Posts from the ‘Christian Fiction’ Category

Quality Christian Fiction: A Prayer from a Friend

This is not mine, but the ache of every Christian writer.

My friend Jackie Lea is amazing, both as a writer and a woman. Is her heart’s cry, which places the echoes of mine so fully into words, the same as yours? Read her prayer/post here.

http://lightsallaround.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/quality-christian-fiction/

P.S. You should also check out the rest of her blog. It will give you writer’s envy, but it is so worth it. Gorgeous stuff!

Catharsis: A Satisfying Mess

Catharsis. It’s a weird word; fun to say, difficult to define, and oftentimes it is hard to execute in a way that isn’t too “wrapped up” at the end. I learned this word first at college in a freshman level psychology class, and then it popped up again in my Advanced Writing of Fiction course. (It’s also mentioned in Inception, in case anyone wanted to know.) Dictionary.com defines it as “the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.” Well, that’sa whole lot clearer. From what I could gather, catharsis is a sort of emotional release upon the close of a certain situation. In writing, this means that at the end of your story, the reader is left feeling satisfied, even if the protagonist’s life is still a royal mess. It’s the need for catharsis that makes reading good novels so addicting; we crave the release of our tensions and hopes for a character, and even if their life isn’t completely mended by the end of the book, we’re happy if they end up winning in some way, shape or form.

The sequel? Pepper. Movie cover image from imdb.com

Let me see if I can clear this up a bit. I’ll use an illustration that I came across lately: the new action movie Salt. Now, running the risk of evoking the wrath of those who loved this movie, the movie ending really disappointed me. The movie itself was okay, by my standards. But that’s about it. There really was no resolution whatsoever, and while I’m not saying that it should have been fixed in one night, it just felt like it was… missing something. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t complete.

In the same way, ending a story can present the same sort of challenges. I tend to gravitate towards pulling all the strings together into a pretty bow at the end of a story. Not only is this boring, but it’s unrealistic. The catharsis, or release of tension, might be high, but it’s too neat. On the other hand, if story isn’t given sufficient closure, the cathartic release won’t be strong enough to satisfy your readers. One of the best ways I’ve found to help find this division is to have other people read my work. (Gasp! I know, one of the deepest fears of most writers.) Having someone tell me that the ending is too contrived is a good indication that I have HES: happy ending syndrome. It’s where you ooze melodrama and glitter until your reader is drowning in it. Pretty disgusting. I’ve especially found Christian writers to be chronic sufferers of HES. No wonder none of them are really known outside of the Christian literature bubble. They all live happily ever after, except for those who received just retribution.

But readers will appreciate an ending that achieves some of their hopes. Not all, just some. For the sake of movie lovers like me, I’ll give an example of what I think is a good, cathartic ending. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Sorry to all you Pirates lovers, but I would have been very happy had they left the whole series at film 1. Seriously. You know Jack’s going to be hunted by the law, Will and Elizabeth still have to overcome social qualms and her wishy-washy father, but yet you’re happy. You didn’t necessarily want more in that movie. It was beautiful. It had an ending (unlike the next film; gag).

When working on your ending, make sure that you don’t wrap up too much of the story in a cute package. Let the reader think on the character’s years to come. That’s how you make a story stick in the mind of your reader. Give them a glimpse of hope, and let them dwell on how the rest could be resolved. It’s catchy, and if you don’t write a sequel, each reader will (hopefully), in his or her mind.

Do you have any other suggestions when it comes to bringing a good ending into being? How do you know you have reached the end of your tale? Do you tend to leave your story unfinished, or do you have chronic HES? Has anyone else come across an instance of powerful catharsis, in movies, books, or everyday life?

Idealism: Perfection at its Zenith

Hmm. Ariel's hair sparkles, huh? What's with the "coy" hand gestures? And So. Much. Pink! *GAG* Thanks, http://www.fanpop.com.

Idealism:  the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.* This is probably the reason my mom didn’t want me watching Disney princess movies when I was little and easily influenced. Although, I’m not sure how much it helped, since I grew up to be an idealist author anyway. I think that to be a fiction fantasy writer, you need to have a certain amount of idealist tendencies though.

