Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A "Little" Word on Good Writing

That was embarrassing.

I had a friend return some chapters of my story this week for a critique. He was kind and thought the overall flow and trajectory of the story was good. He had some comments on point-of-view, sentence structure, and details like that. He also had one comment that was worth its weight in gold for my writing.

"You use the word 'little'" a lot."

He circled several instances where I had done this. Nothing more needed to be said there. I realized that my diplomatic nature was kicking in, and I have a bad habit of pulling back from saying something strongly by adding qualifiers such as seems, little, possibly, etc.

I knew I'd better search my whole project for "little". Ctrl-F is a good friend to a writer.

But this was a "little" ridiculous.

I had four or five instances of "little" on each page, it seemed. Not only that, it usually did nothing but water down my writing by pulling back the force of the words. "She was getting a little more used to the pace." "He couldn't help a little grin."

What does a weak word like "little" add to a novel? NOTHING. I won't pull back here. Certainly it has a place. My main character is the younger sister, so sometimes she is fighting against the "little" sister stereotype.

My advice then is this: look for those words you run to to fill space. We all have our pets. I can't believe how many times I have read over some of these chapters, and "little" has never caught my eye. Also, make sure you use strong words and don't be afraid to say something. It is almost a nervous tic for me to soft-pedal, and I hate it sometimes. So check your writing with an eagle eye. Have someone else read it to help you find those blind spots. And don't go weak on your description. Be bold, use the right word for the right situation, and don't even give in to temptation a little!

Monday, October 25, 2010

"The Continuum" and Other Tales

Hey all. I haven't gone anywhere. Busy work and trying to finish up things at home can cause blogging deficiencies though, it is a documented condition.

Instead of reading my mea culpa for being somewhat absent, you should be reading where on the scale of Christian fiction you land, if you are a writer. Thanks to Mike Duran's post, we know have an objective scale for measuring just how Christian a particular novel is.

Actually, I'm full of it today. Mike did write an interesting post with a scale borrowed from John Wimber and his book Power Evangelism to describe where people are in their relationship (or lack thereof) with God. It was actually helpful, because it made me think about how realistic my plot progression is in my WIP. I recommend you check it out (and just follow Mike already - I link to him enough here).

In other news, I finished some light reading involving dimension-hopping and time travel. Of course I'm referring to the new novel The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead. I'll be discussing it more next week for a blog tour, so if the premise interests you (and it really should), then check back.

Finally, is there anything people want to discuss here? Seriously, I'm interested in some topics to help feed this fertile imagination. That way, I don't come up with something that stinks...

OK, this post is getting far too silly. I'll be back soon with hopefully more coherent thoughts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Too Clean?

As the debate rages in Christian fiction about "edgy" fiction, a Mormon author making the following pledge:

Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.

This is from Jason F. Wright, an author I am unfamiliar with, but I saw this article linked on Facebook and was curious. There is a subculture of LDS fiction just as there is for the evangelical world in the CBA. I've not read any of these books, but seeing them at the library, I can tell there are similarities (such as making knock-offs of popular general fiction such as DaVinci Code).

He asks the question if anyone has put down a book because it is too clean. Since the source of this article is "Mormon Times," I would expect the answer to be "no". I admire how he knows his place as an author and his determination to stick to his beliefs.

Still, I think people have put down books for being "too clean" if the book was also too unrealistic, uninteresting, or a combination. Can a good book be clean without the issues he labels above? Certainly. His point about older literature succeeding without gory details of sex, violence, or language is a poignant one considering our culture that demands "realism" above all.

Since I've participated in the discussion of edgy Christian fiction, the statement caught my eye. I still believe there is an argument for fiction that glorifies God and speaks to the culture while being grittier than your standard CBA fare, it is good to remember that each author has their own calling, and needs to stay true to that. It would not ring true to have a gritty Amish novel by certain authors, just as Ted Dekker writing a pure, sugary sweet prairie romance would be WAY out of character ;)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"Sensual" Christian Fiction?

File this post under "unfinished business."

On September 15th I reviewed Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker for the CFBA tour. I made the
comment, "Is this the book that changes what Christian fiction can be about?" I left off a cliffhanger saying I'd discuss it "tomorrow."

Hope you haven't been hanging too long!

Still, I don't want to let this idea go. Immanuel's Veins is a book that deserves some analysis.

The book is a potent mix of visual and emotional imagery. As I said in my review, Dekker spends time developing his two main characters, Toma and Lucine, and otherwise has placeholder characters that allow him to develop the tension and force the plot on its blistering pace. As Toma falls for Lucine, and she is torn between him and a deceptively dashing royal, there is a lot of description of the desire that develops.

Dekker describes it as probably "the most Christian book I've ever written." It certainly is laced with the love Jesus has for His bride, as well as a deep connection to the Song of Solomon (he dedicates the book to King Solomon) and other Biblical imagery such as the two sisters in Ezekiel who end up whoring after other countries and their false gods. To build such a premise, this book couldn't really be tame.

Dekker writes freely of passion and desire in building up the drama. The story wouldn't have worked without it. The sensuality of the followers of van Valerik is contrasted with the nobility of Toma and Lucine. Still, both of them are tempted by the opportunity, and Lucine is seduced by Duke Vlad van Valerik. The horror of what she encounters after she gives herself to him echoes the mistake people make when they go after the schemes of Satan, only to realize they've been snared.

The book is sensual. The story demands it. As I read it, sometimes it was slightly arousing. It is unlike any other Christian (CBA) novel I've read. The book was actually not accepted by Ted's Christian publisher in Holland due to its sensuality (can you say irony?).

I think only someone with Dekker's clout in the CBA industry could get away with writing this book. Violence has long been accepted in Christian fiction, but any kind of sexuality is resisted. Now, I don't think we should be seeing "Christian erotica" anytime soon, and that is not the purpose of Immanuel's Veins. Again I'll say the story required such language.

So this book could be a book that changes Christian fiction. I don't think we'll be seeing smut in the CBA, but if there is a proper place for sexual/sensual language that serves the story and the message, then Immanuel's Veins sets a precedent. It will be resisted by some for sure - on the Amazon page the book is overwhelmingly praised, but there are several 1 star reviews that decry the language and imagery. I see their point, but I feel those reviewers are missing the point of the book by focusing on the trees and missing the forest.

Will this open up Christian fiction to the idea that "the end justifies the means?" I don't think that is the case here. But Dekker really is not forging new ground, not when prophets and wise men in the Bible used such imagery first. Time will tell if it pushes CBA fiction, or if it is an isolated case.

What say you?