The Purpose of Fiction

Why do we, any of us, write fiction? Why do we read it? Or watch it in the case of movies and TV shows, or play it in the case of video games? For many people, it may be nothing more than simple entertainment. But I’d like to think there’s something more. Mostly because I’d like to think I’m accomplishing something by dreaming up and writing all these stories.

So, assuming that’s not just wishful thinking, what’s it all about? To get even more specific, why would a follower Jesus write fiction? If the Truth is the most important thing, why devote so much time to creating something that’s not true in a literal sense?

For some (many?) I’m afraid the purpose is just to give people what they want to hear. I’m sure most of you are aware of the fact that the so-called “Christian film industry” is booming right now. Lots of Christians are getting excited about all the “high-quality” (by which they mean, “not total crap”) movies that have been released in the last few years. The latest one is “War Room,” and other recent examples include the not-so-subtly named “God’s Not Dead,” and “Heaven is for Real.” You only get one guess what those are about.  But are these movies truly high quality? Are they a good use of the medium of fiction?

I’m going to have to say, no. They’re not.

My reason for saying so gets back to my original question about the purpose of fiction, particularly for a follower of Jesus writing fiction. My purpose in writing is to challenge my readers’ pre-conceived ideas about faith and its role in the world. I write stories to ask questions and push my readers to think about important issues in new ways and from perspectives they haven’t considered before. I write to challenge church culture and non-church culture with the radical, mind-blowing teachings of Jesus.

Those movies I mentioned, and others like them, don’t do any of those things. They just preach. They tell Christians things they already know. Things like, “You should pray more,” or “Fathers are important,” or “Heaven is a real place.” These might be good messages but they’re so basic, so simple, and so blandly communicated that they have no impact at all.

So next time you pick up a book, turn on your TV, go to a movie theater, or sit down to play a video game, think about what you’re getting out of the story. Are you being stretched, pushed just a little bit out of your comfort zone? Or are you just hearing a bunch of platitudes that you already knew? I’d like to think that everyone who reads one of my stories comes away just a little bit different. Because otherwise, what’s the point?


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