Why Do You Write Fiction? Part II: Things and Man and God (sorry no Latin)

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In the first part (which has Latin in the title, and which you can read here, even here, I say) of this random, semi-coherent series about why I write fiction I made an inexhaustive effort to answer a basic question of legitimacy in the minds of some folks I come across (usually with good intentions) who are afraid fiction is at best a waste of time, and at worst an evil distraction from truth. I think I also took a firm stance against run-on sentences. Having thus preached to the choir, I continue on with the following answer to the titular question.

Why do I write fiction? Because I love and believe in the value of stories as powerful means of expressing the deeply human. Francis Schaeffer talked a lot about the importance of seeing “man as man,” and “the mannishness of man.” I think there is almost always a quality in the things we find in creation that can be explored and displayed as intended and that this will almost always be a good thing.

We must remember, as Lewis has reminded us, that God invents and the Enemy perverts. Things were made right, but were subject to corruption because of our father Adam’s sin. So there is a proclivity toward sin in what we do. Things are messed up. When things become perverted, bent and twisted we are certainly in trouble. But the bentness of most art we are presented with does not argue convincingly against the joys of sub-creation.

I feel a great passion to see the “thingness of things.” So I write partly in an effort to do a thing well. Whether I am successful in this pursuit might be irrelevant to the validity of the point. I think it’s a worthy goal.

I believe in common grace. I can think of many experiences I have had in receiving art where I was able to look past the artists to the Creator who made and gifted them. Frequently these folks cannot seem to turn around themselves –for a million reasonless, suicidal reasons. But their art speaks to the beauty realizable in the world God made. Nothing makes sense without a world God created -not reason, or beauty, or love.

Are these gifted and witless artist’s efforts often so bent that they are not worth seeing, and are actually harmful? Some will argue this, but I think that “Of course” is the obvious response. Without wandering into the murky grey of where to draw lines (which we all do, somewhere), I want to focus on the question.

I write to express joy, to display beauty, to invoke laughter, to inspire truthful thoughts, and many other things. These can perhaps best be summarized this way.

I want to tell stories that resonate with people on a level which invokes a proper sensibility toward God and the world God made.

I write because people are hilarious, because pride is universal and destructive, because there is something around the corner to surprise. (It may be death, or light, love, or destruction.) I write because the Christian story is so comprehensive, coherent, and beyond belief. I write because God is sovereign and profoundly good; because I am grateful, because I am made in his image, because I am struggling with the bentness of things in myself and in my culture.  I write to relieve and direct pain, to be precise, to say enigmatically what is inscrutable. I write to say that there is that which is inscrutable and that which is so plain it takes years of deluding education to confuse us about it.  I write to belly laugh at that kind of folly.

I write because this is my Father’s world.

I write for the thingness of things. I write for the mannishness of man. I write for the glory of God and service of my fellow man.

Frequently I think and write things that are very stupid. Maybe this is one of those times.

I’d love to hear what you think. I think of this kind of post as more of a foray into unsettled territory and less of a definitive, final analysis. Be patient with me -I am learning here. So if you have suggestions for improvements, or contradictions, or a good recipe for chicken salad, please do us all the honor of speaking up.

Wait, I need to add some Latin for effect. OK, here goes: barba tenus sapientes. Referring to mineself, of course.


14 Comments

  1. C.L. Dyck

    “Frequently I think and write things that are very stupid. Maybe this is one of those times.”

    Absolutely not! With exclamation mark, no less!

    The whole creation groans. To cut off the artistic sensibility on the grounds of sin is, in fact, a suicidal ideation. We are saying we’d best remove ourselves from this world. There is nothing untainted in the human realm–not the people we work for, or fellowship with on Sunday, not the things we make and build. I would no more move out of my house to spend a Canadian winter (or summer) beneath the open sky than I would cease to read and write, and paint and sketch, and make music.

    And even if a tree is God’s creation, while a house is man’s, a tree still dies. I think we’d best cling to the existence of beauty, however broken, as the shadow of a God who is not giving up.

  2. Nathanael

    To steal (adapt) from Rob Bell…at the Poets, Prophets and Preachers conference, he said we should not speak on Sundays because we have to say something; we should speak because we have something to say.

    You write, dear brother, because you have something to say. And if you did not write, you would implode and this world would be the poorer for it.

    Shalom

  3. Loren Eaton

    To keep my head from exploding due to pent up ideas. And to inadvertantly embarrass my wife by explaining plot structure and character development when we have friends over for dinner.

  4. E

    S.D. Smith wrote, “I write to express joy, to display beauty, to invoke laughter, to inspire truthful thoughts, and many other things. These can perhaps best be summarized this way.

    I want to tell stories that resonate with people on a level which invokes a proper sensibility toward God and the world God made.”

