Monday, May 24, 2010
"If You Want to Preach, Hire a Hall."
Recently on an author's e-mail loop the discussion about "preachiness" in Christian fiction came up. I particularly liked the response from top-notch editor Dave Lambert, who used to edit me at Zondervan and then went on to work for Howard. (Dave is now on his own and working on a "new venture" that I hope to tell you more about in the future.) I always like to see Dave's name pop up on the loop, because I know his response will be insightful. Here's what he had to say on the subject (run on F&F with his permission):
I submitted a story years ago to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. She rejected it personally, in her own handwriting, which I found exciting. Her rejection note was just one sentence: "If you want to preach, you should hire a hall." Well, OK, she had me. It was a little message-driven. She was right.
I think what's at issue here is how we view our readers. William Sloane (I think) said "Great writers assume greatness in their readers." Bernard DeVoto said it differently: Fiction is "children talking to children in the dark." Either of those statements precludes preaching to our readers. When we preach in our stories, it's as if we're saying to our readers, "I have the truth. You don't. Sit down now and listen to me, and I'll tell you what it is. Don't forget it." That attitude might work well for a preacher on Sunday morning; that's what he's paid for. But in fiction, it's arrogant. A better attitude would be to say, "In this story, I'm going to explore these characters and their conflicts and issues, and I hope to learn something. Come along on this journey with me, and maybe we'll both learn something." That's humility. And it assumes greatness in your reader.
Yes, I know--we as Christians like to think that we already know the truth, and that our job is to communicate it to the masses. And fiction is all about truth. But do we really have the truth already? What are we going to be doing, then, for the rest of our lives, if we already know it all? If we've already been perfected, we should ascend bodily to heaven right now. The truth is, we're just at the beginning of our journey toward truth, and we grasp only a tiny part of it so far--there is so much of God we don't yet know, so much of the Bible we don't yet understand. Every novel is an opportunity to learn more, and if we're humble, we'll invite our readers along for the lesson, instead of lecturing them about what we already think we know.
What's your response to Dave?
Check out Dave's latest suspense release, The Missionary, co-authored with William Carmichael. Amazon has it at a great price of $5.60.
Also available on the Kindle.