by Kathleen Gunton
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“It is a fundamental question and it has a fundamental answer:” says William Zinsser. “You are writing for yourself.” The noted journalist is referring to writers in general. As artists of faith, perhaps we need to take that answer and make it an admonition.
Remember we are the writers and the readers. So, what do we ask of the artist who writes faith-based fiction?
No matter the story line, we want to believe that the author will bear witness to life from the inside out. Or, as Annie Dillard writes in Living By Fiction, “Fiction keeps its audience by retaining the world as its subject matter. People like the world. Many people actually prefer it to art and spend their days by choice in the thick of it.”
Think about the last book you read that was sold under the banner of faith. Before reading the first page, did you turn to the inside back cover to see and read about the author? Be honest, did you look for academic background, religious affiliation, trials overcome, awards cited?
Somewhere in those few words (many times written by the author), we want to see evidence that the person who is creating a fictional world for us to believe in, has lived and participated in the real world. Once we are won over to the facts that a real, living, struggling human is telling us something, we can suspend our disbelief--and believe in the characters and actions within the fiction. Even cry for them and laugh with them.
Finally, in our fiction the reader looks for a dose of the three C’s of life -blood: complication, climax, and conclusion.
We might offer here the idea that life is the complication. So, we the audience demand the clutter of reality. Aunt Susie will not always play fairly. She may even lie about cousin Jake. A piece of the lunch hour at work may mean anything but peace. The pastor who smiles so sweetly on Sunday may not be the good shepherd.
Fiction writer and woman of great faith, Madeleine L’Engle, puts forth the idea so genuinely, “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred.”
Faith, hope, and love working with or against a character become climax.
And the conclusion … as surely as night follows day? No, or not necessarily, because there is that element in life as well as in our fiction called grace. Unworthy as we and our characters may be, there is a Spirit that is working behind the scenes in life and fiction that may bestow a touch of supernatural goodness when we least expect it.
If we abide by the idea that we are artist and audience in faith and by faith, our fiction will say more than the words we take to tell a good story.
Kathleen Gunton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a poet, fiction writer, and photographer in Orange, California. Her poetry received a 1998 nomination for a Pushcart. Her book of poetry and photography, Something Untamed, is available through specialbooks.com.