Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christian Storytelling

Over the course of the last month, I've not been blogging.  Instead, I've been hammering away on this year's novel.  It's part of National Novel Writing Month, which I've done for the last three years, and it's been great.  The structures and disciplines and insta-community that springs up around this month-long blast of writing is great.  Every year, it's helped me punch down a full draft 50,000+ word manuscript, going from concept to dang-there-it-is in a month.

One of the recurring of my writing has been developing stories with Christians woven into them.  Being a pastor and all, I suppose that isn't surprising.

My first year's output revolved around the Amish.  The Amish after an apocalyptic event, admittedly, so it's a harder and more brutal narrative than your typical pastel romance, but the Amish nonetheless.  That one found a publisher, and should be out there...God eighteen months.

Last year's manuscript included two significant Methodist side characters.  Methodists, aliens, and robots.  And Russian hit men.  Who were not Methodist.

This year, my protagonist is a charismatic evangelical, an evangelical who has an encounter with pandimensional extraterrestrials whose appearance is an homage to H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Things.  Because for some reason, those two things go together in my mind.

Besides just pitching out a good yarn, one of my goals in the midst of all of this: to attempt to write stories in which Christians are actual human beings.  In my reading and in film, I find that I'll encounter Jesus-people who are cast in only the broadest-brush stereotypes.  They're too often Elmer Gantry charlatans or bible-thumping hypocrites or other two-dimensional tropes, and it bugs me.   Jesus people are, in my experience, not all like this.

But neither are they the cookie-cutter drones we too often encounter in contemporary "Christian" literature and film, that alternate reality where human complexity gets obliterated by blow-to-the-forehead messaging.

As I prefer to write 'em, Christians make mistakes, and do stupid things, and continue to be genuinely Christian in a world where that's increasingly not the norm.

Which brings me to a point of fuddlement as I've been writing.  My Christian characters inhabit a world populated by people who neither think nor speak in particularly Christian ways.  Because I'm trying to write in a way that reflects reality, there is profanity.  There is violence.  And there are Christians, some flawed, some kind, some less so, mixed in to the whole mess.

I do wonder, honestly, how that will work for readers.  To what extent can there be faithful Jesus-folk presented in literature that can be horrible or rough or profane?  Is that encounter too jarring now, for the Christian reader, trained to expect watered-down and simplified literature?  Is that encounter too jarring for the secular reader, who expects easy stereotypes in place of the human complexity that exists among the faithful?

The only way to find that out, I suppose, is to keep writing.