Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Using a Theme

I’ve talked about theme before. Yesterday, I listed many different Christian themes. We can think of those as Super-themes rather than an actual theme you will find in a novel. A theme in a novel is like a statement that we have set out to prove. In Christian fiction, we must approach it with a Christian world view, but that has more to do with the conclusion than what it does with the theme. Our theme statement can be either a statement in support of a Christian world view or the converse. Picking one of the themes from yesterday, let’s look at an example.

Tithing. There’s a topic we don’t see much in Christian novels (probably for a good reason). What kind of theme statement might we have in support of tithing? Pulling a line from many sermons on the subject, we could say, “The Lord blesses those who tithe.” The converse is something like, “There’s no reason for Christians to tithe.” Creating the theme statement is the easy part. The difficult part is how we cover the topic in a novel.

There are Christians in both camps on this subject, but to keep things simple we will assume that the Christian world view leads to the conclusion that the first statement is correct, but how do we prove it without becoming too preachy? We don’t want a situation in which a preacher stands behind the pulpit and says that tithing is good and all the people say, “Amen!” We see too much of this in Christian novels.

In many ways, it may be better to apply proof by contradiction. We take the converse statement, “There’s no reason for Christians to tithe” and that is the one we present to the reader. (I’ll talk more about how to present the theme later.) As we move through the story, we attempt to show that there is no reason to tithe, but we counter each argument with the opposing view.

“It’s not that I have anything against giving money to the church,” Joe said. “I just don’t like the idea of letting the church know how much I make by giving ten percent. I don’t think God expects Christians to tithe.”

“You could always give more and then they wouldn’t know,” John said.

“Yeah, and then they’ll bleed me dry because they think I make more money than I do.”

The example above shows a natural conflict that that exists when we present the opposing theme to the one that we are trying to prove.

But the theme runs through the whole story, so there is much more involved than just a conversation between two characters. If we really want to show that God blesses those who tithe, our plot must be such that we show that. We might start with a person who doesn’t tithe. Due to the inciting incident, this person makes the decision to tithe. Things are going well and the Lord is blessing. Then things fall apart. Maybe his wife loses her job and money gets tight. After they pay the bills, there isn’t ten percent left over. After struggling with this, they decide to tithe anyway. They reach the end of the month and they have been able to pay the bills. You could also play that out the opposite way and have the family lose their home after they quit tithing.