f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Meaning – Big Theme, Little Theme, What’s This Book Mean?

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Day 2 of Meaning – Big Theme, Little Theme, What’s This Book Mean?

A little shout-out to those who enjoy Dr. Seuss’s ABCs. I read it a lot now.

There’s lots of ways to write books. You can start with an interesting character. A great plot idea. You can also start with a theme. Now "thematic" books often get a bad wrap for being overly ponderous, but I think they are legit. You can write an interesting novel looking at the question of: "How has technology isolated us from our fellow man?"

That’s a fairly narrow theme.

I think books—CBA and ABA—tend to have problems when the themes they choose are too broad. And I can say for certain that CBA books, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, tend to choose the same big themes. God’s faithfulness. Our failures apart from Him. These don’t just appear in published novels, but in the myriad of proposals we see everyday. At their core, the books all seem to end up pronouncing the same things.

So is the problem with the question or the answers?

Both, I think. Today we’re going to focus on the question.

If you change the question being asked at the heart of a novel, you will invariably change the answer given at the end. My feeling is that these questions should be "smaller" in scope and more open-ended in terms of their answer. The word I think represents them best is intricate. Small, but complicated. Yes, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment—small themes, neither—but today is a different world and we’re not Russian giants.

In my writing, the most intricate theme I’ve attempted surrounded the question of "What does it mean to lose something before you had a chance to experience it?" This was short story. The character was a high schooler with testicular cancer who learns he won’t ever be able to have children. There’s no single answer for that question—just the understanding the character came to…and the opportunity for the reader to answer the question in their own mind.

Does this make any sense? I feel I may be harping on something others don’t care about.

I guess in the end, I’d like to ask: "What questions can we raise in our books that won’t lead to answers readers have heard a thousand times, if not in other novels then certainly from the pulpit?" God is faithful. We know that. Let’s take a look at something else for a moment.

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Go to Day 3 of Meaning.