“I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”
– Flannery O’Connor

One of the first authors we study in our writing apprenticeship is Flannery O’Connor.

She felt that good stories should convey meaning without didacticism. (“Didacticism” is direct instruction and teaching.) With a good story, we don’t have to be told who the bad guys are and why they’re bad, and we don’t need the lesson neatly tied up in a bow. With a great story, we can feel truth in our bones without anybody saying it out loud.

A life of chronic illness, world war, and old-school Irish Catholicism may have left Flannery a little dark for our taste, but in a lot of ways, O’Connor is a prototype of the Kingdom writer we need today.

Her work doesn’t provide trite answers with an obvious moral lesson. Instead, she invites her readers into an experience in which we wrestle alongside the characters through our own flawed morality.

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I recently workshopped the sample story that I had written for the Lawless project. You can read the story for free here. I would describe it as a Kingdom story, but there’s no obvious moral lesson that can be summed up in a pithy sentence.

In the workshop, I got the best compliment. One woman said, “It made me want to go read the Bible.”

That’s a win.

It didn’t provide some easy life application. But it sent her back to the Source. Let me assure you, God provides way better answers than I do.

What if we worried less about providing easy answers, and instead made people ask hard questions?

What if instead of tying it all up with a bow, we showed what the world looks like with and without God, and made our readers grind it out and reach their own conclusion?

The debate of clean vs. realistic fiction is valuable, but sometimes it’s a misdirection. The problem with Christian fiction today isn’t necessarily that it’s too clean, it’s that it’s too shallow. It doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t think anyone minds “clean” fiction if it provides substance. Too often the “clean” is prioritized at the cost of substance.

Most modern Christian fiction doesn’t present anything of reality. We have really obvious heroes and heroines who come to a neatly packaged conclusion, and the reader is rarely made to feel uncomfortable. We close the cover of the book and the story evaporates from our minds.

I want stories and characters that haunt us as we lay in our beds at night and stare at the ceiling, considering our own eternity. That’s what Flannery achieved.

It’s certainly possible to write clean fiction that also asks hard questions. When it’s done well, these are the stories that persist through generations.

Where are the Flannery O’Connor’s of the 21st century? They’re starting to stand up. I think we might have some of them under our roof here in Cambridge.

I see an army of writers committed to putting the truth on display—inviting the lost into an experience of the power of God through their writing. That’s what The Company is. That’s what you’re invited into.

Keep on writing. Don’t be afraid to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and make the world uncomfortable.

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Who do you see doing this really well? Presenting great, thought-provoking fiction from a Christian worldview? Leave a comment below.

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