In the final installment of a three-part series, Dan DeWitt – author of The Owlings: A Worldview Novella and The Owlings Book II – shares his thoughts on the value of fiction in teaching, as well as some tips for those who aspire to writing purposeful fiction.
How can fiction be used to serve propositional books?
Let’s say I were to say to my wife propositionally how I care for her as opposed to writing a poem. The poem can awaken emotions, it touches on the imagination, it’s going to be more meaningful, although substantively it’s not going to say anything differently. This is how I see the difference between fictional writings and propositional writings. Propositional truth is really important, which is why I wrote a discussion guide for The Owlings. But writings like poetry awaken the imagination.
What I think Lewis did in Narnia was…in Michael Ward’s Narnia Code, Ward proposes a theory that Lewis hid a Medieval cosmology into the Narnia stories. Each book dealt with a specific planet within the Medieval perspective. I think he built a compelling case, but I think if he is right, then Lewis did this in a very powerful way. You read the story and say, “What he’s saying is really about our world.” He’s talking about Narnia. Aslan tells Lucy, “You will come to know me in your world by a different name.” But there’s a sense in which you have that epiphany where you go, “Wow! This is true about reality. This isn’t just true in the story, but this is something true in our world.”
In what way can Christians improve upon this genre?
As a very young author in this genre, I don’t want to speak on this with hubris. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing a negative trend. I would say that I go to the Christian fiction section and all I tend to see is Amish romance. Nothing necessarily against this genre, but I do think N. D. Wilson and Andrew Peterson are great examples of ways that you kind of write fiction in a really powerful way.
I will tie this back to a question that I was asked last week in my C. S. Lewis class. Someone asked if there was going to be another C. S. Lewis, or is there another C. S. Lewis? If there is, they are not teaching at a Christian school. The power of Lewis was that he was a professor of philosophy early in his career, and later in Medieval/Renaissance literature. He brought all that to bear on his stories. If the problem in Christian fiction is going to be corrected, it’s going to be done by someone who is well-versed in literature. It’s not going to be someone who is a Bible college professor like me, but someone who is outside of Christian circles professionally. C. S. Lewis said, “Do we need more books about Christianity? We need books about other topics written by Christians.” So a Christian is bringing their worldview to bear on a particular topic. [Today, though,] I agree that the Christian fiction section feels like the Hallmark section instead of something like the literature section in a used bookstore that contains books by Austin and other greats.
Based upon your experience and what you are doing, if there are those out there who want to write fiction, what are some tips that you wish you knew before hand or those that you have used that are helpful?
C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to a child about how to write for children – that would be a good place to start. [See also “On Three Ways of Writing for Children“]The think I wish that I had done more of and that I want to do more of now is to read more award-winning children’s literature. I think that would improve my writing. When writing the first and second books of The Owlings I picked up best-sellers in the age-frame that I’m writing for, and I would read either the entire book or just sections of it to see what the author is doing. I would say read a lot of children’s literature. Or, if you’re wanting to write fiction in another genre, then read more in that area. So, read a lot in your area and read books about writing. Doug Wilson’s book Wordsmithy is an appetizer.
Another thing I would mention is that there are two different approaches. One, you could wait until you perfect the genre, perfect your craft, perfect your storytelling, before you publish. I think if you did that you would probably die before you published. So, the other route is the route I’ve taken is to just write. The downside is that you might get some harsh criticism, but I would rather try it and fail rather than not try it. So, I’ll tell people to read books in the genre, books on writing, and then try it whether it’s on a blog, you’re self-publishing, or other routes. I’m self-publishing; I work with a literary agent and he told me that the children’s market is almost impossible to get into and that he didn’t want to represent me. I thought that I could sit around for the next ten years waiting for someone to give me a contract, or I can just do it. I’ve never pitched my idea to a publisher. If in time someone’s interested, then great. If not, it’s okay.
What I find valuable in what DeWitt shares is that the writing of fiction is a good thing for Christians to pursue. As I stated in the previous post, Scripture is full of examples where story is used to teach. Christians can, and should, strive to produce quality, purposeful fiction. There’s something to stories that grab the audience’s heart, making the path to their mind an easier road to travel. If we aim to proclaim the Gospel and to teach truth – then the use of story is a most excellent vehicle.
If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links: