Okay, so this post is really late. Oops. At least I kept on time up to this point! Bella’s post is here; she wrote a list of modern literature cliches. So go check it out and read her commentary!
Break Out of The Mold: Have you noticed that a vast majority of books now days seem to have that certain mold? Now is time to break out of that! This Day will cover the importance of a unique story and why it is so important to write the books you want to write, not the books “The Public” craves. Believe it or not, a lot of people want fresh ideas, despite what you see on the shelves. You can all post stories/books that you see as unique, or at least Stand Out.
To be honest, I don’t read much modern fiction. I’ve not been interested in hunting for the good stuff, and the modern publications I have read did not interest me much. Other writers claim that modern book trends are indeed cliché and trite—but I can’t say the same from experience.
I can, however, comment a little on Christian Fiction. For this post, I define “Christian Fiction” as “a story in which the Gospel or the Christian faith is central to the story.”
See, I’ve read 28+ volumes of Christian Fiction over the years; some titles were Glory, Duty, and the Gold Dome, Where the River Begins, Treasures of the Snow (okay, I liked that one, but it wasn’t striking), the Elsie Dinsmore Life of Faith reboots, and others. Only 9 books felt real, powerful, artistic; only 9 reminded me of the power, glory, excitement of my faith: the Millie Keith reboot (there were 8 books in the series), and The Last Sin Eater (do not watch the film. Nowhere near as powerful and artistic).
But those were the exceptions. Upon finishing most of those 28+ volumes, I chucked them away without a backward glance. And I think the two main problems with those stories were talk over action, and the absence of some important content.
Starting with the first point, I can identify a Christian character by what he says and by how the author treats him, but rarely by his actions. Because often, there is nothing outstanding about him. Sure, he’s nice; protagonists have to be or readers won’t care about them. He can be unselfish; again, kinda has to be to gain sympathy. Oh, and he stands up for his faith–but this can be a hit or miss effect depending on how the author handles it.
Sadly, I have never remarked, “This Christian character is awesome because he does X, Y, and Z. And cheerfully–I want to be like him.” Instead, I often have to say, “This character is supposed to be a Christian who does something plot-related.” Often, I can’t even respect the character: “She’s supposed to be a Christian, but she knew the guy who asked her out was not a Christian, and she still dated him. Maybe she meant to convert him, but she never tries.” Or I can’t relate to the character: “He’s fighting to save this woman and her baby, but his dialogue is stiff. And that “funny” scene–it was out-of-character because we’ve never seen him loosen up like that. And what was supposed to be funny about that remark?” (True story for both those examples.)
At the end of the day, the problem is that many CF characters are not fleshed out–with strengths, flaws, skills, and quirks–and they do not behave much differently from the nice-but-not-Christian characters. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle: “Words, words, words! I so sick of words–show me!”
That actually ties in to my second point, which is the content of Christian Fiction. Or more specifically, an omitted piece of content, and how the characters respond to it. See, for years, I had the mistaken notion that “trust God” mean “trust Him, and everything will turn out hunky-dory.” (Here on this earth, that is.) And I really think I absorbed it from Christian media. Even the good films, cartoons, and picture books.
But I slowly learned that “trust God” actually means “trust that He is in control no matter what happens.” Though the film Facing the Giants did have the line “If we win, we praise Him, and if we lose, we praise Him”–once the team changes their attitude, they never lose. Not once. And the main character gets an important prayer answered. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not condemning the film. But doesn’t it undermine the point if the characters never actually have to fulfill their philosophy? Sometimes, you persevere in prayer, you trust God, you thank Him for the difficulties through the eyes of faith–and He still says “no” to your request.
And submitting to His “no” is often hard–this is another missing aspect in CF. I rarely see a genuinely Christian character struggle long and struggle mightily. Oh, moments of doubt, sure. But when the Psalmist says “the valley of the shadow of death,” he probably meant a situation heavy, dark, one with no relief or end in sight. Close to “Why have you forsaken me?” territory, and not just, “I got fired, and this kid at high school insulted me for praying over lunch, and now I…kinda feel uncertain about what God wants me to do.”
So I want to see a genuinely Christian character hit a dark time, have to watch his family suffer, beg God for relief and be told, “no, not now.” I want to watch him wonder what God is doing; I want to see him struggle to hold on to what he believes when his feelings get in the way. I want to see him fail, and get back up, to persevere in prayer, to become more compassionate and selfless.
And on that note, I’d like to see compassionate characters in Christian books and films. Someone in those stories always gives advice, but I also want to see characters who will listen to a grieving soul. Who will, eventually, remind the struggling character that God has promised never to leave, nor forsake, but who initially is just there, supportive and willing to listen. This kinda ties into the first point; how are people going to want to listen to you if you just talk and don’t show that you truly care? I have learned that a grieving person may need advice–but probably not right off the bat. Compassionate characters could encourage readers–whether they’re Christian or non-Christian.