f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: In This One Case You WANT a Bad Ending!

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, December 18, 2003

In This One Case You WANT a Bad Ending!

So we’re talking about sin and dark fiction and things that go bump in the night and the notion that not every Christian novel need be a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers nor end with smiles and hugs all around. Today I want to talk about deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re writing about pain and grit and the anguish of an unresolved ache.

The Argument: “Not all of my characters turn Christian!”
Sure enough, tons of CBA Fiction have mean, nasty characters who refuse to listen the still, small voice calling to them. The problem is that they’re mean and nasty. They’re stock players we all recognize—Snively Whiplashes each one of them. Readers don’t invest anything into them except our loathing (which is a theological can o’ worms for another hour) and their not coming to Christ only adds to that. In fact, authors are in many ways the ones purposefully keeping these characters from enough depth or understandable motivation that salvation could even be possible. (This is another theological can o’ worms tied to the first.)

What we see much more rarely is a character in whom the reader invests themselves failing to come to Christ. Or even more dramatically, a positively portrayed character actively turn away from Jesus. That’s the true “bad ending”. That’s the one with the dramatic heft worth writing.

The Argument: “But This Beloved Character Dies!”
Okay, first, are they a Christian? Yes? Okay, well that means you’ve neutered your “tragedy” by at least half because death has no victory and the grave has no sting. You essentially created a bittersweet moment—half tragic, half full of the hope to come.

They aren’t a Christian? Well, now there’s perhaps the biggest tragedy of all—the life lost to Hell. The last time I’ve seen it in fiction?—I’ve never seen it in fiction, at least not to a character we care about.

The Argument: “But Lots of Bad Stuff Happens to Her Along the Way!”
Have you seen It’s a Wonderful Life? Quickly tell me if that’s a joyous and hopeful movie or a sad one. Unfair as it may seem, it’s only the very end that matters. You can write as nihilistic a book as you want and yet if the character ends up truly finding Jesus, the book has a happy ending. (see Crime and Punishment for a Russian example of this)

The Argument: “But General Market Books Have Happy Endings, Too!
Yes. Yes they do. Not all of them and certainly not so (pardon the pun) religiously. A little girl disappears in Frederick Busch’s Girls and there is little consolation for the family or the town. Nobody comes to the rescue of a tortured boy at school in Empire Falls and he makes them pay. The dead girl (no matter how much possession-body-sex she has) is still dead in The Lovely Bones. The young boy in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has gone two steps forward, two steps back in his dealing with autism. The truth brings little solace to the narrator of Dogs of Babel. I can continue if you wish.

To quote Annie and the girls (which is something I love to do) “It’s a hard knock life” out there. We have hope and joy. We are meant to share these things. We are meant to share in the sufferings of others, though, in order to bear their burdens. Sometimes those burdens, no matter how much we plead with God, are simply not lifted. That is pain and that is a bad ending and that is life. We can’t turn our face from it. We can’t pretend that in 375 pages all our lives will be made perfect. We need sometimes for there to be heartache when page 376 doesn’t come.

I hurt myself today, to see I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only that’s real.

All around gloomy guy Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote that in his song, “Hurt”. He’s on the other extreme of us, the guy who could use a shot of hope, a snug pair of fuzzy bunny slippers. We have to realize that we can become just as desensitized as Reznor if all we do is feed ourselves pablum endings. We need the good and bad. The yin and yang. The perfect sunsets and crappy, terrible days.

We need, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, some folks to come to a bad end.