The subtitle of my article this month is Spinach Cliché. Be advised
that frequent use of clichés may be employed throughout this soapbox
monologue. And remember that use of clichés, except sprinkled in
conversation where language pattern usage actually helps draw the
portrait of a character, is severely frowned upon by critics. I am in
the jaws of a wicked time crunch and don’t have time to wax eloquent
with original prose. And besides, taking a stroll down cliché memory
lane could be fun.
As a unpublished or
self-published fiction author, you are probably aware that the cards
are stacked against you, that you’re behind the eight ball, and that
you haven’t got the chance of a snowman constructed in front of
chestnuts roasting o’er an open fire. I hope I’m not popping your
bubble here. If an ambitious but unsuccessful author is to analyze the
current publishing landscape and develop a strategy for literary
acknowledgement, I believe one ingredient is conspicuous by its
presence: uniqueness. Ecclesiastes stated that there was nothing new
under the sun.
With the zillions of books
collecting fine grains of Mother Earth, one might be led to accept that
statement as gospel truth. Has not every single story been told
already? Are we not all rehashing old tales when we weave our tangled
webs of romance, mystery, and suspense? The challenge of bringing
something nouveau to the novel does appear rather daunting.
Is this really Mission
Impossible? Are you dreaming the impossible dream? Are you trying to
scale Mount Slippery, clad in patent leather shoes dipped in bear
grease, or circumnavigate the stormy seas of the world in the Good Ship
Lollipop? My first reaction is a definite “duh.” The examples of
snowflakes and fingerprints give me pause to ponder and to realize that
even a common love story can have original twists, perhaps enough to
make it stand out among the crowd. There is hope on the horizon.
Speaking of clichés, whenever
success in fiction becomes the topic du jour around the water cooler, The
Shack is usually one of the combinations of syllables
uttered. Talk about improbabilities. A totally unknown author, writing
a story for his kids and not publication, turned the Christian
publishing world upside down. Definitely there was an aspect of
uniqueness in this overnight sensation.
How many other writers have ever
dared to put God as a character in their novel and make Him a
calorie-challenged black woman? I’d be tempted to go out on limb, since
I haven’t read every book ever written, and say that Mr. Young was
certainly innovative with his portrayal of Papa. Not only did The
Shack blaze a new literary trail, but it was controversial.
Possessing the moxie to write something that makes waves is definitely
in the asset column.
the music, folks! The world offers other entertainment besides the
novel, forms that require less effort are easier to digest and take up
less of our precious time. If you want to make a splash in the world of
modern literature, you need material heavy enough to displace large
amounts of water. Simply writing a worn-out tale of a man and woman
playing games of love will draw little attention. Somehow you need to
bring freshness to stale topics, or better yet, find a new topic.
I don’t know how you operate. Do
you sit down and scheme to write the “great American novel”? Is your
goal literary success at any cost? If so, let me stroll out on a limb
and stick my foot in my mouth. You’re missing the boat, as well as the
cab and the train! If God has called you to write, His sole purpose is
not to entertain the world. His calling is much higher.
duty is to be obedient to
Him and to write things that glorify Him and influence readers to
choose light instead of darkness. Sure, you can ignore that call and
pigheadedly push your own agenda onto the world. And you might even
break through and encounter some success, but the odds are that you’ll
end up a frustrated and warped hack, trying to compete in a literary
jungle where only the strongest survive.
There seems to be something
noble about never letting a dream die, but appearances are often
deceiving. I might really venture out on that branch to where only
squirrels and small birds go. It might be that your attempt to be a
writer is preventing you from fulfilling God’s real call on your life.
Be it far from me to dash another’s dreams, but I truly believe you
need to be assured that your dream coincides with God's will.
One thing we observe in the
secular world (and perhaps even in some Christian circles) is that in
order to be different, many writers fall prey to the dangerous practice
of heightening the sensational and highlighting the devious. This is
leading our culture to a state of debauchery as material gets sleazier
and sleazier in an attempt by authors to obtain someone’s attention (as
well as their hard-earned cash). We Christians need to counterweight
that descent into depravity by producing works of light and love. The
mission field is well defined.
The tactics required to combat
successfully and conquer are more elusive. How does one write a novel
to stem the inundation of the sexual slave trade market? Can a skillful
author shut down meth labs with words? Can abortion be abolished
through poignant fiction? We need to enter into combat in all of these
arenas. Remember that writing is fragile; handle with prayer. Be led
not by your thirst for success but by your thirst for righteousness.
Let God write the masterpiece through you. Don’t try to manufacture it
through worldly means. I believe uniqueness is a necessary element in
novels, but I’m convinced we need to let the Creator of the snowflake
bring out the miraculous quality of novelty in us.