Thursday, April 24, 2014

Writing That is Powerful, Not Preachy!

Karen Ball has been blessed to use her love of words and story during over 30 years in publishing. Karen built  and led successful fiction lines for Tyndale, Multnomah, Zondervan, and, most recently, the B&H Publishing Group. As a literary agent at The Steve Laube Agency, she’s had the honor of discovering several best-selling novelists, including Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Sharon Ewell Foster, Liz Curtis Higgs, and, most recently, Ginny Yttrup, whose debut novel Publisher’s Weekly declared “a masterpiece!” Karen has also worked with numerous top authors, including Angela Hunt, Robin Jones Gunn, Robin Lee Hatcher, Brandilyn Collins, and many others. In addition, Karen is a best-selling, award-winning novelist and a popular speaker. She lives in Oregon with her husband, father, and two four-legged, furry “kids.”

Can we write about spiritual things without being preachy?
Thanks to Shirley Buxton for asking in the comments of my blog on writing that sings, “Can someone help me understand how to show spirituality without being preachy?”
Why, yes, Shirley, I can. At least, I can tell you my perspective.
It’s the difference between telling people how they ought to live, and showing them. It’s not spouting Scripture when someone is hurt or struggling, but coming alongside them, sitting with them, holding them, asking how you can help. It’s entering into their struggle and being Christ to them, acting as he would.
Think about it. When Jesus shared spiritual truths with the crowds around him, how did he do it? He showed those truths through a story. He didn’t say, “You faithless fools, God tells us to use our talents for him, not withhold them!” No, he told a story… “A man was going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them…”
Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, the way to communicate spiritual truths is to show it, not tell it.
Consider the following paragraph:
Forgiving in marriage is not an option. It’s a command, straight from Jesus. If your spouse had done or said something that hurt you, forgive them. If you’ve done or said something that hurt your spouse, ask to be forgiven. You don’t have a choice. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” And a verse or so later, he says: ““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If you’re a Christian and you aren’t forgiving your spouse, you are in the wrong. And God won’t forgive you. It’s as simple as that.
Don't beat your readers over the head.
Okay, feel beat over the head a bit? Yeah, me, too, and I wrote it! That paragraph is preaching. Telling you how you’re supposed to behave, and that you’ll regret it if you don’t. All of which may be true, but not many are drawn to right living by that kind of presentation of truth. Now, try this…
I’d only been married a few days when I made a shattering discovery: the man I married, the man I saw as a knight in shining armor, could do and say things that hurt me! It didn’t matter whether or not he’d intended to hurt me, all that mattered was he’d done so. And then I made an even more shattering discovery: Forgiving your spouse is hard. When I said I do, I knew he’d be there to shelter and protect me, to love me unconditionally. He wasn’t supposed to hurt me!
It’s hard, isn’t it, letting go of expectations, loving someone for who they are, warts and all? But here’s the thing. When we don’t forgive someone, we put them—and ourselves—in a kind of prison. I found that out all those years ago after nursing a hurt for days. I was miserable. Don was miserable. Even the poor dogs were miserable! Life at the Ball household was not much fun. Then, one evening, God tapped me on the shoulder and reminded that—ahem!—Don was not the only imperfect human in the marriage. And that love wasn’t about not hurting each other, it was about forgiving and surrendering my hurts to Him. When I finally did that, oh! the freedom that washed over me! My heart was light, our home was warm again, and I swore I could fly.
Writing with power means you don't
hit people over the head with Scriptures.
Friends, don’t let hurts in marriage fester. Don’t let them weigh you down and imprison you. Let them go. Forgive. And know the beauty of God’s freedom, not just in your marriage, but in your heart.
When you show truth in your writing, you draw people into the experience. They live it with you or with your characters, and they learn alongside you. In the process, they may even change.
So writing with power means you don’t hit people over the head with Scriptures, you don’t give a sermon, you don’t stick in a conversion scene unless it’s a natural outgrowth of the story. Writing with power means you show what’s right, through story or illustration, through your character’s journey.
So that’s my take. Now, how about you all? What do you think makes the difference between preachy writing and powerful writing?


Michael Ehret said...

Karen, love your example to show what you mean. Story is so powerful ... much more so than a hammer. A hammer only pounds. Story gets inside, moving people, guiding them, by steps they may not even realize they're taking.

Erin E. McEndree said...

Thanks for the reminder! I am editing my devo book as we speak and i had to take time to read this. It helps to remember this on every page. My words will be stronger as I keep this in mind! My journey can be a help to others only if I say it with the right heart! Thank you!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Some of the most powerful books that stuck with me had not a drop of Scripture quoted (not that I don't like Scripture). But the lives and choices of the characters told the story, often in unforgettable ways. Such as Jude the Obscure or Vanity Fair--books where characters made the wrong choices and lived to regret it, that kind of thing. I love character growth more than anything--or if the characters don't grow, we see the end result.