Join the Adventure Giveaway

Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fiction that Cuts Deep

A few weeks ago one of my writing buddies made a shocking confession. “I want to write fiction that hurts people,” she said. “I just realized this about myself. Ultimately, I want it to get in there and break open wounds and clean them out so they can heal, but I think I also want to hurt people in the process. That's a problem.”

Yes, that is a problem. Just try selling that book. We do want our fiction to cut deep, but in a targeted sort of way. We need to use anesthesia (i.e. entertainment value), precise surgical tools (i.e. excellent writing technique), and don’t forget the pain meds (i.e. positive spiritual takeaway.)

The point can’t be to wound. The point must be to heal.

That being said, I crave fiction that cuts deep. I just finished Embrace Me by Lisa Samson. The book shattered me in the best sort of way. Yes, it hurt, and I loved it. No, I’m not a masochist, quite the opposite. But, I adore a book that gets in there and does surgery in my heart. That changes me and helps me grow. Here’s the blurb for Embrace Me:

When a "lizard woman," a self-mutilating preacher, a tattoed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster . . . and improbably close to grace.

How could a book like that fail to touch you? It is described on as, “Biting and gentle, hard-edged and hopeful . . . a beautiful fable of love and power, hiding and seeking, woundedness and redemption.” Lisa Samson is “An Artisan of Hope,” and in my opinion, a writer of the highest caliber. Dare I say, a literary author?

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what “literary fiction” is. Some say it excels in artistry and use of literary devices. Some say it focuses on character and theme more than plot. Some say it seeks to enrich more than entertain. On the other hand, some say it asks questions without answering them, or it’s depressing, or worst of all, that it’s written by pretentious snobs who think they’re too good for popular fiction. Given such a vast array of definitions, here’s my take.

Literary fiction: a rather useless term used by some as a compliment and others as an insult.

I’ve been called…or accused of being …a literary writer. And that’s not surprising since I’ve taught literature. I do give attention artistry and literary devices. I do tend to focus on theme more than plot and enriching more than entertaining. But most importantly, I want to write stories that change lives.

Call them whatever you want.

Fiction that cuts deep and changes lives can come in all sorts of packages. Readers have come to expect it in literary writing and angsty women’s fiction. But I’ve also found it in the romance novels of Ruth Axtel Morren. I’ve found it in the demented thrillers of Steven James, and the hysterical chick lit of Siri Mitchell.

Changing lives is what truly matters. Add in some artistic elements, as the above authors most certainly do, and you might just get the compliment…or insult…of being called a literary author. I’m not going to concern myself with the label anymore.

Ideally, quality Christian fiction should both entertain and enrich. That’s my goal. I want my writing to attract readers interest and then seep down in their hearts to change them in some small...or big...way. Most importantly, I want my writing to advance God’s kingdom on earth.

What is your definition for quality fiction? What do you look for in a novel? What does it take for a book to truly move you?


  1. Awesome and wow.You are so right in order to heal a wound must be opened but the goal has to be healing not hurting.

  2. Sometimes when I'm being begged to bog myself down with church ministry again, I really have to step an remind myself how much fiction can change lives.