So where do we get it? Idealism, I mean? One word that has been permeating my generation is “epic,” when something works out perfectly/amazingly. There’s nothing more romantic than a beautifully accomplished proposal, when the weather is balmy and the fireflies come out at just the right time. The only explanation I have found that accurately defines why I cling to idealism is a quote from my hero, C.S. Lewis:

“If we find within ourselves a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Fantasy gives me the option of creating the world that I long for. But fiction needs to be grounded in reality, even if the cultures, creatures, and land masses aren’t the same. So how do we write reality and restraining our tendencies to write something ideal? Here are some tips to recognizing if you are idealizing your writing:

  1. Does your protagonist ever have minor frustrations? Make them count. She drops her phone and it breaks. He lost his car keys. Make them growl a little. don’t rely entirely on the big problems that make them sit down and weep.
  2. The good guys might win in the end, but they don’t always triumph at every turn. Hey, you can’t always win; why should your characters? Usually it      will strengthen them to see how they respond to defeat.
  3. A pat resolution is an unrealistic resolution. In real life, the main characters may not get married, evil is never completely squashed, and actions have
    consequences.
  4. Watch the boys. It’s way too easy to create perfect heroes. Give them a flaw or two, and they can still be great guys. Just like ones that actually exist.

Do you have any tips for recognizing when you are being sappily idealistic? Let ‘em out!

*Thank goodness for Dictionary.com.  🙂

Priorities: The Place of Fiction

Just read a really neat post recommended by a friend about reading Christian fiction and how it is important to keep it balanced with reading God’s Word. I especially like her analogy about different media types comparing with different sugary drinks. Really thoughtful. I am now recommending this blog to you.

Check it out, ponder on it, come back and discuss! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, as I’m sure she would in her comments as well.

Read the post in Steph’ Sound Off blog here.

Perceptions of Beauty

I got together with an amazingly wonderful group of girls this past week, and I am always blown away by the deep and interesting topics these ladies bring up. We were sitting in the middle of a Victorian-themed party, giggling over teacups and dainty snacks, talking about how thankful we were that we didn’t have to wear long dresses in the hot summer months, let alone corsets that probably would have made us all pass out

Why is our perception of beauty so distorted? Photo from news.softpedia.com

before we had finished laughing. Then came the subject of beauty and how humans view beauty. This made me think of the Dove Evolution video, a 1-minute clip in which they airbrush and makeup a lady so much that the end product–which ends up on a billboard–doesn’t look remotely the same as the original woman. This also tied into another frightening thought: What won’t women do to be seen as beautiful? For instance, we mentioned foot binding in Asian countries, neck rings in Africa, and in my mind, I eventually connected the topic to anorexia in the US.

All this to say: We as a culture have ideals of what beauty is. Should characters reflect this? I think that more often than not, a perfectly beautiful protagonist is boring. She doesn’t have insecurities about her nose, she doesn’t compulsively check her complexion in every mirror or window she passes, and she definitely is not lacking in attentions from the opposite gender. And it does seem to matter how mentally-absent she is or that her personality is more limp than a dead fish; she always ends up with the guy. Why is that? I do believe that every girl is beautiful, but then why do I gravitate toward societal norms as to what a beautiful girl “should” look like? I don’t want to write clichés, so why do I still cling to this? What is the best way to escape it?

Do “plain” protagonists attract your attention more? Do you tend to be attracted to looks or personality? Have you ever tried playing with a protagonist (or a good supporting/minor character) who truly was just revoltingly disgusting? Share some experiences!

Why So Cliché?

Photo from homepage.mac.com

Why does Christian fiction tend to be so cliché?  Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Cheesy love stories where the only thing that grows in the character is a forced love. Young adult fiction that neither challenges nor teaches, building off fads from secular authors. And they always end happily, with the main character becoming a Christian, or at least beginning the first shaky steps of living out a newborn faith. And by Christian fiction I mean novels with God as a central character or theme, written by authors claiming to be Christian, as a broad definition. There are definitely different views on this definition, but that is neither the point I’m trying to make nor the discussion I want to start here.  

Why do Christian authors tend to lean toward overused plot and cardboard cutouts for characters? I have seen it too many times to count. There is no excitement. The protagonist always has the same issues, and they’re stuck to their destinies, which the reader can always predict.

It’s the way fiction is written, right? I disagree. I think there is a way to write clean romance without making it cliché. Teens need to be challenged by characters with whom they identify; they are the leaders of tomorrow, and the last things they need as models are crayon drawings.

So are Christian authors afraid to write branch out for fear that they won’t get published? That should not be our main reason for writing; it should bring a message that needs to be spoken. What are the themes and messages that need to be brought out in Christian literature? What do authors need to implement in their writing to make it more intriguing, interesting, and different?