Category Archives: Writing Style

Cadence

PoetryCadence is the variation in a person’s tone, the rhythm created by the rise and fall of his voice. Poetry relies on cadence to create rhythm patters, but novelists can employ the device as well.

Poets, of course, are meticulous about their word choices so that each not only carries the meaning they desire, but also the proper order of accented and unaccented syllables.

Novelists, not concerned with a regular rhythmic pattern, create cadence in several different ways. First is through the length of sentences.

Long, luxurious sentences and paragraphs slow the tempo of a passage. Conversely, short sentences quicken the pace and frequently produce a tense, staccato effect.

The best passages employ both strategies to effect a paragraph with rhythm and balance. (“How To Tell,” Michael Orlofsky, Writer’s Digest, October 2002)

A second rhythmic device involves conjunctions—either their addition or their omission. The first, called polysyndeton, repeats a conjunction between each of the words or phrases in a series. The latter, asyndeton, omits the conjunction, even before the final element. Here are example of each:

Polysyndeton: An avalanche of rock and dirt cascaded beside him and over him and under him.

Asyndeton: His brother picked up another plate, piled it with a variety of stuffed pastries, a handful of baby carrots, a couple cauliflower clumps.

A third way to create cadence in prose is to purposefully use repetition. For instance, a proposition can be used over and over or a key word in one sentence can be repeated in the opening of the next sentence.

The first use creates a staccato rhythm which can be enhanced if short phrases are written as sentences.

    Repetition of a preposition in a sentence: Away from Laguna Beach, from Eddie, from the tatters of his career.
    Repetition of a preposition in consecutive sentences: Away from Laguna Beach. From Eddie. From the tatters of his career.

The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue cover

    Repetition of a key word from one sentence at the beginning of another: “But my sister, Ainsley, puts her key in the lock five mornings a week. She straightens the over-sized posters that shift every time a train goes by on the tracks across the road from the strip mall that houses the headquarters. Posters of a beautiful little girl with strawberries on her sundress and a makeshift wreath of flowers in her hair.” (From The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon Souza).

Parallel construction is another method to create rhythm. The parallelism can be within a sentence or within a paragraph, but the idea is that multiplies—phrases, clauses, or sentences—have the same basic structure.

Here’s an example of phrases each consisting of a verb each followed by a prepositional phrase:

    He slid behind the wheel of his Porsche, backed from the driveway, and accelerated onto the road heading south.

Anaphora, or “the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses” (Oxford American Dictionary), is another way novelists create cadence in their prose. The following excerpt from Caught by Harlan Coben illustrates this technique:

And that was when Marcia started to feel a small rock form in her chest. There were no clothes in the hamper.

The rock in her chest grew when Marcia checked Haley’s toothbrush, then the sink and shower.

All bone-dry.

The rock grew when she called out to Ted, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. It grew when they drove to captain’s practice and found out that Haley had never showed. It grew when she called Haley’s friends while Ted sent out an e-mail blast—and no one knew where Haley was. It grew when they called the local police, who, despite Marcia’s and Ted’s protestations, believed that Haley was a runaway, a kid blowing off some steam. It grew when forty-eight hours later, the FBI was brought in. It grew when there was still no sign of Haley after a week. (As quoted by Margie Lawson, emphases mine)

Cadence is not a device that readers will necessarily notice unless they stop and think about the prose—not a plus if they are to remain immersed in the story world and wrapped up with the character’s problems. However, the absence of cadence can work against readers, causing them to stumble and retreat to regain the flow.

Writers want readers moving forward, fully engaged with the story. Proper cadence can help to accomplish this goal.

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Filed under Prose, Tone, Writing Style

Oil And Vinegar, Not Oil And Water

Oil and water don’t mix no matter how much a person might try. On the other hand, oil and vinegar have properties that allow them to blend temporarily. When shaken together, along with all the appropriate spices, they can create a delicious dressing, a delight for the palate.

