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:
Age group: 12-15
Word limit: 1,500
The Second Division:
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!
A Call to Pens Competition Coordinator