Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why Fiction?

by Jen AlLee

Since I have the honor of kicking off Fiction Wednesdays, I thought I'd address a question we writers hear a lot... Can you really make a living doing that? Okay, that's not the real question. (Although one of my doctors did ask me that exact thing recently.) Here's the real question... Why do you write fiction?

I think some people are puzzled by the idea of a Christian lying for a living. Because that's what writing fiction is, right? Just making up a bunch of stories? Wrong. Friends, it is so much more than that.

Fiction entertains. Fiction moves the heart and engages the mind. Fiction convicts the soul and teaches eternal truths. In fact, fiction was one of Jesus' most often used tools. Remember these stories...
  • The three servants and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
  • The farmer who sowed seed in different kinds of ground (Matthew 13:1-23)
  • The five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
  • The unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
Was Jesus telling stories about people he knew? Did he meet a farmer who told him all about his troubles in the fields? Did he witness a servant refusing to extend forgiveness? No. He made up these people and these events in order to illustrate his point. When the disciples asked him why he spoke to the crowds in such a way, this was his answer:
He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won't have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look,
so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.
(Mathew 13:11-15, The Message)
I love the phrase "to nudge the people toward receptive insight." I believe the best fiction contains insight and spiritual truth. But it's wrapped in an entertaining, engaging package. This makes it accessible, non-threatening... even fun. A truly great novel will touch your heart, your mind, and your soul.

When I write a book, I don't set out to teach anybody anything. But God always infuses my stories with his truths. I was talking to a friend today about the books I'm working on, and he said, "So your stories are fiction, but they also teach." I hadn't thought about it before, but yes. I guess there is a lesson to be learned in all of them. Despite my shallow desire to simply write a fun, engrossing novel, God makes sure there's something of more substance there.

So that's it. That's why I write fiction. I offer my talents to God and look forward to seeing how he shapes them. It's always an exciting adventure!

What novels have touched you the most? Is there a book that you read purely for fun that surprised you with a deeper meaning?


  1. My theory on fiction and teaching is this: fiction disarms our natural barriers to someone trying to teach us something we may be resistant to by presenting the same truths but as they play out in "someone else's" (our characters) lives. Suddenly our "you can't change me" wall isn't up and a truth we need to hear slams into our hearts through a fictional story and characters.

    I think that was how it was with the parables, too.

    Or maybe that's just how it works with me when I read fiction!

  2. Such awesome thoughts Jen and Anne! I agree wholeheartedly. Story has always been powerful, and even more so with this upcoming generation that relys more on intution, feeling, and image than past generations have. I will be incorporating more about that into some current events posts soon.

    Novels that have touched me: The Last Sin Eater, The Rapture of Canaan, Beloved, Merridian, The Secret Life of Bees, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Arena, What the Bayou Saw, A Stray Drop of Blood. I could go on all day.

    I think the most surprising was What the Bayou Saw. I read it because it was by our former Inky Patti Lacy not expecting anything in particular. It really blew me away with its deep and realistic portrayal of racism and also the secrets we keep.

  3. Jen, I love the way you sorted out this subject, and I look forward to the comments today. Look how great they've been already!

    Can't wait to read Anne's book
    and, one of these days, something from Dina!

    I like your list, too, Dina. I really have to get to Patti's book! (I've read her upcoming release, so should catch up on the published ones) It was hard to put aside when bedtime came along.

    Anne's suggestion that fiction disarms is well-stated. I have a few people in mind for my story, just for that reason.
    thanks everyone!

    A great kick off to Fiction Wednesdays!

  4. I read The Help because it was highly recommended by a friend. I didn't expect anything but a story. Instead it educated me about the depth of prejudice that people faced in this nation. I had known much of it on an intellectual level. That's not the same as 'experiencing' it. The book moved me and made me ache. It also made me laugh. I was entertained, but my worldview was also expanded.

    The best fiction doesn't leave us the same way it found us.

  5. Wow, this was an insightful post, and the comments today are too! I've been nodding and saying, "mmm." Fiction absolutely teaches. (I can think of a lot of things I wish I hadn't learned that came from books! LOL)

    Christian fiction also has the the potential for spiritual teaching, helping a reader deepen his or her faith or offering reinforcement of a reader's spiritual foundation.

    I love what Lisa said, "The best fiction doesn't leave us the same way it found us."

    Thanks, ladies!

  6. Hey Ladies! I knew all of you would "get" it :+}

    Today is one of those crazy days for me. God's doing some great stuff in my life and I'm just along for the ride! I may not be around to respond much, but I am checking in. So please, chat amongst yourselves. Have some snacks. I'll see you later!

  7. On a quiet day with my cup of tea and my favorite pillow I can traverse the river with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer or become Nancy Drew as she solves daring crimes or any of the female heroines in my fav novels doing daring things and living exciting lives. I read for the good story and sometimes the writer reaches me with the power of their stories.


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