Why My Fiction Isn't Inspiring

My fiction isn't about pretty people doing pretty things, and even more rarely is it about Christian people doing Christian things-- usually, it tackles questionable characters making questionable decisions (either objectively, as in "Synesthesia", or by getting caught up in really terrible situations, as in "Thorn"). Sometimes, there's an element of horror, or mystery, or the toss-up between inevitability and agency. A lot of well-meaning Christians in my life have asked why: why write messy work? Why muddy the waters? Why not inspire? 

It's not exactly my place as the writer to tell you how to read any specific story, but are some general answers I want to give, with a couple notes on the aims of specific parts of stories. 

Life is a messy stumble through with no do-overs that ends in death, a thing that no one understands and everyone witnesses. I don't want to present simple answers when the answer isn't simple. It cheapens the few times when the reality is actually pretty straight-forward. Creating a false sense of security isn't Christian - it is to make a world on fire sound safe. "Thorn" in particular deals with the possibility of what I will call a Mal-miracle: something terrible happens; it is possible that terrible thing was (in fact) supernatural. What I've found from talking to people  (those who ascribe to a faith system and those who do not) is a willingness to look again and decide whether they believe in a natural or supernatural explanation. In stories about positive miracles, it is easy to accept or reject the miraculous without actually determining what seems the most likely. In fiction, miracles are usually poorly handled. And people are messy: we are complicated. We muddy the waters. 

In my stories, I like to have characters find the edge of their own morality and sit with it. I want my characters to discover who they are, what they are willing to live with. In "Synesthesia," a character who has done everything she can to warp her own (already warped) perception cannot escape the truth. In "3AM," a character decides if she is willing to be the woman someone cheats with. And in all of my stories, truth finds a way. As a Christian, I believe Truth is also a Person. So when a character is able to see who they are, who they really are, God is there. I don't think it's possible to write a story set in our universe in which God is not a character, because God is omnipresent. You have never lived a day in which God was not one of the players. The stories that seem the least realistic are those set in our world, but without God, no lingering aftertaste of bread and wine. 

I want to train myself to see where God penetrates the defenses of ordinary life and causes a shift toward love, and reconciliation, and forgiveness, and acts of love -- in other words, I want to see the truest reality: that grace is working at all times on all things. Some characters can't take religion, but they can take forgiveness they don't deserve. Some characters can take Jesus, but they can't take a watered-down version of him. I don't want to only portray religious characters doing religious things because it severely limits my ability to see that God doesn't need my explicit permission to get involved in situations. Thinking God only talks to Christians is bad for my faith. Thinking that parables and stories about ordinary life, and bad decisions, and seriously problematic people, is somehow less than inspirational stories is to, in fact, throw out the biblical narrative. Plus, I don't want an exclusively Christian audience. I want people with all kinds of walks and doubts and backgrounds and faiths and fears and scars and cultures and genders and ethnicities to feel like there is space for them inside these stories. I want to affirm existence in its multiple forms. It is safe to ask questions because there are answers. It is not safe to ignore the questions. That only weakens the answers. 

There are great writers of inspirational fiction, who can heal very specific kinds of broken hearts, who can offer escape. I cannot offer that; nothing, not one thing, in my life has ever given me release from the mess of who I am and what I've done except for facing the whole truth of it and letting healing begin. God doesn't negotiate with the lie. He breaks it. As a fiction writer, that means I often have to get my hands dirty to find the gold buried in the field. I have to be willing to look at the ways in which Christianity is ugly and the Church has been brutal if I want to be convincing when I say that, through it all, it is worth it. I want to look at history and how its come to this. I want to re-open the possibility of God and magic and miracles in the ordinary world and re-affirm that people are absolutely fucked up in the head and in the heart, irredeemable and yet, in actual fact, so often redeemed. And I want to show the process, the hope in the waiting, the temptation and also the danger of despair. And I want to show it. That's going to mean getting close. 

I hope my Christian will hang in there and wade with me into the muddiness, and I hope my non-Christian readers will feel safe to ask the questions again with me. I want to know its worth it. All of it. And I hope as I continue to plow forward with writing, that you'll join me.



If you like my work, check out my Patreon. If you didn't know I write fiction, check out my published work.  

Photo by Haseeb Jamil on Unsplash