what I call good writing

There are essentially three reasons I will like a book:

1) The writing is beautiful.  If the writing is lyrical, or the prose almost reads as poetry, or if the writer has great diction and uses sounds to her advantage, I’m captured.  When an author does a dance with words and creates images that burst like berries on the tongue, I’m sold.

2) The plot is fascinating.  I love books that have twists and turns and surprises.  I don’t need them to be action-packed, just interesting, with interesting scenes and a great storyline.

3) The message is profound.  When the story tugs at my heart or opens up my mind to new ways of understanding something, the book touches (and sometimes changes) my life.

Some books fall under one of these categories, and it is enough to make me love it.  For example, Annie Dillard’s book For the Time Being is beautifully written (for that matter, pretty much anything she writes is!), but there is not really a plot to it, nor did its message truly change my life.  Harry Potter has a thrilling storyline that completely pulled me in, and the series also has a wonderful theme of good versus evil, but I wouldn’t say that Rowling (in those books) is a lyrical writer, although she does have her moments!  Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard is an allegory, and as such, the plot is pretty obvious, but the message deeply touched me and wrenched tears from me left and right.  As you know, The Chronicles of Narnia are my absolute favorite for their fun plots and the deep truths in them, but the writing is not as beautiful as some other things Jack Lewis has written.

To me, some of the best writers are those who combine all three of these elements.  Some of the best examples I have of this are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (gorgeous writing, super fun storyline, excellent message), C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy (the writing is so masterful it makes me want to curl up inside of it, the plot is riveting, and the takeaways are tremendous), Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (literary writing at its very finest, interesting characters and storyline, an underlying message that is like a rock to stand on), and The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle (breathtaking writing, intriguing fantasy plot, message that lingers long).

Your turn.  What makes you like a book?  Are you drawn to one of these three reasons over the others?  What are your best examples of books that fit these categories?

quality Christian fiction

This issue has been pawing at me for the last week or so.

Here’s my dilemma:

As a fanatic writer, I have a hard time incorporating Jesus Christ into my writing in a way that is not alienating to non-believers.

As a critical reader, I find the number of books that can do this well to be sorely lacking.

Look, I know that there is a vibrant “Christian fiction” genre out there, but if I step into that area of the bookstore, I seem to be surrounded by Amish romances.  Really?  Amish romances?  That is what Christian fiction has boiled down to?  I have no– read my lips, NO– interest in reading such a book.

I want books like Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (which was full of dense theological arguments that were presenting in a fascinating and thrilling cosmic duel that draws in all readers), books like Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (which somehow manages to show a believer’s real relationship with Christ without stepping for even one moment into sentimentality).

Even worse than that issue is that I worry that I am contributing to the problem.  I’m not writing any poems about how God blessed us with puppies and rainbows or anything, but I am really struggling to find a way to speak to all audiences while still mentioning the name of my Savior.

This was my prayer the other night, which I am showing to you in the hopes that you will join me in praying it:

Jesus Christ, my hope, my love, I BEG THAT YOU WOULD SHOW ME HOW TO WRITE CHRISTIAN FICTION THAT GLORIFIES YOU AND CALLS OUT TO UNBELIEVING HEARTS.

 Jesus, I want to do something big for You.  Unfortunately, without Your assistance, I can do NOTHING.  HA!  I even need You just to enable me to worship rightly.  I NEED YOU, JESUS.  My heart wants this so badly– I so desperately, so deeply want to honor You through my writing and want to draw people to You through story.  It seems almost insurmountable to me– the idea of writing incredible, realistic fiction that both honors You and appeals to both believers and non-believers and that will minister to hearts of all kinds.  Jesus, I know it is possible with You, but I think that is the ONLY way it is possible.  And I plead for it.  It’s like my heart is begging for this, Jesus, to honor You in this way, and I need Your guidance and direction just to even come close.  Help me to get there.  Help me to persist even if it takes so very, very long to get there.

I want what I write to matter; I want it to be infused with meaning and with YOU, and I don’t know how to do that without alienating the very people that I want to have read the book. 

May I please throw all this responsibility back on You and ask that You simply use these hands as Your tools?  When I sit at my laptop to write, Holy Spirit, I pray that it would be You who guides the words I write.

Amen.