My Personal Literary Theories: Why I Do What I Do

Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.
Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.

When I first began my college course in Writing Theory and Ethics, I had little to no intention of writing down my own theories of writing outside the class, thinking that theories were only set aside for academic exercises or dissertations. But now that I have taken this class, I see that I’ve been writing down my theories ever since I began my novels in high school. It was just a matter of recognizing my own patterns of thought and seeing those patterns play out in my fiction.

When I took classes in literary theory and creative writing, I began my own diary in which I revisited events of the day and sometimes jotted down clips of creative writing that I didn’t use for my assignments. As I matured in my writing and pursued my love of novels, I began to see patterns in how I thought and how I formed my stories. Sometimes those stories followed a similar motif, such as how I view a hopeful versus a happy ending and how I insinuate my faith into my writing so that my Christianity appears normal rather than contrived.

As I added my minor in journalism, I began to condense my diction and form my style with more action-packed syntax. Now I see the world through a journalist’s eyes, replacing my prepositional phrases with clear-cut nouns and verbs that grab my readers’ attention.

But my love is novels, and though the economy has shifted in favor of technical and journalistic writing, I have coupled my love for novels with my skill in journalism and have found social media to bridge the gap between classical literature and contemporary trends. It is actually in the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter that I have begun establishing my presence as a writer, and as I tweet, text, and post “likes” on my statuses, I am beginning to see that the trends in our culture are helping me build a happy podium on which I can establish my career as a writer.

Throughout the journey of developing my personal literary theories, I have delved into greater strides of what I truly believe to be my own theories on faith, fiction, and journalism. In all my writing, I’ve noticed that I carry a thread of hope in my work. Whether it’s in newspaper articles, novels, or academic prose, I’m always writing with the clear vision that my readers will glean hope from my writing, and it’s because of my love for and belief in God that I’m able to portray hope in my writing and see this whole world as a reflection of His glory and workmanship.


Faith and Fiction: Didacticism in Contemporary Novels

Faith & Fiction
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Sometimes critics denounce Christian authors for their explicit use of didacticism, which is the literary form of teaching of morals to readers. However, while didacticism has become unpopular in the last century, Christian authors can use didacticism without being preachy.

“Preachy” is telling the readers how they should live their lives, as exemplified by a novel’s characters, and some critics think that Christian authors go too far in creating stories that exemplify Scripture without regarding what really happens in life. One example of a didactic novel is William P. Young’s The Shack, which reveals the healing process of a father, Mackenzie Allen Phillips, who forgives a serial killer for murdering his daughter. The novel ultimately shows that when one forgives one’s wrongdoer, one will be healed within one’s spirit.

While Christian authors should be commended for promulgating Scripture, some critics denounce them for their blatant Christianity. It’s as if the novels are compelling readers to obey the novels’ biblical morals, and these critics seem to think that Christian novelists should show readers what the Christian life is like without telling them how to live a Christian life. However, Christian authors will inspire their readers no matter how explicit the use of didacticism is, and whether the use of didacticism is inappropriate for the novel is up to the author to discern.

Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Christian author, says that Christian authors can still portray morals without being preachy. In her essay, “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” O’Connor explains that some Christian authors tend to create their plots around a certain theological message that they believe their readers need to hear. While this evangelism is not wrong in itself, O’Connor says the job of evangelism should belong to the evangelist, while the storyteller should reveal the story’s morals through the plot of the story itself. In her own short story, “Good Country People,” O’Connor writes about a middle-aged woman who loses her wooden leg to a Bible salesman who runs off with it after she flirts with him. This plot seems awkward, O’Connor admits, yet from the life of the lonely woman, readers infer that the wooden leg carries more meaning than simply an object of transportation. It symbolizes how the woman values herself, and when the salesman steals it from her, he is essentially stealing a part of her personality.