    That (and the entire post) resonated with me… may God bless you in that endeavor more than you can even imagine.

  5. Profile photo of Eric Peters

    Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    “I write because people are hilarious, because pride is universal and destructive, because there is something around the corner to surprise.”

    Bing! I can’t wait to read your book. I mean… I CAN wait, but I don’t really want to.

  6. Aaron Roughton

    I write mostly so people will like me. Because I like the people whose creations moves me. Sometimes I write for more noble reasons, or more likely for unknown reasons, and when I go back and read or listen to things I’ve written during those times, I can hardly believe it was me that wrote them or sang them or played them.

    And of course sometimes I just write for the mannishness of Manimal.

  7. Don Smith

    I write to say that there is that which is inscrutable and that which is so plain it takes years of deluding education to confuse us about it. I write to belly laugh at that kind of folly.
    That just about sums it all up

  8. Tony Heringer

    Amen Don!

    To further elucidate that point, there was a front page article in the Atlanta Journal commenting on federal stimulus money possibly used to save jobs for our state’s (GA) art programs.

    In this article, we have this gem of a quote from the kind of person that seems eerily similar to one of Sam’s Fledge Chronicles characters:

    “This is shockingly irresponsible government. Somebody needs to tell Washington that we’re in a serious recession,” said Kelly McCutchen, executive vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. “The average Georgia family is worried about paying rent and utility bills and not going to the opera on a Saturday night.”

    Yeah Kelly, everyone knows Saturday night is reserved for the Monster Truck Pull at the Georgia. Dome or better yet wrasslin’!

  9. Stacy Grubb

    Someone asked me in an interview recently, “Why do you write songs?” And I thought of my answer, but I didn’t know how to verbalize it. I know that I’m a grouchy individual when I go a long span of time without writing. I know I feel good and excited when I do finish a song. I know that lines, song ideas, and fictional stories pop into my head when I’m going about my every day life and I think, “Man, somebody oughtta write about that.” And then I remember that I can be somebody sometimes. Writing: it’s just what I do. It’s my bag, baby. Eventually, though, all of my reasons why seemed best summed up by the answer that I finally got to, and that is basically that I write because God gave me the desire and the ability to do it, so I figure He wants me to. I’m grateful for the fact that He gave me the ability and desire, so using what He gave me, in my eyes, thanks HIm for that. It shows Him that I’m grateful and that He didn’t waste His time on me. People can certainly use a God-given talent to do un-Godly things, but that shouldn’t mean that the general use of the talent should get the bad rap. We were given our talents as a tool to reach others through Christ. The Bible’s already been written, so why exactly would God still be giving humans the talent of writing if folks are only supposed to read the Bible? Even still, the Bible was created by Divine Inspiration, so it’s in a league all its own.

    I got some feedback on a tune of mine recently and a handful of folks felt the storyline was too gruesome and immoral because it talked about suicide, adultery, pre-marital pregnancy, and probably some other acts of sin (wow, I sure know how to write a good pick-me-up song). No doubt about it, the folks in the song are immoral, but when I hear a song like that, I see the consequences of immorality (which are never desirable) and living a life where God isn’t welcome, thus drama ensues. No, everybody shouldn’t be expected to like it, but there are cases when focusing on the sin makes you miss God in the bigger picture.

    For whatever reason other folks write (and this means you S.D.), I’m glad they do. I’m glad they do.

    Stacy

  10. Andrew Mackay

    Thanks for the encouraging word Sam… I think it’s a wonderful thing to reflect truth in really great art… whether it’s in beautiful ways (for example, Andrew Osenga’s Early in the Morning) or in ways that are hard and challenging (like what Stacy’s describes), it is instructive without intending to be.

  11. Robert Treskillard

    “I think of this kind of post as more of a foray into unsettled territory”.

    Well, Sam, I think you have a lot of pioneers traveling with you into that unsettled territory. May I stake my claim next to yours?

    The land is green and lush, with gentle hillsides bumping up to the soaring mountains. The wind rushes along and sweeps up my awe, taking it where, I know not. The valleys are dotted with trees, and there, hiding, is a burbling creek full of life, bedrock, and blessing.

    Yes, it will take years to build a cabin, clear the land, dig a well, and be productive. The years will be hard, and we are far from the settled lands. But we live and sing, and rejoice.

    And our children will breathe the air of wisdom and freedom. Its smell will fill their senses, infiltrate their dreams, and they will always be happy in its presence.

    Amen, Sam!

  12. Ruben

    We write and read and watch movies because we are human. My old church used to think that the only thing we should be doing (apart from work and going to service) was winning souls. And this only involved giving tracts or knocking on doors. I think we should be praising God with every breath, and I think art is high worship. We were made to enjoy God forever. I think we save souls when we do this, and it hits and influences those around us.

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