Monday, June 18, 2007

Spiritual Elements too Intrusive?

I said awhile back that I was going to do some blog posts that spun off some of the things that were said in the blog tour done for Return of the Guardian King back in April. Today I'm finally getting around to doing that.

The first one has to do with the objection that the spiritual or faith elements are too obvious in the book. Some have felt that the book's quality would be improved had these been moved to the background, been more veiled and less up front.

I used to think this way, but I've changed my mind. Or at least I've changed my mind about it for these books. I write what I know, what I live and what I believe. Those three are so bound together it's impossible to separate them. I know this sounds weird, and maybe incomprehensible, but what I really wanted to write about wasn't "fantasy" but the spiritual life. I just happened to use the fantasy genre to do that. So if my intent is to write about the spiritual life, which is mostly about thinking certain kinds of thoughts, it would have been hard to convey those things in a more veiled manner. Perhaps impossible.

Of course the set of beliefs each individual has is different, with the variations between individuals ranging from not very different at all to near diametric opposition. If you are very up front and specific about such things -- where you are clearly delineating belief systems in the characters' speech and thinking, it's guaranteed a certain percentage of your readers are going to take exception to it. For some it's because the doctrines themselves challenge them -- they don't agree, or they wouldn't apply them that way, or they don't think about them in the ways the author has presented them. Or maybe they don't think about them as much and it irritates or distracts them when such things keep coming up in the prose.

Or it may be they don’t think that’s how a story should be written. They might prefer a story to be more like a puzzle that they have to work at to figure out. That’s fine. That's even fun in some cases. But I don't think that has to be done in every book.

In some cases, the reader has oversimplified what he thinks you're doing and objects on that basis. I've had readers criticize Arena because they thought the allegory is too obvious -- "The manual is obviously the Bible and one of the characters is obviously Christ. Puh-leeze... How simple-minded can you be?!" And they are disappointed.

The only problem is, that wasn't the entire allegory. Those two elements were only part of what was going on. Parts that, like gold nuggets, are lying right there in plain view. The other parts have been hidden, layered in so the reader must work to understand them. Parts that, perhaps, require a particular frame of reference to understand, or maybe a greater grasp of certain spiritual truths that the objecting reader not only doesn't grasp, but has no idea even exist.

The Bible says that if, indeed, you have managed to communicate God's truth in your writing, the naturally-minded person will not understand it and will even regard it as foolishness. That's because it must be spiritually discerned -- that is, understood by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit and by the foundation of understanding one has of God's word.(I Co 1,2) If it was of the world -- ie, conveying worldly principles and viewpoint -- the world would love it; because it is not of the world the world hates it, or "loves it less." John 15:18,19

That means when you start out to write about spiritual truths that actually relate specifically to the Christian way of life even should you succeed perfectly, you know by default that a certain percentage of readers aren't to like what you're doing, and while another percentage might like it, they will only grasp a small portion of what you're trying to do. The only way to get past that is to keep the spiritual aspects confined to the most basic principles, those that the broadest readership will be most likely to understand -- ie, salvation, sin, morality, establishment principles and perhaps some usage of faith. Go beyond that and you're going to start losing people.

That's a bad thing for sales, but I don't think it's a bad thing overall. You have to write what you're led to write, but you also have to accept that you might have fewer readers than you might have otherwise if you choose to do so.

Tomorrow... reader reaction to the faith elements...