Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trouble with Christian Fiction Part III: Keep It Simple, Stupid

We’re going to start this post by talking, again, about the movie God’s Not Dead. The problem for today is widely prevalent in Christian fiction, and in specialty fiction in general, but God’s Not Dead is an extreme (and therefore particularly useful) example.

The real reason I hate this movie is that I could have loved it. I could have loved it two or three times, at least.

The thing you need to understand about God’s Not Dead is that it has, like, fourteen different plot lines. There’s the evil atheist professor (See Part II). There’s the Muslim family with the daughter who converted to Christianity. There’s a couple of depressing romances,  mostly with a focus on conflict due to religious differences. Someone’s dad is dying.

Like, just chill, guys. Not one of those stories got the attention it deserved. And they were all crammed into the space of a couple weeks.

I’ve talked before about how to salvage the evil professor bit. But do you know how much I’d pay to see a sincere, respectful portrayal of that conversion subplot? Hint: it’s a lot. I mean, think about it. The sense of betrayal when your daughter casts aside your faith. The struggle on both sides, loving someone but knowing they’re wrong, not knowing what to do, what to say to them, how to interact anymore—there is so much potential here for a powerful story about love and doubt and reconciliation, about relearning how to be a family when something huge, like your core belief system, has torn you apart.

But instead you made it a halfhearted subplot in a crappy movie full of halfhearted subplots all overwhelming each other and the mediocre main plot.

So many stories, particularly Christian stories, are like this. My wife’s in a coma, my house burned down, I have two kids, and I’m mad at God. I read that book, and the wife actually fell into two separate comas.

Look. If you’re writing a six book epic fantasy, you can include all the subplots you want. But no one has the energy for a novella where you’re mourning your dead daughter, developing feelings for a man who doesn’t share your faith, struggling to cope with the knowledge that your little brother had premarital sex, and helping your parents transfer into a nursing home, all while you’re in the process of moving to a new town where everyone is atheist and trying to found a church despite violent opposition from city officials. It’s just too much.

Find the story you want to tell. The real, main thing. Is it the aftermath of losing your daughter? Is it developing a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs? Pick a plot.

Subplots are meant to build a story up, not bog it down in inconsequential side notes.  Find subplots tat will connect to and clarify you main story. Aim for thematic resonance.

Every story doesn’t need to do everything. And you shouldn’t try to make it from a decent writing standpoint , but also because it leads you into one of the standard pitfalls of Christian fiction: the martyr.

We talked a little about this last time, in the context of the atheist bad guy, but it bears repeating. Embrace reality, people. The persecution plot? It’s getting really old. You’re a Methodist in modern Midwestern America.

The world is not out to get you, okay? It’s just not.

So if it’s not the atheist bad guy, you make it about death and unemployment and natural disasters. In order to actually be persecuted, you would have to do something other than writing crappy, self-indulgent stories about how much you suffer because of your faith.

And then there’s the Christian fantasy angle. Like, oh my goodness, the instinct to read  in the dark and hide the book in my underwear drawer is way stronger when I’m reading Christian fantasy than anything else—it just tends to feel dirty. Demons and dragons and ill-conceived allegories full of blood and gore. Distortions of love and memory. Demonic monkeys. Angelic monkeys, which frankly I find even more disturbing.

And if I let myself go any further down this road, it’ll morph into a Ted Dekker rant, so let’s move on.

Everything doesn’t have to be so uncomfortably over the top. You’re not doing yourselves any favors with the death and drama and demons. Just keep it simple.

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