Poetry and fiction work the same way. Yes, they are separate entities and mostly stay in their own literary niches, but there are times and ways that the two can come together to enhance a story. Since April is National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate to discuss ways in which poetry can make fiction better.

One obvious instance occurs when a novelist includes poems or songs in his work. J. R. R. Tolkien utilized numerous songs in Lord of the Rings — from those Tom Bombadil sang to the ones Bilbo wrote as part of his story and those the elves sang on most occasions.

Besides incorporating poems as a whole into fiction, an author can utilize poetry’s various parts to spice up his prose.

Poetry, as you may know, is constructed using a number of sound devices and/or a number of imagery devices. It is these that can give prose a boost, taking it beyond the mundane and making it fun, insightful, or even beautiful.

Sound Devices

Many people think of rhyme when they think of poetry. This is certainly one of the sound devices poets may use, but it is not the only one. Others include alliteration, rhythm, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance, even repetition.

Rhythm is probably the most popular device used by novelists. When poets utilize rhythm they are trying to create a pattern using stressed and unstressed syllables, such as you hear in nursery rhymes or children’s songs:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Novelists who pay attention to rhythm, however, utilize variety and flow more than patterns. Not only should a line say what the novelists wants it to say, but it should sound the way she wants it to sound.

High energy action scenes use shorter sentences. Fragments even. Leisurely scenes may consist of longer sentences and paragraphs filled with description or reflection, utilizing parenthetical material, perhaps — whether created by using em dashes, parentheses or even a colon. The key is, the rhythm of the sentence fits the content and the context.

When appropriate, an author may incorporate alliteration — the repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of words:

They muscled the boat to another bend, but as they navigated the curve the vessel rammed to a stop with a heavy clunk.

Consonance is similar but limited to the repetition of consonant sounds and not limited to the beginning of a word.

You crash over the trees,
You crack the live branch:
the branch is white,
the green crushed,
each leaf is rent like split wood.

In the same way, assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds.

Onomatopoeia — the formation of a word from the sound associated with it — is another common device. In the earlier line above, the word clunk is an example of onomatopoeia.

None of these devices occurs with as much frequency in fiction as in poetry, and when an author does employ them it should be with purpose. The sounds should strengthen the picture that the meaning of the words has already created.

Imagery

Creating these word pictures can be more effective with the help of poetry’s devices: similes, metaphors, personification, symbols, hyperbole, and so on.

Similes and metaphors create comparisons between two usually unrelated objects for the sake of amplifying a particular trait of the item being described. Similes do so in a more obvious way by announcing the comparison with a preposition — like or as.

“His hair like moldy hay,” part of a line from the poem “The Highwayman,” makes an effective, and announced, comparison. On the other hand, “The serpentine road crawled to the top of the rise” doesn’t declare, the road was like a snake, but instead shows it. Both create vivid word pictures.

Personification gives human or organic properties to inanimate objects. Even phrases like “the heart of the tale” utilize personification.

Symbols stand for and represent something else. In A Christmas Carol the chains Marley’s ghost carried around represented his sins from his greedy life.

Hyperbole is purposeful exaggeration for effect. Example: The swarm of crows blackened the sky.

When using these imagery devices, a novelist should stretch to create ones that fit his characters and setting rather than relying on common ones already in existence. Many of these have become cliches.

In summary, good prose — lyrical prose — will utilize some of the same devices that poetry does. One way to become more familiar with these devices is to read poetry. Another is to write it.

What devices do you purposefully use in your prose? Have you done so because you write poetry or have you learned to do so because of what you read?

If you’d like to learn more about poetry, Owl Editing has an interesting page on understanding poetry — organized a little differently and in more depth than what I’ve presented in brief here.

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Paragraphing

Paragraphing is not a glamorous subject and rarely seems critical, but it’s as important to the structure of our writing as is the sentence.

First, both in fiction and non-fiction the purpose is similar: both sentence and paragraph are organizational tools. The former encapsulates a single idea. The latter collects sentences pertaining to a single idea.

Still, the act of collecting sentences isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. For example, all the sentences in this article relate to paragraphing. Should they, therefore, form one gigantic paragraph?

