Sunday, April 20, 2008

Excusing Mediocrity

First of all, thanks for all the great comments over the last few postings. I’m so impressed by the depth of insight and the lively discussions.

Last week I spoke at a scriptwriting conference in North Carolina and then at a writer’s conference in Delaware so I’ve had writing on my brain. Both events were for Christian writers and at both of them I made a comment that several of my writer friends took offense at. Here it is, I’ll be interested to read your responses:

“How many times have you talked to people and they say, ‘I don’t read to so many Christian novels, or novels by Christian publishers; mostly I just read ones by secular publishers.” And when you ask them why they’ll say, ‘Well, the Christian ones aren’t that well written. They’re like sermons in disguise.’”

Then I said, “It’s our job to change that around so that people say they prefer the novels by Christian publishers and when you ask them why they say, “Well, it’s obvious. They’re just so much better written.”

All too often Christians excuse mediocre art by explaining that it’s Christian. I think we should be producing art that reflects the excellence of the Creator, not agenda-driven writing that causes us to be marginalized.


TrollyHerdsman said...

Good point. And it relates to all art.

readerwriter said...

I completely agree with you. The Christian fiction market has a huge opportunity to present 'the Truth' boldly in light of the character's real-life experiences.

If an unbeliever is an avid reader, the impact that a Christian book (that doesn't soften 'the Truth') can have is immeasurable. We need to step up to the challenge!

Deseree said...


I can't stand most Christian fiction. The characters are not realistic, and the message is so in-your-face that I can't handle it (I like to think). I think Christian writers are blessed with a gift, and they should definitely do what they do with excellence. I guess that's not to say that some of them don't - there must be some reason that the sappy stuff sells so well. Variety is the spice of life though, so I am glad to see there are authors who take their craft seriously and are working towards providing some enjoyable alternatives!

DH Carnahan said...

Greetings! I was at the Delaware conference and enjoyed your provocative statements. They sent my mind into motion and challenged the norm. I have been reading secular books for the past two years to see how successful writers do it. I never thought to read Christian novelist because you don't hear about them as often. I guess that means I agree with you. I read Dostoyevski's The Idiot last year and that profoundly impacted my walk. Those who have not read it - I recommend reading it. His lead character was considered an "idiot" because he demonstrated unconditional love, instantaneous forgiveness without remembrance and a desire to comfort the suffering. In a word, he represented Christ. Then, the Spirit asked me this question - If Christ was willing to be an idiot for you ... then why can't you be an idiot (in the eyes of others) for Him. Hit me square between the eyes. I would have missed that if I would have just been reading "christian" books. Hopefully, more Christian writers will take up the challenge you have thrown down to step up the quality of their craft.

SirMax said...

I totally agree. I was convicted of my choice of reading material and music interests years ago but to my dismay I found that most Christian fiction and music was awful. That is changing though. And interestingly enough (referencing dh carnahan's comment) I just bought The Idiot and look forward to reading it.

david carnahan said...

Sirmax. I should confess that there were times that I wondered if my time could be better spent. I had a negative reaction to the book after I had completed it. However after ruminating on the book, I learned to appreciate it in grand fashion. I swung from hating it to loving it. In the end, he is a russian novelist (why use 1 word when 3 work just as well). I hope you enjoy it. I agree with the music comment.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I think that the Christian art industry as a whole is lacking. If we have the creator of the universe living inside of us, there is no reason that our art should be less than that of the world.

Doc Op said...

It seems that Christians will always feel a certain tension between “agenda” and the creative process, simply because Christians --by their very nature --are people of agenda. We desire to see the kingdom of God flourish, and the world reconciled unto Christ.

That kind of agenda may not be easy to spot in the making of a pottery bowl, but it is more probable in works of fiction.

I think in particular of one of my favorite Sci-fi fantasy works, Perelandra (and the rest of his Sci-fi trilogy) by CS Lewis. Mr .Lewis has a pretty clear agenda – in part countering some of the ideas of H.G. Wells.

