Mary DeMuth

Mary E. DeMuth is an expert in Pioneer Parenting. She enables Christian parents to navigate our changing culture when their families left no good faith examples to follow. Her parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005). Mary also inspires people to face their trials through her real-to-life novels, Watching the Tree Limbs (nominated for a Christy Award) and Wishing on Dandelions (NavPress, 2006). Mary has spoken at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, the ACFW Conference, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, and at various churches and church planting ministries. Mary and her husband, Patrick, reside in Texas with their three children. They recently returned from breaking new spiritual ground in Southern France, and planting a church.

Truth Telling In Fiction

The more we are able to grapple with truth in our hearts, even the difficult stuff we try to hide, the more our fiction will reflect reality...

Gordon Lish said: “The secret of good writing is telling the truth.” If you’re a fiction writer, you may balk at that a bit. Isn’t fiction untruth? Storytelling, by its essence, is making up settings, people, conflicts. And yet Jesus, the great storyteller, said “I tell you the truth” seventy-eight times in Scripture. In John 8:44 we read that Satan is the great liar, speaking his native language at all times. Lying is also the native language of our world. Telling the truth, then, is an act to further the Kingdom of God, dealing a decisive blow to the enemy of our souls. Writing the truth in story form is a unique and effective form of spiritual warfare.

Why don’t we write the truth in fiction? Why are we afraid to deal with gritty reality against the backdrop of God’s truth?

Following are some possible reasons:

• We are afraid—of relatives, of fellow Christians, of what others will think of us.
• We worry that others will tie our characters to us, so we fail to make them breathe like humans.
• We won’t admit the truth to ourselves; therefore, we can’t articulate it to others in a story.
• We want and love control.
• We love the applause of man over the applause of heaven (Galatians 1:10).
• We think hiding works (like King David, who hid his secret tryst with Bathsheba but repented through the vehicle of a well-told story).
• We have a wrong view of Jesus as Love and Truth personified: Jesus was not always nice. His words were not always kind and sweet. But we typify Him as thus.

The more we are able to grapple with truth in our hearts, even the difficult stuff we try to hide, the more our fiction will reflect reality, and the more it will have the potential to transform culture and individual lives. Telling the truth in fiction is imperative because it invites our readers into the community of the broken. It frees people to make connections between themselves and our characters, to realize they are no longer alone in their thoughts, circumstances, or difficult relationships. Creating living, breathing, sweating characters whose lives unfold realistically unmasks readers, not necessarily in a disarming, naked way, but in a manner that gives them realistic glimpses of their hearts, ever increasing their need for the Savior.

I now see the Bible in a new light. It’s not merely a catalog of doctrines, nor is it a book of dos and don’ts. It’s a living, breathing, vivid story of God’s reaching to man, the denouement being the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the final act yet unfolding before us.

Telling the truth in fiction doesn’t mean we spell out the gospel, but it does mean we show hints and pieces of God’s redemption on the page. How do we do that? By making our characters sweet all the time? By removing the painful yoke of struggle? No, by showing life as it really is, but also how it could be. By writing the darkness of this

world skillfully so that when snippets of redemption burst through, that light is ever more shining. Telling the truth in fiction has changed the world. Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more for abolition than any oration or legislation at the time. The Jungle changed the way the meatpacking industry treated their workers and managed their operations (I couldn’t eat meat for a long time after reading that book!). To Kill a Mockingbird opened the world’s eyes to the ugliness of racism in America through innocent Tom Robinson and heroic Atticus Finch. That’s the power of truth in fiction! Novelists have a similar power at our fingertips. We have the potential to tell the truth in story format in such a way that we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, change the world.

How can we write stories that tell the truth? Anne Lamott says this in Bird by Bird: “Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” First, we must risk by doing our own work. Sometimes writers and ask me, “How do you write such gritty, redemptive stories?” My answer is usually this: “I’ve lived many gritty, redemptive stories throughout my life. I’m writing from my own experience.” To write the truth, we have to go there ourselves. If you’re struggling with depth in your novel, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and see what God would have you walk through. Perhaps it’s time to let Jesus heal your wounded parts, even if it terrifies you.

Second, consider God’s timing. You may be far too close to a painful situation to fictionalize it on the page. If an injury is fresh, give it time to scab over. Get perspective. Let the pain that seems so fresh percolate. I once wrote a book (that, thankfully, never got published) based on a difficult relationship I had just extricated myself from. The pain was far too fresh! And writing it felt more like ripping open a festering wound than healing it.

Even so, don’t run away from writing the truth even if the market doesn’t seem ready. If you sense it’s time to go forward in the book God places on your heart, write it. When I wrote Watching the Tree Limbs, publishers told me the market wasn’t ready. One house rejected my manuscript only to accept it nearly a year later. So write that book. Tell the truth. Dare to. You’ll set folks free! And in the process of writing the truth, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t use the process to set you free, too.

Mary DeMuth