Technically an author would not be wrong to throw them all into one unbroken stream. However, the “organization” in that case would look much like a garage used as a junk room: all things not needed in the house regularly get stashed together. Even when each item has its own place, to the visitor, sorting through all the items will take much longer than if they are broken up and stored in separate cabinets and drawers.

Besides helping with organization, paragraphing also can enhance pace. The shorter the paragraphs, the faster the pace.

Longer, more leisurely paragraphs work against action scenes. Instead, shorter sentences and paragraphs convey a feeling of things happening quickly. Those that are longer don’t carry the same sense of urgency.

It’s interesting to note that in most newspaper stories, paragraphs are routinely only several sentences long. (For an example, check out this recent Los Angeles Times story). Generally, readers of a daily want quick, pithy facts, not lengthy, carefully constructed arguments. Short paragraphs create the kind of organization that allows a reader to move quickly through an article, from most important facts to least important.

Paragraphing contributes to writing in still a third way. It helps formulate style. As I wrote the above paragraph about newspapers, I couldn’t help but think that not all utilize the two-sentences-per-paragraph rule. Although I haven’t actually counted sentences, I suspect that the articles in the Wall Street Journal, for example, have paragraphs that are considerably longer than the L A Times. The issue is style. The WSJ, by its structure, conveys that its articles are attempting to do more than give a brief set of facts — they aim to look at their topics in more depth.

A second aspect of style, especially for writers interested in artistic expression, is variety. In the same way that using the same words over and over can become tiresome, using the same sentence structure or the same paragraph length can become monotonous.

A part of good writing in any genre is giving readers something that will hold their interest. Varying paragraph length is one way to do that.

To close, I’ll give an example of writing and let you judge (you don’t even have to read it 😉 ): is there enough variation in paragraph length? Does the structure entice you to read or does it appear too fast or too slow? From JOURNEY TO MITHLIMAR, book two of The Lore of Efrathah:

    Jim sprawled onto a pile of drying grass and stared at the strange night sky. Back in his world the Big Dipper, Orion, the Pleiades, and a handful of lesser-known constellations, were as familiar as the outdoor basketball court near his childhood home. But here in Efrathah the stars puncturing the blackness were larger, scattered, sparse.
    A lump formed in his throat. He pulled his blanket from his pack and rolled to his side, pillowing his head on his arm. After days on the run, he needed to sleep, not to think about this strange world. Better if he blocked out his surroundings — the canyon walls sailing by, the River Pegah churning toward Mithlimar, the two-tiered raft he lay on, Remalín at the helm, the rest of the trek team sprawled atop the woven mat. And those strange stars.
    He closed his eyes, listening to the water sloshing against the logs, to the wind whispers gusting through the canyon and the rhythmic breathing of his companions. To Bilg’s gentle snoring.
    His heartbeat slowed. He snuggled deeper into the pile of soft grasses covering the mat and drifted toward sleep. The image of a Vacant One formed. At the command of a malicious black knight, the soldier of death stalked toward Jim’s sleeping companions. Behind the knight, Vildoth-sadín — the faceless usurper — lurked in the shadows. Jim’s body tensed, and he snapped awake.
    Exhaling a long breath, he sat up.
    “Trouble sleeping?” Jonathan propped himself on his elbow, his walnut-brown hair more tousled than usual by the wind blowing through the river draw.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

Eight days, and counting. 😀

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Redundancy: The Path To Boredom

As an editor and a critique partner, I’ve been know to be a repetition hunter. For some reason, I have an ear for words that crop up more than once in a paragraph. Unless it’s intentional, used for emphasis, it grates.

However, until recently I didn’t realize I’m also affected by redundancy. Not in the same way, but affected, and negatively so. Imagine my horror when I discovered that I was guilty of using a good dose of redundancy in my own fiction.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me build a case against redundancy from my own experience.

I began to think about the subject when I realized a couple blogs I follow were … well, not very interesting. I like the person behind the writing and appreciate their point of view, but after reading the first sentence of most paragraphs, I didn’t want to read the rest. Why?

