In Defense of Fiction, Part Two: Eight Reasons to Write Fiction

“I only read nonfiction.” Great! I, too, enjoy nonfiction. However, I also read (and write) fiction. So, why do I write stories? For many reasons. Read on, to find out what they are.

Eight Reasons for Writing Fiction

  • Thousands of people enjoy good stories. Thousands will read a novel before they’ll read nonfiction. This gives fiction writers a great opportunity to reach an audience in ways nonfiction writers can’t.
  • Fiction enables novelists to share their message without sounding preachy. About his Narnia series, C.S Lewis wrote: “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them (Narnia’s characters); that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the “bubbling.” In other words, since Lewis was a Christian, he wrote Narnia from a Christian perspective. The Christian symbolism in these books “just happened.”

Like Lewis, our points of view slip into our work because what we write is part of who we are and how we view the world. Narnia, with all of its symbolism,  doesn’t preach, but Lewis’s faith is evident. So it will be with us. When we write, we share a part of ourselves and our message with the story-loving world.

  • To educate people in a fun way.  In Education of a Wandering Man (Bantam, 2008), Louis L’Amour wrote: “Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

As a writer of historical fiction, I absolutely agree. I credit Robert Louis Steveson and Alexandre Dumas as two of the sparks that got me interested in history when I was in my early teens. The third spark was a nonfiction book written by Pulitzer Prize winner, Bruce Catton, which I also read in my early teenage years.

  • Jesus told His disciples, in Matthew 5:13, that they are the “salt of the earth.” Salt is a preservative. Christian writers and artists can be salt in our current culture. Through fiction, we participate in producing literature that helps restrain the onslaught of society’s ungodliness.

The Return of the Prodigal by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787)
  • Jesus believed in and taught by example the importance of a story. His stories, called parables, are loaded with truth.  His listeners could relate to the parables’ characters: the farmer who sowed the seed, the son who left his father and went into a far country, the good Samaritan, and so on
  • Not every work of fiction carries a message. Some novels simply entertain. And to that, I say: what’s wrong with some relaxing entertainment? Everyone needs a break from life’s busyness. People attend movies or watch television or go fishing or do other things to “get away from it all.”   Reading a good novel is no different.
  • God gave some people creative minds—gifts in music, gifts in painting landscapes and portraits and sculpture, and gifts in other artistic endeavors. One endeavor is writing, which He expects His literary children to use to further His kingdom, either through fiction, nonfiction, and/or other literary genres. If God didn’t think these gifts were important, He’d have never given them.
  • God is creative. Just look around you and marvel at all the beautiful things He created: birds, fish, mammals, the stars, and the solar system. He isn’t against any form of creativity, so long as that creativity honors Him.

Creativity and writing fiction are gifts, just as other callings and skills are gifts. To despise fiction because one sees it as useless is despising this gift God had given certain authors. Fiction isn’t useless. As I hope we’ve seen, it plays an important role in our society and culture.

Having said that, it’s perfectly fine to just read nonfiction. Everyone has their own preference in literature. I prefer reading and writing both. Though I don’t write poetry, I don’t see it as useless either. God uses every gift He’s given His children if they allow Him. Let’s respect all the gifts people use for His glory.

Next Week: How Fiction Techniques Improve Nonfiction


Bibliography

Ryken, Leland, editor. The Christian Imagination, “Creating Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1996. Ryken, 2002

Writing a Back Flash

Back flashes don't affect a story's forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that's affected him/her

Back flashes don’t affect a story’s forward movement. They keep readers in the present while revealing something about a character and a past event that’s affected him or her.

A back flash provides information about a character’s past either through dialogue or the character’s thoughts. It’s the best option for writers when they want to reveal something about a character’s past. Be careful not to write long back flashes, however. Instead, include snippets of information about a character’s past as the story progresses.

Back Flash in Thoughts

When Walter saw the accident on the road up ahead, a pain stabbed his heart. As he lifted his foot off the gas pedal, he pointed at it. His friend and passenger, James, stared at the scene’s police cars and ambulance.

            “Amelia,” Walter muttered.

            “Amelia?” James said. “Oh, yes. I remember.”

            Walter passed the accident in silence. It happened two years ago. Amelia Easterling and he were engaged, and then that horrible accident happened at the movie theater. He’d hit a large van backing out of its parking space. The crash killed her instantly. Oh, how he missed her!

            He pulled into a grocery store’s parking lot. He had to get his mind on other things. “Let’s get our soda and chips fast.”

            James slammed the car door behind him. “Right, Walter. I’m hungry.”

Back Flash in Dialogue

Walter nudged his friend James when they entered the grocery store. “Hey, look over yonder. That pretty lady examining the oranges.”

            James halted near the cash registers. “Yeah. She looks sorta like Amelia. I’m glad you’ve recovered from that accident you had. It wasn’t your fault.”

            “We were arguing at the time, James,” Walter said. “I was driving, so it was my fault. I should’ve been paying better attention to the traffic. She’d still be alive if I’d been doing that.”

            James smiled at the lady as she headed for the vegetables. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

            Walter shrugged. “Why not?”

USE FLASHBACKS CAREFFULLY, BUT HEY, DON’T FORGET THE BACK FLASH!

Beats, Part 2: Character Enhancement

Last week, I discussed the dangers of overusing beats. Though we must use them, we must also be careful to place them at the right spots in our narrative’s dialogue.

Another “beat issue” we need to avoid is this: writing trite. Trite words and phrases and figures of speech are easy to spot. They’re the first things that come to our mind while we write. Why? Because we’ve heard them so much and read them so often, they’re stored in our subconscious and usually pop out on the page during our writing process. Using them in our first draft is fine, but we do well to change them during our revision.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

What are some trite beats? A few examples: he smiled, she shrugged, he laughed, she giggled, he clenched his fists, she sighed, he frowned, etc.

Personally, I think using such beats occasionally is fine, but they shouldn’t be prevalent in our story.

Good beats enhance our characters. They are fresh, original. Through well written beats, readers gain a better understanding of our story’s actors, which is why we need to know them intimately ourselves. Readers will observe their personalities, quirks, character traits, likes and dislikes, etc.

Here are a few examples:

John spooned the whipped cream off his strawberry shortcake and disposed of it in a sandwich bag. He wrung his hands. “Ah, now I can enjoy my dessert.”

Here, instead of telling readers in a straightforward manner that John doesn’t like whipped cream, they first see this by his beat and then by implication through his dialogue.

“I’ll be back.” Jane crept over to a corner in the library, pulled out her cell phone and punched in the number. The sign at the library’s entrance said “no cell phones.” Well, she wouldn’t get caught.

Here, we learn that Jane doesn’t abide by the rules. The library she’s in does not allow cell phones, but what is she doing? She’s using one! Without our telling readers she doesn’t care about rules, they observe this trait through her actions.  

One more “beat issue” to avoid: do not use them after a tagline(speaker attribution), such as in the following example:

Wrong: “I’ll be back,” Jane said. She walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.

Correct: “I’ll be back.” Jane walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.

Use beats, by all means! But use them carefully and wisely, and write them in a fresh manner.

Till next week, everyone.