Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Importance of Story

"Winning entries will thoughtfully reflect a Christian worldview, but not necessarily in an overt manner."

What does this "hint" in the submission guidelines mean? I'd like to take a moment to expand upon Erik's post from last week and talk a bit about what your judges will be looking for when you submit that story by February 1.

Erik talked about the problem with emphasizing a didactic message over the story itself. Is it important to talk about the message that stories convey? Certainly. In fact, I would say it's vital to analyze worldviews in literature and determine whether or not they match up to the Biblical standard.

However, portraying a theme is somewhat like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: the harder you run at it, the further away it grows. In other words, messages in literature can distract you so much from the story itself that the messages lose their potency.

The beauty of fiction is that it is created to show, not tell. Consider the following photographs:

Image credit: PA Forestry Dept.
Image credit: Flickr

Which image best captures the beauty of a tree? Which one makes you catch your breath in awe at its aesthetic symmetry? Which image would you rather hang in your living room, for your guests to admire? Both are pictures of trees. Both are factually correct. Yet while the image on the top might be fascinating for someone with an interest in botany, the image on the bottom is the one that makes most people stare in wonder.

What's the difference? The image on the top tells everything; it's a diagram. It leaves no mystery, nothing left to be discovered, nothing for the viewer to find under the surface. The image on the bottom is a photograph; it shows you something of beauty and presents something true and pleasing to the eye.

In the same way, your stories should be photographs, not diagrams. It's easy to focus on theme because we give you a theme to write about. But don't lose the aesthetic beauty when you're slamming home a theme because the theme will lose its power.

Last year's coordinator, Crista Richey, talked about how Christian writers should instead seek to create a good story first, instead of sacrificing writing excellence on the altar of theme. She wrote:
This Christian element must be natural to the story; must arise from it, instead of being tacked on to it; must have power and substance in itself, and not rely on Scriptural quotations or witty proverbs to back it up. (After all – if your story relies upon such gimmicks, why should someone read it at all? Wouldn’t it be far better for your readers to consult the original source – the very life-giving Word of God?)
Even Jesus taught in stories, instead of simply repeating the verses of the Law that everyone-- especially the Pharisees-- had heard hundreds of times. When they asked Him, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus didn't set out a didactic list of people that His followers were obligated to be nice to. Instead He told the story of the Good Samaritan.

So, seek to show instead of tell. See what story you can find that is true, unique, beautiful. Make it the best it can be. And when you seek to tell a true story, a story that reflects the world as it is and should be, then you will have written a uniquely Christian story.

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