Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Corny With a Capital C

Some people say that Christian fiction is much better than it used to be. I suppose that might be true, if you’re comparing the current state of affairs to the prairie romances of the past, but when I think of Christian fiction of the past, I think of titles like Pilgram’s Progress, Not My Will and In His Steps. The fact is that most of the current Christian fiction doesn’t measure up to the quality of writing we find in Pilgram’s Progress and Not My Will.

One of the big problems I’ve seen in contemporary Christian writing is what I will call corny writing. We see it often and I fear we all have a tendency to do it. I’m not excluding myself from this by any means. It usually shows up in the form of Christianese that should have more significant meaning than what it does. To provide an example, I’m going to pick on For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll by Nancy Mehl. In part, I’m choosing this book as an example because it is on of the winners at the most recent ACFW conference in the category of Mystery. Based on that, we should assume that this book is representative of the best that contemporary Christian fiction has to offer. Moreover, since the award came from a Christian writers’ organization, we should assume that this book is representative of what Christian writers believe is good writing. With that in mind, lets look at what we find.

Throughout the book, we find several references to prayer. This person prayed; that person prayed; you get the idea. On page 165, we find an example. The protagonist has taken some food out to a dog that has been sleeping in a shed. After that, the narrator tells us that the dog has become a symbol to her that God can do the impossible. She then says:

I went upstairs and collapsed on my bed. As I lay there, staring up at the ceiling, I realized that a lot of people were in the same condition as the abandoned collie…. As I fell asleep, I prayed for the collie and for all the people in the world who had never felt the kind of love that God has for anyone who will simply accept it.

Keep in mind that this is only a quote from a much larger work. It doesn’t seem quite as corny as I look at it as a separate paragraph, but in the context of the book, it seems extremely corny. The book is about finding out who killed the wedding planner, but then we have these flare prayers that keep popping up that have nothing to do with the theme. And the prayer doesn’t seem to have much power. I think what strikes me as particularly corny in this example is that prayers for an abandoned collie are given the same importance as prayers for the salvation of the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I think prayer is an important topic to cover in Christian fiction. The problem is that we risk creating corny fiction when we don't focus that prayer on the theme of the book and we insert it at every turn without clear results. I think this is an example of the author trying to use this dog to make a point in the story, rather than keeping the focus on the theme. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I’m not a fan of authors making points in novels.

Corny writing happens, but we should try to avoid it. If we’re going to throw Christianese into our writing, we should elevate it to the level of the theme. At the very least, we should write in such a way that it is clear that the characters believe in the power of things like prayer and aren’t just doing it as a religious obligation. Don’t just have throw in a prayer who can, but when the characters pray, spend several paragraphs on it. If prayer is important, then surely it is important enough to have the characters discuss it. If it isn’t, then mention it once and only once. That should be enough to show us that the character prays. But we must find a way to avoid this corny writing that exists in Christian fiction.