To Please the People

retro-1480621_1280At what point should a writer write to please the people,
and at what point should a writer write what should be said?

A lively discussion on this topic was recently on Steve Laube agency’s “What’s Wrong with my Book” blog post by Tamela Hancock Murray. The wise recommendation was made to not defy the market’s unwritten codes.

“…write by the most conservative standards. No smoking, drinking, cursing, sexy double meanings, overemphasis on physical features and pleasures, and so forth. If it helps, imagine writing for your very strict grandmother or an aunt who’s easily shocked. Then you won’t knock yourself out of the market – at least not for that reason.”

We were told, “Don’t DEFY THE MARKET.” And yet what did I do but open my mouth and…defy the market. But I’m not the only one who’s bucking the system, or challenging the status quo. Many other Christian writers are wondering how to get Truth into a marketplace that only wants junk. My kids would live on junk food if I let them. I am in a position to influence them in their eating choices, so I give them excellent AND healthy food.

Let’s face it. When we come home from a long hard day at work–let’s say we teach three-year-olds ALL DAY LONG–we don’t want to think anymore. We want to chill out, to turn off the brain, to check-out mentally and escape to another time and another place.

Vicarious Living

Mirror neurons in our brain enable us to do exactly that. Reading books and watching movies (and, yes, playing video games), physically enable us to empathize and live vicariously through the main characters whose point of view (POV) we are reading/watching/playing.  Because of this, we can “escape” into another world. Our brains literally morph into that time and place.

Readers want to be engaged. But this does not mean the brain actually goes into neutral. The brain is actually vicariously thinking it is DOING what the main character is doing. So this is a great opportunity for writers to make an impact on the world.

Ernest Hemingway succinctly expressed this ability of writers when he said:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”

I love in particular one part of Tracy Groot’s Madman, a Christy Award winner. After being wrapped up in the madmanproblem of the Demoniac of the Gadarenes you hear that Jesus is coming. Actually what reminds you is that you know the Bible. You know that Jesus is coming. The way Tracy sets it up, you know that across the sea something is happening. As one who has read the Bible, you know that “something” is Christ coming. I can’t recommend this book enough. I felt the freedom of the Madman’s salvation and it built up my love of Jesus because Tracy knows her responsibility to her readers and she wrote it that way.

We will be judged on the Day of the Lord for our actions. While salvation is only by faith in Christ, those who are called by His Name will be assessed. Our eternal rewards will be according to our deeds. The fruit of our life.

Teachers will be judged more harshly. And writers by definition put themselves in a position of teaching and influence. So do not fail to live up to Christ’s call. Anyone who reads a book ends up changed, in some way, for better or for worse. If readers need an escape from this crazy world, enable them to grow in faith as they escape.  Your deeds as a writer will follow you into eternity, you can be sure. If the parable of the talents tells us anything, it is that we are expected to DO RIGHT by the gifts we have been given. In fact, the word “talent” came into English from this very parable.

So as Christian writers what is our responsibility before God?

If we are writing a book that will be read, we need to use that talent in a way that brings results to the king.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Writing to please the “MARKET”? If you write just what will sell you are short-changing your talent. That’s giving them sugar and high carbs. What do you need to say? What do you want to call out from the housetops? Say it!

Writing to please the KING who gave you the talent in the first place? Kudos. If you do an excellent job, you will change lives one by one. That is all we can do. Whole grain delicious goodness.

No one is called to do anything less than live and work in a way that MOST honors God.

No one can be called to NOT do that. You can’t say, “I’m not called to write about the glory of God.” You cannot. If you are a Christian. Remember, the Book of Esther does not mention God once, and yet the whole book is about the glory of God and how He keeps His promises.

We maybe have great plans for our lives. But our deeds won’t be judged by Amazon reviews. Our deeds will be judged by those books that are being written in heaven. We will not get off with no reference to those books. The Lamb’s Book of Life erases the sins, but our good deeds follow us into the eternal kingdom.

level

 “If Calvin and Luther had written to the level of the people there would have been no Reformation.”
(Fikret Bocek)

Do you want to write books that are light reading, that merely entertain? Or do you want to entertain AND build up believers to glorify God? I challenge Christian industry to up-the-ante. Time is short.

ACTION POINT FOR READERS: Don’t let yourself be entertained by anything less than that which brings pleasure to God as well.
ACTION POINT FOR WRITERS: Don’t let the industry dictate you away from your primary call. All Christians must use their talents for the active honor of God. Your gifts and offerings need to be those that God requires.

Do you agree? Disagree? What publishers are upping-the-ante? Which other books have bucked the status quo?
Comment below.



See also how these writers contribute to the discussion:

Joel Miller: What is Christian Literature?

Got Questions: Can Christians Read Fiction?

Simon Mordon: Sex, Death & Christian Fiction lecture

BEST OF THE BEST Sites for Writers

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All Christians are in a state of flux…
ALREADY/NOT YET:

We are righteous already, but not yet. We are seated in the heavenlies already, but not yet. We are experiencing eternal life already, but not yet. We are sinless in God’s eyes, but not yet in the world’s eyes.

As writers, we also know we have never arrived, but are on a journey to continually improve our craft.

There is always more we can know and learn to improve our craft.

Below you will find the BEST OF THE BEST resources for “scribblers” out there. These are sites I have found particularly helpful. (But the web is vast and I certainly have not seen everything out there. Please send me more to add to the list.)

The FIRST set includes writing, editing, and submissions. The SECOND set is promotion and website related. The THIRD is writing-related e-books that are practical and useful.

