Tuesday, October 26, 2010

courage, endurance, and the Christian imagination...

Today I just want to clarify a few points before you all begin scribbling down plots and ideas for your stories. First, some details from the guidelines page:

The First Division:
Theme: Courage
Age group: 12-15
Word limit: 1,500

The Second Division:
Theme: Endurance
Age group: 16-18
Word limit: 2,500

Hint #1: Winning entries will thoughtfully reflect a Christian worldview, but not necessarily in an overt manner.

As I mentioned in my last post, there is always some confusion concerning “what I can/should/want to write about.” The themes this year are intentionally broad and open-ended. There are still parameters, of course, and your stories should stay within those boundaries; but I want to give you the freedom to tell stories you want to tell—not stories you “have” to tell or stories you might think the judges want to hear. Have fun, be creative, and don’t stress over it! You can write your story in any genre, any time-period, and any setting (real or imaginary) you choose.  

That said, what about the themes themselves? The first thing to know is that they overlap quite a bit. If you’d rather write a story based on “courage” instead of “endurance,” stop and think a moment. What is endurance? What is its relation to courage? They’re not identical: both words have different connotations. Courage suggests a conquered fear; endurance suggests long-term stamina during difficult circumstances. But there’s a definite connection. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Endurance is, in many cases, a kind of courage: a courage that is tested again and again, yet holds strong and does not snap under unrelenting pressure. Courage and endurance are complimentary virtues: each has a slightly different focus, but they are closely interwoven.

So if you have a good idea for a story that you think works well for the other division, chances are you can reconcile it to the theme of your own division. There’s some stretching room here.

One last note. Winning entries do reflect a Christian worldview, but not necessarily in an overt manner. Writing a “Christian” story does not require quoting Scripture or summarizing a moral at the end. Remember that stories are works of art: they must be believable and compelling. The “spirit” of the work must also be Christian, not merely the surface. We’ll return to this topic later on, since it touches on the connection between art and Christianity itself. Next week, I would like to share an essay on the relationship between art/literature and the Christian imagination that one of my professors wrote. It is short but fascinating and insightful, and I think you will find it very helpful as you consider your approach to – and purpose in – writing fiction.

As always, let me know if you have any questions!

In Christ,

Crista Richey
A Call to Pens Competition Coordinator


  1. Hello,
    I am considering entering the short story contest, but I have a question, can the story be an allegory?


  2. @Mary L: We're having some technical issues at present, but the link should be up on the website within a couple of days. I may post an update tomorrow evening. Sorry about that!

    @Kathrann: Yes, your story can be an allegory. Any genre is acceptable in itself. :-)

  3. @Kathrann: Oh, I think I see why you asked that. Just how “un-overt” does your story have to be, if it is an allegory? Well, I do think you can have an allegory that is creative, well-written, and openly didactic. I’m fond of allegory, myself, and some of the greatest literature ever written is highly allegorical (The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Faerie Queene, etc).

    But the theme of your story should not rely on what is merely external. By that, I don’t mean you should avoid external metaphors or symbols. I do mean that in writing a story your theme should be developed through the plot, characters, and so on. Don’t tack on a verse at the end and call it “Christian.” Your Christian theme needs to be inherent to the story itself. Does that help at all?

    Of course, you may have been asking a simple question…maybe you weren’t wondering about that at all. ;-) Either way, I hope this is helpful. This is a topic I plan on discussing in more detail later on.

  4. Can you please elaborate on the contest guidelines requiring self-editing? What sorts of helps would I be allowed to receive from my parents or friends that would not violate this guideline?
    Thank you!

  5. Miss Richey,

    I wanted to ask a question about one of the hints.

    "2. Edit and revise several times before you submit! Clarity of style and grammatical excellence are both a “must.”"

    I just don't quite understand this. If these things are "musts" then why have many of the winning entries of past years not shown this. I just don;t understand. If you don't really judge by this what do you judge by? Thanks so much for organizing this contest, I always enjoy it.