I concluded it was because the author wasn’t offering anything new. What followed the topic sentence was an example, perhaps, piled on top of an example. Or a restatement of the central point. But I didn’t need those because that which went before was already clear. Consequently, to read the entire post was tedious, at best.

When this realization crystallized, I began to see redundancy in other works—not in ones I found to be compelling, intriguing, or good to the last word. Inevitably, I concluded redundancy is an interest killer, not something any writer wants.

Including novelists. But how does redundancy appear in fiction? One way is in the internal monologue of the point-of-view character. If those thoughts are nothing more than musings about what the reader already knows, they are redundant and therefore boring.

I was good at lots of rehash internal monologue. My character needed to understand what was going on. He needed to analyze and come up with a motive that would explain his next decision. The latter is true, except in many cases his thoughts stated the already stated.

But there was a second method of redundancy in my fiction, closer to repetition. In this instance I was writing dialogue in which I wanted to reflect surprise or disbelief, so I had character number two repeat some part of what character number one had just said.

Such interaction may be true to life, but restatements (“You can’t go.” ¶ “I can’t go? What do you mean, I can’t go?”) don’t tell the reader anything new, becoming … you guessed it, boring.

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Writing Style – The Jonathan Rogers Example

Recently Jonathan Rogers author of the middle grade Christian fantasy, The Wilderking Trilogy and the new release, The Charlatan’s Boy, discussed his writing style in a guest blog post at Speculative Faith.

By way of reminder, style, according to Mort Castle in a Writer’s Digest article earlier this year, is

the summation of “how” a story is presented.

I’d expand that line to say how a story or article is presented because non-fiction writers also have particular styles. Is the writing formal? Folksy? “With it” contemporary? Academic? Imaginative? Analytical? The list of possibilities is long.

Yet too often fiction and non-fiction writers alike give little thought about how they will deliver their content. Not so Dr. Rogers. He revealed in his blog post a refreshing deliberateness to his writing style.

Interestingly, he’s hit upon something that seems quite unique—an American fantasy. As he explains, much of the fantasy genre owes its greatest influence to stories from Europe, with castles and swords and other medieval imagery. What would fantasy be like if, in the telling, it had more in common with Mark Twain than J. R. R. Tolkien?

See for yourself.

The two boys regarded one another. At last the wild boy’s nasally voice broke the silence. “Are we going to tangle or not?”

Aidan stood flabbergasted. It had never occurred to him that this wild child of the river bottoms might speak a recognizable language. The feechie boy placed his hands on his hips and leaned in closer. “You heard me, young civilizer. Let’s tangle.”

Aidan blinked twice, not quite sure he understood. “T-tangle? Do you mean fight? You want to fight?”

“Sure, I reckon!” answered the river boy, bending into a slight crouch and raising his fists in front of him. For the first time a little smile flickered on his muddy face.

Aidan swallowed hard. He wasn’t feeling quite as wild and adventurous as he had a little while earlier. “Wh-why would we want to fight?”

The river boy straightened up and cocked his head. He seemed genuinely perplexed. “You want a reason? For fighting? Hmmm…I reckon I can think of something.”

He scratched his head with one hand, counted his fingers with the other, and after a short pause looked up again. “All right. Here goes. But I ain’t had a chance to polish it up yet, so don’t laugh.” He hummed a little to get his pitch, then sang to the same march tune Aidan had sung a few minutes earlier:

Dobro of the Tam I am
And I could whip you easy.
I’ll make you weep cause you smell like sheep,
And your looks are kind of greasy.

The verse was not up to Aidan’s standards, of course, but Dobro of the Tam seemed proud of it. “See,” he said, “you not the only rhyme-maker on this river.” A self-satisfied smile showed several greenish teeth, as well as three gaps where greenish teeth should have been.

