m hopeful these works will encourage not solely an elevated enthusiasm for studying fiction, but additionally an elevated dedication to writing fiction. By all means, let us learn Flannery O’Connor. Allow us to learn Tolkien and Lewis. (Allow us to additionally learn up to date works.) However we shouldn’t cease there. Studying nice works ought to compel us towards writing nice works.
Fiction Is Sustained Battle
Many who wish to do that cease resulting from a troublesome query: Why do fiction? What downside does it resolve? What’s its perform within the Christian neighborhood?
There are numerous good solutions to those questions, together with some nice ones by S. D. Smith. However these solutions are extra useful for readers of fiction than writers of fiction.
A fixation on what fiction can do reinforces a stifling concept: Fiction is simply useful when it makes use of narrative to show us about some non-fiction class—psychology, theology, advantage ethics. If I’m all the time fascinated by what I ought to say, then I’ll lose sight of how I ought to say it.
We have to re-orientate ourselves to the how of fiction: Merely put, fiction consists of characters with targets who face robust conflicts. A fixation on the what—the ethical, the message, the reply—could tempt me to unravel my battle too rapidly, overlook my characterization, or depend on clichés to outline characters’ targets.
Fiction is sustained battle. On this line of considering, a particularly Christian type of fiction can be a sustained battle that stems from being in Christ and dwelling on this planet.
Right here is such a battle: All Christians lengthy to be in good union with the God who created us, dwells inside us, and guarantees to good us. Earlier than I say extra on this, let me unpack this battle with the assistance of two well-known authors.
(1) T. S. Eliot and Historic Sense
First is the 20th-century modernist poet and Anglican social critic T. S. Eliot. Eliot was notably eager on trendy fiction that took the type of one thing previous, like Irish author James Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel set in Dublin however framed like Homer’s Odyssey. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot reveals why he favored Joyce’s novel a lot. He says any mature poet has one thing known as “historical sense.” This time period “involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence . . . [it] is a sense of the timeless as well as the temporal and of the timeless and the temporal together” (406).
In different phrases, Eliot needs his readers to know that good literature—fiction included—is outlined not by what it does for the reader, however by how precisely it displays the temporal pressure emanating from the writer. James Joyce lived in Dublin with issues vastly totally different from Homer’s. And but a way of timelessness connects them each: There’s one thing about this pressure, between the temporal and the timeless, that’s important to humanity and expressible solely in fiction.
(2) Karl Ove Knausgaard and the Driving Pressure of All Literature
The second author is the globally acclaimed 21st-century Norwegian novelist who wrote a six-volume, 3,600-page novel about himself attempting to put in writing his six-volume, 3,600-page novel. It’s possible you’ll marvel how this may very well be in any respect fascinating, and in that case you’re not alone.
For me, its primary intrigue comes from the wrestle brought on by the need to be one thing nice and the arduous work it takes to realize that need.
Knausgaard, maybe like many people, has an urge to be nice, divine even—not on the expense of others, however extra so for the good thing about the self. Knausgaard’s need is a type of secular, literary type of denying himself to try after one thing transcendent: literary greatness. This pursuit introduced him nice fame and fortune, a spot within the literary canon perpetually, however it additionally introduced him nice ache.
Like Eliot, who wished literature that stems from the strain between timelessness and temporality, Knausgaard needs literature stemming from the same pressure. Knausgaard was invited to talk at a lecture sequence at Yale College in 2017 on this immediate: Why I Write. He mentioned:
The contradiction between the illimitable that dwells inside us and our simultaneous limitation and earthboundness is the driving drive of all literature and all artwork . . . however not solely that; the longing to equalize the distinction, droop the contradiction and easily exist on this planet, undifferentiated from it. (43)
What I need us to get from his reply is that this: We’re finite, and there’s something infinite inside us. We’re mortal, and there’s something immortal inside us. Fiction then, as Knausgaard sees it, is the capturing of a private journey to each articulate and search a treatment for the strain created as longing to make our restricted selves one with the illimitable “that dwells within us.”
As a author, I maintain quick to this concept. And as a Christian, I’ll morph the language just a little bit: Christian fiction is sustained battle the place the author each articulates and seeks to treatment the strain between our human nature and God’s holiness working in us.
This implies fiction writing doesn’t should completely train or symbolize God’s holiness, however it could actually exhibit my pursuit of holiness.
Fiction could be a story that describes and sustains the extreme, private wrestle between our sinfulness and our sanctification. For who amongst us has seen this wrestle resolved?
This emphasis on the wrestle between sinfulness and sanctification offers Christian writers a singular, biblical battle that may be helpful for any style of fiction.
No Alternative however to Write
I consider writing, then, as stemming immediately from the strain between our finite selves and the Infinite One who says our physique is his temple.
Fiction isn’t the decision to that pressure. What makes fiction good isn’t its decision, however its pressure. I agree with Knausgaard: Stress is the driving drive of all literature, of all life, and that’s why each story wants battle.
What makes fiction good isn’t its decision, however its pressure.
I say this to not discourage any writers from caring about resolutions, or to cease everybody from wishing to make use of their narratives to make clear theological or historic issues. I say this primarily to writers who’re searching for a spot to start out, and wish to know if it’s okay to put in writing in the event that they don’t know the place they’ll find yourself. The reply is sure.
Let fiction be a method of coming to phrases with the battle you face on this earth—an try to grasp your personal longings for and in opposition to God’s Spirit dwelling in you. So let pressure reign in your fiction. By no means let it go. Maintain on to it so long as you possibly can, and don’t accept low cost resolutions.
Christians, we’re beings in pressure. And that is biblical. We dwell in an already/not but world, the place God has promised to resolve all issues, eradicate all evil, and redeem all his elect to him. His victory is assured. Nothing can cease his plan, however he hasn’t but introduced every little thing to completion.
Fiction affords a singular and unparalleled option to level to God’s glory with out diminishing the strain we expertise. That’s the nature of fiction, and that’s the reason we have now no selection however to put in writing.