f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Ordinary or Extraordinary

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

Monday, October 11, 2004

On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Ordinary or Extraordinary

I wasn’t planning to do scales past a week, but the topic I want to discuss fits pretty well into the whole dichotomous-ideologies-thing we’ve got going on so I figured I’d run it for one more day.

At one end of the mindset spectrum (10) is the person who sees entertainment as an opportunity to escape the “real world.” Day-to-day life is mundane and boring, thus they want transporting art that takes them outside-the-ordinary. The whole fun of reading a book or watching a movie is to see stuff you don’t see everyday. Thus you get thrillers and horror and suspense and science fiction and, even romance and mystery. You get, for the most part, characters acting predictably in unpredictable circumstances.

At the other end (1), you have men and women who see works of art as a chance to understand their lives around them better. They see the intricacies of daily living and find all the drama they need in the discovery of what it means to be human in the circumstances. Usually there’s a precipitating event that acts as a catalyst to start the ball rolling (even a death), but that event doesn’t usually have the “extraordinariness” that we see in the other novels.

I read both. I read vampire stories. I read dramas of trying to be a father. I read romances that turn the vagaries of societal expectations into fine humor. I read books where giant great white sharks jump out of the water to eat helicopters. And in the middle, at 5, are the amazing books that use the extraordinary to teach us about ordinary life or make ordinary life seem extraordinary. (see Richard Russo’s The Risk Pool.)

I will say one quick thing and then be done. Right now, from the manuscripts I see and we see in office, I think there are a lot of folks writing at the 7, 8, and 9 range. They’re wrapped up in the page-turning power of the extraordinary. That’s fine. All for it.

I want to point out, however, that there’s opportunity too for the quieter stories. Not clichéd ones about young widows or abused wives or doubting pastors, but stories about the complexities of life and the perplexing moments of faith and the transcendent. There are extraordinary stories to be told about ordinary people. (Not ordinary Roman gladiators or ordinary police investigators.) And if you’re writing one, I’d love to talk to you.

(Again, just for clarification because I always get blamed for stuff—genre does work. People like fast-paced books. I’m not disparaging fast-paced books. I’m looking for well-written fast-paced books. I thought a special shout-out to the quieter books was in order, though, because I’ve seen far fewer of those.)