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Thursday, August 25, 2011

What's Your Point? by Jerry B. Jenkins

I like movies that are not afraid to be quiet. The film adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules was a masterpiece, which I confess despite the fact that it was a pro-abortion bromide and my personal philosophy is diametrically opposed to its message. Why? Because as opposed as I am to abortion, Irving deserved his Academy Award, and I applauded his acceptance speech, wherein he made clear his worldview. He didn’t pretend he didn’t have a message.

And neither should Christian writers. Ours is a message of hope, of reconciliation, of forgiveness. True art will communicate that without preaching. Give the reader credit. Tell a story and assume he gets it.

If the Left Behind books, The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose-Driven Life, and others have awakened the general market to the vast potential of inspirational titles, the horizon has been broadened for us all.

The toughest challenge for any artist, any creator, is to resist the urge to show off. Our name will be on the cover, after all, and we’d love to remind the reader with a turn of phrase or a choice word that yes, I’m the one fashioning this message.

Art trumps self
But the best writers, like the best composers and painters, know that it is not about them. It is about the art, the content—and anything that interferes with the connection between that and the viewer, listener, or reader is an interruption.

If your reader is aware of your technique, he may miss your message. If the pianist dazzles his audience with technique, the purpose of the composer may be compromised. If the appreciator of art becomes aware of the brushstrokes, the artist may lose his ability to reach the soul through the meat of his message.

A true classic transports you. You’re unaware of the performance and the performer, the author and his technique. As creators, that should be our goal. Not to write classics. That’s not up to us. The market will decide that. But to get out of the way so the heart of the message reaches the soul of the reader.

Accomplish this by writing clearly and concisely, enticing your readers and guiding them to the core of your work. Use words they will understand rather than ones that will make them wonder. Get out of the way of your art.

Jerry B. Jenkins is author of more than 175 books, with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.
Twenty of his books have reached the
New York Times best-seller list (seven in the number-one spot). In 2011 he released the first in a trilogy of police novels set in Chicago, The Brotherhood. The second in the series, The Betrayal, released this month. Jerry also owns the Christian Writers Guild, which trains writers through courses, conferences, contests, critiques, and community. Visit him online.


  1. This commentary is both timely and 100% on target. Although I do more freelance writing than editing these days, I still cringe when I edit an article by a novice and find an array of obscure words that were apparently culled from a thesaurus merely to impress readers. Also, newer writers of nonfiction experience difficulty not injecting themselves (e.g., "I think," "I believe," "I plan to" expressions) into topics that truly have nothing to do with the author.

    In a sense, the truly effective writer performs like a master puppeteer--you know he's behind the scenes, but he keeps himself hidden so that all you can see and hear is the story.

  2. "Art trumps self." This is going on my cork board TODAY, before I write one more piece! Thanks, Jerry.

  3. Hey, Jerry! Thanks for landing on Novel Rocket. Love the quote. I always equate great writing with music. I don't want to hear the clarinets, the bassoon,s and the violins, etc. I want to hear the symphony.

    Next time you need refueling, we'll have a pad waiting.

  4. Thanks. So true. I want the story to be remembered, not me.

    BK Jackson

  5. A good post, but I have a minor disagreement.

    I am an artist as well as a writer. Sometimes, the brushstrokes ARE part of the message. In most cases, obvious brush strokes are meant to be obvious and add to the overall texture of the painting and the message. They add a dimension of light and shadow that would otherwise be missing.

    I can't help but think the same applies to writing because the disciplines aren't that dissimilar. As with every endeavor, the artist or writer has to know how to do what they do very well.

    I agree wholeheartedly that my art is not about me. It's about capturing a moment in time for my clients.

    Likewise, my stories are going to be about capturing moments of time for my readers.

  6. Very useful; it must take a delicate balance to advance your message and yet avoid interjecting yourSELF into your writing.
    Thank you for an encouraging post.

  7. I am in awe that most of the classics managed to touch the heart of the common man without "cheating" the reality of the times in their depictions. Some even blatantly held forth what we would now call a Christian World view. Yet those books are known all over the world and still selling in bookstores. Which just goes to show that if we will keep the human heart our priority (in whatever we write), people will listen.

    Boy, that self thing can creep up on you, though!

    Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Jenkins, and many respects to you for having reached out and literally "touched the world" with your words. May goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life.

  8. Great post. Thanks Jerry (and Mike for bringing it to us).

  9. If we write to impress, our work has only momentary impact.

    But if we write to communicate truth, our work has enduring value.

    I think I'm starting to get it. Thanks for the reminder.


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