When authors write their novels, their faith will show through no matter what they write, even if they don’t mention God. Novelists don’t necessarily need to quote Scripture to be Christian or didactic, but they shouldn’t infuse Scripture or biblical references into their books if their readers are unaccustomed to such references. Instead, the authors should make the spiritual references or moralistic themes flow within the context of the story. Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie reveals the hope of a 10-year-old girl, Opal Buloni, who finds that even when her mother leaves her, she is loved by her “preacher” daddy, who comes out of his reclusive “shell” and becomes the father that Opal wants. Although the novel doesn’t necessarily gives Opal what she wants, it satisfies her with the thing she needs most: love and support from her family. Further, DiCamillo portrays Christianity in a subtle manner. While most of the characters in the small Floridian town are Christian, they do not necessarily preach (except for the “preacher”) or lecture each other on goodwill. The only instances when Christianity peeks through is when the town’s dame, Gloria Dump, gives Opal the advice she needs about reconciling herself with her mother’s absence, and when Opal finally accepts that fact and becomes closer to her father, she says her heart is “full all the way up,” and the readers are assured that all is well.

Sometimes didacticism is acceptable in literature. It seems that no matter how many biblical allusions or Scriptural references are in the novel, some readers will resonate with these morals, because they accept the fact that these morals are appropriate within the chosen genre. DiCamillo’s novel shows what didacticism ought to be: It doesn’t always mean the characters receive what they want, nor out of their piety do they get what they deserve all the time; but almost always, didacticism shows that by honoring one’s God or one’s people, one will be blessed in some fashion even if the circumstances do not always align with one’s desires.

Some authors portray the world in a way that compels readers to admire the characters’ integrity, and by creating characters with seemingly flawless faith, even when the characters endure suffering trials, the authors paint a picture of Christian life that some critics think is inaccurate. But what may seem inaccurate or too moralistic may be the perfect thing that will attract readers to those kinds of novels. If the readers are blessed by the novel, who is to judge how the author should tone down the use of didacticism? That is up to the authors to decide, and when the authors remain true to their convictions, the readers will respect the authors’ decisions.

Creating Christian Literature in a Secular Society

Jesus heals paralytic, Wikipedia
Jesus heals the paralytic at Bethseda, by Palma Giovane, 1592

My vocation in writing novels is to reflect God’s hope in young adult literature. When I see His creativity in the Bible and know I am endowed with the same creativity, I realize that I can create stories that give meaning and life to my readers, yet my field has become increasingly secular, and most Christian literature is criticized for being too hopeful and optimistic.

In my study of literature at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, I have observed that Western literature has become more gruesome and depressing after the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries because of historical, societal, and economical events such as the World Wars and the Great Depression. Christian theology has been replaced with secular philosophies such as humanism and Darwinism, and in the previous century, when Americans and Western powers threw off God like a mantle, the Western culture became hollow as authors and laymen denied that God exists.

Christian literature has attempted to remedy this secular idolization, yet much of Christian literature has been given bad criticism for being too optimistic, promising that God’s blessings are guaranteed even though the world suffers a great deal. Despite this criticism, I believe that Christian literature is the answer to remedying our society’s literary depravity, because true Christian writers reveal aspects of God that answer or inspire certain readers who may be lost or who need encouragement.

When I compare my literature to postmodern literature, I see a stark difference: My characters expect hope in their lives. Though they do not always succeed in their goals, they expect the best to happen, knowing that their lives will end in the best way possible for them. Sometimes they appear as John Bunyan’s characters in The Pilgrim’s Progress, quoting Scripture and referencing God, or as C. S. Lewis’ heroes in The Chronicles of Narnia, referring to God not by saying His name, but by becoming allusions to Jesus’ resurrection like Aslan on the Stone Table. Although they do not always reference God, they exhibit how daily Christians cope with daily life, whether in the fantasy settings where animals talk, or in historical settings where Americans in the Revolutionary War would pray to God with Bibles in their hands.

Secular writers, on the other hand, do not portray this kind of hope because they do not house the living God in their spirits. One of the most famous examples is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which shows how America had become morally depraved in the 1920s as a result of the replacement of God with material possessions. I have seen no mention of God in these pieces of literature, aside from daily profanity and the characters’ questioning Christianity as a religion.

The strongest aspect of God that distinguishes Christian from secular literature is hope, but I realize that hope does not automatically mean a happy ending, for by a “happy ending,” I mean the type of ending that guarantees the characters’ desires. Hope is the promise that whatever will happen to the character will be for the character’s best. Sometimes hope does not mean a happy ending, but even if there is sadness, that sadness should not douse the heart, for if hope prevails in the end, the reader shall respond accordingly. Proverbs says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (13:12). It is hope, not necessarily happiness, that should conclude a story, because hope is the factor that distinguishes Christian literature from secular literature and reminds readers that God is present in the story.