Or as stated in Wikipedia

In C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength, the character Jules is a caricature of Wells, and much of Lewis's science fiction was written both under the influence of Wells and as an antithesis to his work. The devoutly Christian Lewis was especially incensed at Wells's The Shape of Things to Come where a future world government systematically persecutes and completely obliterates Christianity (and all other religions), which the book presents as a positive and vitally necessary act.

In short, it seems that we should ask: has the author expressed his or her ideas about reality in an artful, measured, and effective way. Does the agenda go “before” the work (and smash it) or does it quietly imbue and direct. It may be that for certain creations, the agenda of the artist will be harder to discern, but I expect it is always present.

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone willing to call us to account! And I couldn’t agree with you more. As a writer, I try to keep up with Christian women’s fiction and unfortunately have a hard time finishing most books due to the poor writing. Much of what’s written (even by authors with many books to their credit) seems to have been dashed off with little concern for craft and marketed simply on the author’s name.

If we’re trying to reach unbelievers with our message (agenda), they’re not likely to wade through a poorly written book only to be smacked in the face with a sermon. And if we’re writing to fellow believers, wouldn’t our message be more encouraging or convicting if shown through realistic characters in true-to-life circumstances?

What concerns me most, though, are reader comments and comments from my friends who think these books are wonderful. There seems to be a market for mediocre Christian fiction. Have we come too far to reverse the trend? I hope not. -- Carol

Doc Op said...

Just wonder if anybody here has read the book "Gilead". (I have yet to) however it appears to be a work that lives outside of the Christian ghetto.

oh amanda said...

I completely agree--we have GOD's creativity--our stuff should be the best. BUT I just wonder if it's really true--are Christian novels badly written? Or is it just that there are less Christian novels to choose from? So, percentage-wise, we see more bad ones, you know? I've read some badly written secular novels, too.

I'm not trying to argue, I seriously wonder about this.

Rosanna B. said...

On my desk I keep the following quote, "People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me." by Soren Kiekegaard to remind me what my belief in Christ really means.

The misunderstood truth about following Christ is that it is painful, ugly, bloody, and at times seems unbearable. Unless... of course... you build a mask around it, a facade of righteousness to show the world how wonderful it is to be a Christian.

This mask hides our imperfections, our sinful coping strategies, our evil desires, our bondage to sin, and the only thing, the only essence of our creativity that can escape this wall is boring and barely tolerable. In other words, when we mask our authenticity, we are incapable of producing captivating writing.

Insulting to some Christian writers? Perhaps. Or is the uncomfortable clawing of conviction that you feel?

Most poorly written Christian works are done so with the hope that the partaker will see the truth and grab it. It is only in our authenticity that we create art in which the truth will capture the partaker, which is the way God intended.

I believe some non-Christian bestselling authors are more engaging simply because they are using the raw talents given them by their Creator, even in their unbelief. They are not masking it behind an unobtainable standard that so many Christians have fallen into. They are who they are.

When we are real about who we are, warts and all, we let our God given talents flow out without pretense, we produce works that leave our readers no choice but to be ensnared by truth. This is what allows them to creep closer to God.

A narrow row of Christian authors understand this concept. Steven, from what I've read of your writing, I believe you are a Christian writer who gets it. And I wonder... do you too feel as misunderstood as Kierkegaard?

Barbara said...

I heard John Fischer speak years ago at a conference and many things he spoke about resonated with me. One in particular applies to this thread, I believe. In speaking of the "Christian bubble" a lot of Christians want to insulate themselves with - Christian books, Christian music, Christian clothing, Christian TV, Christian videos etc... - Fischer asked this question: "Do we really need more Christian music or do se simply need more Christians making music? Do we really need more Christian movies, or do we just need more Christians making movies?" I agree w/ the latter of those two questions. I want to hear a Christian's story, not a Christian story.