Aidan thought he caught a glimpse of the feechie good humor his grandfather had told him about. The river boy was smiling. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? Perhaps he could escape without getting torn limb from limb. On the surface, Dobro’s song was a challenge and an insult, but for some reason it had put Aidan at ease. It was a funny song, made funnier by Dobro’s ridiculous gap-tooth grin. Being a poet himself, Aidan appreciated the boy’s effort. And considering it was spur-of-the-moment, it wasn’t all that bad.

“Good work,” Aidan laughed. He was starting to like this fellow, in spite of his boorish behavior. “But I’m surprised you’d make fun of my looks. You look like you were fished up from the river mud. And I may smell like sheep, but you smell like a…like a… well, you smell like you brush your teeth with mashed garlic. You smell like you use a rotten catfish for a pillow. Aidan was only warming up. “You smell like you slick your hair with eel slime.”
(Excerpt from The Bark of the Bog Owl, book one of The Wilderking Trilogy

By way of comparison, read the opening pages of The Charlatan’s Boy. I think you’ll quickly see a similar writing style.

One reviewer at Amazon said

If Huck Finn were the hero of a fantasy novel, the result would be The Charlatan’s Boy. The folksy, southern voice is a delight to read, and the setting is a rough-and-tumble frontier rather than fantasy’s usual (and tired) medieval village.

Style—something that can set a writer apart, and just maybe something we should create with a little more intention.

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The Art of Storytelling, Part 4

Style, as I see it, is an underrated component of artful storytelling, and I hope to learn much, much more about it, but the key element, of course, is the story. Once upon a time, I equated story with plot, but I now understand that character is just as central, though some argue it owns the prominent place.

Some might think there is little left to say about plot and/or characters. I might have thought this myself, except I read another article in Writer’s Digest that opened my eyes to More. I’m referring to “Your Novel Blueprint,” an excerpt of the book From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen Wiesner.

The thing that grabbed my attention the most was the interplay between plot and characters that Wiesner clarifies. Here’s one example from the section entitled “Evolving Goals and Motivation”:

    Goals are what the character wants, needs or desires above all else. Motivation is what gives him drive and purpose to achieve those goals. Goals must be urgent enough for the character to go through hardship and self-sacrifice.

    Multiple goals collide and impact the characters, forcing tough choices. Focused on the goal, the character is pushed toward it by believable, emotional and compelling motivations that won’t let him quit. Because he cares deeply about the outcome, his anxiety is doubled. The intensity of his anxiety pressures him to make choices and changes, thereby creating worry and awe in the reader.

I love this section, but the next is just as good – “Plot Conflicts (External)”:

    External plot conflict is the tangible central or outer problem standing squarely in the character’s way. It must be faced and solved. The character wants to restore the stability that was taken from him by the external conflict, and this produces his desire to act. However a character’s internal conflicts will create an agonizing tug of war with the plot conflicts. He has to make tough choices that come down to whether or not he should face, act on, and solve the problem.

That’s probably enough to show how Wiesner interweaves plot and character, but it brings up one of the components of story I think is necessary—well, two actually. The first is that the character must have a want, need, or desire. More than one actually, and these can not be secret. The reader must understand from the outset what it is the character is after.

The second is that the story is really all about the character working to achieve the goals, even as the goals change by growing “in depth, intensity, and scope.” Of course, to achieve these goals, the character must overcome the problems standing squarely in the way.

Of late I’ve read a number of novels that don’t demand my attention until a third to a half way through. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a compelling reason to keep reading because I don’t see the character taking action to achieve some deeply felt goal. I don’t have a rooting interest in continuing to read.

So now I have a new goal for my own writing, a deeply felt one, I might add. 😉

First posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, January 2009.

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The Art of Storytelling, Part 3

In a Writer’s Digest some time ago, Mort Castle wrote an article about mimicking other writers, entitled “Write like Poe.” In the section “The Elements of Style,” Castle said this:

    Authors’ styles grow from all the basic elements of prose: vocabulary, sentence length, structure, rhythm, narrative point of view, imagery, figures of speech and lots more. Style reflects a writer’s line-by-line, moment-by-moment decisions about what to leave in and what to leave out, what tone to adopt and what mood to induce in the reader. Style is the summation of “how” a story is presented … Many popular writers aren’t considered stylists, and they seek what’s termed a “transparent style” that focuses exclusively on plot.

