In other blog posts I’ve referred to the late John Gardner, long-time professor of creative writing at Oberlin College and elsewhere, who left us several classic books on the art of fiction. His life was cut short by a tragic accident in 1982, yet his books continue to share timeless wisdom. Consider this passage from The Art of Fiction (Vintage: 1985):
The value of great fiction…is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest within us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations (31).
Gardner believed that all great fiction sharpens our moral sense. While he dismissed preachy fiction, he had a keen eye for the moral purpose of an author. If he found none, he felt the author had lost a great opportunity because “the ultimate value of fiction is its morality.”
It's true: Great novels prod the reader's conscience. Great authors shine the spotlight of accountability on the reader's life. Their stories become an integral part of who the reader is.
So when we embark on the adventure of writing a novel, I believe we need to ask ourselves, “What eternal issues are at stake here? How will my characters be tested by those issues? And how will Christ enable them to come through those tests stronger, more mature, and more like Him?”
Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth and daughter Heather.