Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Head to Hand: Being a Christian Writer

As I edit my first novel, I am well aware that my faith in Jesus impacts on what I write about and how I write it.  It's a fine line, and Christians differ greatly on what constitutes 'Christian literature' in the realm of fiction.

I'm learning the delicate balance of communicating what I believe through storytelling, but creating characters who do not share my beliefs.  Nobody wants to read a schmaltzy Christian story where everyone becomes a Christian in the end.  Life is just not like that.  I want to portray a world like the one we journey in....gritty and real.  I'm inspired by C.S. Lewis and U2 who communicate their faith through fiction and song lyrics.

Readers will always read things into stories that the author never intended.  They will assume because a character holds certain values, that this must be the embodiment of what the author holds dear.  That simply is not the case in my book.  My main characters make decisions and think thoughts I disagree with, but it's all part of their growth and learning.  I would certainly not label it a 'Christian' book by any stretch of the imagination, but there are definite Christian 'themes' which emerge in the storyline.  As I've became a Christian and slowly mature in my faith, the plot of my novel in progress has changed accordingly.  When I started, I was a non-Christian fifteen-year-old, obsessed with the ways of the world and achieving glory for myself.  My book begins with ten-year-old Brad Sinclair growing up in the working class Adelaide suburb of Alberton in the mid 1980s, with his heart set on becoming a champion footballer.  Without giving too much away, Brad grows into a young man who is confronted by challenges and obstacles which force him to re-evaluate his perspective.  I believe such a change only occurred when my own worldviews and plans shifted after coming to Christ.  Before that, the plot involved Brad achieving everything he ever wanted and finding maximum fulfilment from sport.

Christian artists cannot simply detach themselves from their characters and say, "It wasn't me....it was them."  Yet neither can they write in a way that is completely devoid of reality.  If we are to somehow communicate the gospel through our art medium, we need to be holy, yet real.  Some things I'm wrestling with as I write and edit are what constitutes swearing? Can I describe sexual activity?  The majority of characters in my book are professional footballers...young men in their twenties and thirties.  They would not speak to each other as old ladies sipping cups of tea would.  Yet, I've come to the belief I don't need to actually write swear words in my story for readers to get the point; I can say, "He swore loudly," for instance.  Likewise I can write about a sex scene in a tasteful way.

When I studied theatre at uni, I was faced with similar moral dilemmas.  I was planning on auditioning for a play and just before I was called in, I read the fine print on the poster which I'd neglected to read before.  It said full nudity would be required.  I walked out of the green room at that moment.  There are other issues which come into play as well...should I be in a play where I'll have to use foul language or kiss another actor?  It's too easy to just say, "I'm playing a character.  It's not really me."  But what we do with our bodies, acting or not, can have an impact on our spiritual health.  I have come to the conclusion that if I am to be salt and light in the arts community, then I cannot just lose my saltiness.  The world is watching, they know we follow Jesus, and they want to see how we'll react.

Even as I wrestle with these issues, I know I'll always come under fire from Christians who disagree with my convictions.  I was told quite bluntly by a fellow Christian a few years back that writing about a sex scene between two characters who are not married to each other is always wrong.  I know some will dislike my use of the terms, 'crap' and 'bastard', for example, in my book.  But while we should strive to be godly, we cannot live up to everyone's differing expectations.  Christian writers like myself can only do what we feel called to do.....to communicate the gospel through fiction with the hope it will reach a needy world.


Meredith said...

Lots of big thinking going on there! You should have saved that one for Friday!!! LOL!!

I'm all for "leaving things to the imagination".

That said, it is also true to say that it is wrong to judge a non-Christian by Christian standards. So separating out Christian characters from non-Christian characters - and demonstrating that by what they say and do - makes a sharp statement of how it is in real life. There is integrity in that.

This must be a fascinating if not exhausting process for you to go through given the changes that have taken place in your life since you first started your novel.

Keep praying about this as you do it. And good work!!

Sarah said...

I entered it in the Christian blog carnival which is being hosted by Rodney Olsen at The Journey blog http://www.rodneyolsen.net :)

There is only one Christian character in my book (one of the main character's teammates at his footy club) so I'm careful to portray him as someone who strives live a godly life yet is not perfect.

David said...

Hi Sarah,

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this article. As an aspiring wrier I face many of the same challenges and dilemmas.

I will definitely be making a point to check your blog out in the future. :-)

Sarah said...

Welcome David. I'm planning to continue my From Head to Hand writing series in the future, so I'll look forward to your thoughts :)