Writing Top 20
  1. NONPARIELShe’s Novel is an excellent guide for all stages of writing. Absolutely my favorite, winner of the Scribbler Site Nonpariel award. Practical and hands-on steps to create and fix your writing. –WINNER NONPARIEL–

<…Keep Reading...>

Review of Playing Saint, by Zachary Bartels

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Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels, which came out in 2014, gets top score in my book. As a pop Christian novel, it does an excellent job of intertwining history, intrigue, character development and theology.

The protagonist is an up-and-coming tele-evangelist called Parker Saint. In avoiding a scandal, he comes face to face with “a demanding detective, a trio of secretive Vatican operatives, and a centuries-old conspiracy to conceal a mysterious relic.” This premise is truly far-fetched. However, it is tempting enough of a premise that it pulls you in. You find out about his family background, his aspirations, his love-interest, and then comes the CSI connection and you’re hooked. It’s a fun ride. But what makes it excellent is that it is written by a pastor with a vision for the Great Commission.

Too many novels labelled as Christian fall short of true redemption. In a sense, they find resolution in a “job well done” or a “husband/wife gained.” This trend reminds me a lot of Matthew 24:27-29, where Jesus says

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Though nothing is wrong with marriage; the point of the passage is that life is more than just “doing your thing.” The main message of Christ’s ministry was “Judgment Day is coming, get right with God.” This is the very same wonderful message of Zachary Bartels’s book. The primary movement in the story centers around recognizing falsehood in your life and urgently finding Truth.

Playing Saint delves into topics that are currently leading the Church astray, particularly “Narcissistic Christianity” which is popular in tele-evangelism, and unbiblical demonology which is rampant worldwide.

I commend Zachary Bartels for using his writing platform to fulfill the universal Christian call to ministry. As it says in 1 Timothy 4:1-5:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

My teenage daughters laugh at some Christian novels that, to validate themselves, have subtitles to the effect of “an action-packed Christian thriller,” which is like telling the punchline before you get into a joke. In my opinion, the caliber of a novel will pull those phrases out of readers. There is a definite need for suspense novels for Christians. After a hard day’s work, we sometimes need to escape into fiction. But also there is a definite call for ratcheting-up the quality of those Christian novels to meet the spiritual hunger and confusion of modern-day Christians. Meat. Perspective. Instruction in righteousness. Exhortation and comfort.

Hollywood and the pulp-fiction market shovel out adventure and romance that spins Narcissistic Hedonism as the end-all to aspire for. When you read a novel or watch a movie, brain cells called “mirror neurons” physically cause you to have empathy, and enable you to live vicariously through the lives of the characters you are reading about or watching. This is a scary thing if a reader is not cautious about the “in-portal” to their mirror neurons.

Our moments on earth are limited. When we choose to be entertained for the hours it takes to read a book, we are submitting our minds to be shaped by some author or another. What will happen depends on that author’s values and worldview. But if we carefully choose our “teachers,” we can become better after our time in that book. Especially when the writer’s message is Christ’s message, Paul’s message, John’s message. This is what makes Playing Saint so refreshing.

Thank you, Zachary Bartels, for doing for Christian fiction what we hope more writers will do. I look forward to reading The Last Con, because I know I will be a better Christian after reading it. You recognize your responsibility to me.

update 2/2019 (See review of We Hope for Better Things, by Erin Bartels, the wife of Zachary Bartels)

100 Things to Do Instead of Editing your Novel

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  1. Write a blog post entitled “100 Things to Do Instead of Editing your Novel”
  2. Find articles and blog posts about how to edit your novel (see Lists)
  3. Comment on those blog posts in detail
  4. Read books about editing your novel (see Lists)
  5. Take your kids out to breakfast, they haven’t seen you in so long
  6. Spend some time with that friend you haven’t seen because you were writing your novel
  7. Research online to find out if you missed something about the historical or cultural context of your novel.
  8. Plant a garden, you’ve wanted to do that for so long. What’s not to love about homegrown tomatoes?
  9. Read other novels similar to your own
  10. Watch suspense movies, so you know how suspense works
  11. Read novels in a different genre, to consider expanding your writing repertoire.
  12. Join several forums that are related to your genre and contribute to the discussions
  13. Ride a bike
  14. Clean out that closet and those clutter drawers (see Flylady for help)
  15. Have a movie marathon with your family to watch a series, ie: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Anne of Green Gables.
  16. Host a wedding in your backyard
  17. Host a church or youth campout on your property
  18. Make a chart of chores for your kids to do to free you up for editing your novel
  19. Plan homeschooling curriculum for next year, be creative in planning field trips
  20. Research locations to go on field trips for your homeschooling next year
  21. Do some research on other countries where your future novels might take place
  22. Travel to those other countries to see and photograph the settings for your future novels
  23. Make tie-dye shirts with or for your family and friends
  24. Go early Christmas shopping, don’t wait till the last minute
  25. Play board games with your kids, I recommend Act Your Wage since you are having fun, but it’s educational!
  26. Write a blog post about a current political or social issue that bugs you.
  27. Look on Pixabay to find photos that you can use on your blog posts
  28. Learn how to cut your own hair (surf Youtube) so you don’t have to use precious editing time to go to the hairdresser.
  29. Teach your daughter how to fix hair that has been self-cut.
  30. Go to the hairdresser.
  31. Create your own book cover using Powerpoint!
  32. Look on Pixabay to find photos you can use on your book cover.
  33. (Assuredly, in the days ahead this list will grow as I discover myriad options for my time.)
  34. (any suggestions?)
  35. .
  36. .
  37. .

 

Action Point: But in all honesty, having a book to edit, or something difficult and challenging to do, on which much rests, causes us to rethink priorities. We evaluate our goals and dreams, our hopes, and the parts of our lives we have neglected. I doubt many of the items on our list are in themselves wrong. But they identify our weaknesses and our affections. We should always be faithful to the things on our plate for today. Be wise in the use of your time. The days are short.

Please help me add to the list. Comment below.