It is this “transparent style”—really a whitewashing of style—I’ve referred to as “stilted writing, robotic fiction, cloned storytelling.”

For much of the history of fiction, authors wrote in such unique manners that readers could tell who created the work without seeing a name affixed to it. In contrast, I won’t say that today such individuality is frowned upon. Rather, style is rarely discussed.

In numerous writing conferences, writing books, writing discussions, fiction techniques come across like how-to components—there is a right way that editors and agents are looking for, and other ways lead authors to the unpublished ranks. This impression feeds into the tender author psyches (like mine was) that suspect there is a secret to grasp which will lead to the promised land of publication.

Understandably, authors scramble to put their story into the “right” style, much as they do to put their writing into the required format, and the result is the equivalent of white bread.

Do publishers want this type of writing? Castle said “many popular writers” seek a “transparent style.” After all, rye bread has a distinct flavor, and not everyone likes it. Won’t a “transparent style” appeal to the widest possible audience?

I suspect that is the thinking, but millions read Tolkien and millions read Lewis, though neither of those authors wrote in a “transparent style.” The argument, of course, is that those writers would never be published today. And that could be true.

But my point is, they’re being read today. In other words, a transparent style is not requisite for a work to be well-liked, even loved. Granted, I have heard some people (certainly not everyone) complain about Tolkien’s style, even admit they skip parts.

Please understand, I’m not advocating a return to a style of yesteryear. I am suggesting, however, that readers have a far greater tolerance for varied styles—more so than what many in the business give them credit.

Frequently I say that story trumps all in fiction, and I believe that completely.

Style, on the other hand, can vary in its importance, depending on the approach an author takes. His style can be transparent (move out of the way) or opaque (get in the way), or he can use it to highlight (add and enhance).

If we writers keep learning, I think it’s within our grasp to do more than get out of the way.

First posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, January 2009.

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Fiction – Unique Voices

An author has a particular voice, but in fiction, each of the characters should have a distinct and separate voice, too. That’s how readers come to feel they know a character.

Recently this subject has come up in a number of ways. Last month I wrote a short, fun piece (there’s a quz 😉 ) about voice, especially in relationship to dialogue, at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. I was playing off an excellent article about dialogue by author Kay Marshall Strom. Then this past Monday two other industry professionals posted on the topic: agent Chip MacGregor on his site and author Patti Hill at the team blog Novel Matters.

Chip focused largely on the writer’s voice while Patti expounded on the character’s voice. Here are a couple significant passages from each, but I recommend you read their posts for yourself.

Chip:

    YOUR writing voice will show up as YOUR personality on the page. When your family hears it read, they should know it’s you. When your faithful readers see it, they’ll know it’s not some other author, because it sounds like you. The word choice, the descriptions, the phrasing, the tone, the sentence length, the topics, the approach, the attitude – it’s all you. Your unique way of expressing yourself.

Patti:

    Elizabeth George defines voice (how brave of her) like this: “The narrative voice of your novel is the point-of-view character’s defining way of speaking and thinking.” Voice is the tone that comes through the narrative, and tone is the product of knowing my characters better than myself. (emphasis mine)

Regarding the marriage of an author’s voice with his characters’ voices, Chip again, in a comment to the post:

    The best novelists allow their characters to speak and act in a way different from them — otherwise it would make for a very boring book. At the same time, I think there’s something in choice of story, theme, characters, approach, events, conflict, context, and what agent Noah Lukeman calls “transcendency” that helps reveal the author’s overall voice.

Why, you might ask, is voice so important?

Chip once more:

    As an agent, I find myself MUCH more drawn to a great writing voice than any other factor.

A great writing voice should set an author apart from others. It’s interesting because it’s different. But be careful (and I can only hope agents and editors are). A voice that is interesting for a paragraph or two can become tedious or annoying when stretched over three hundred pages.

I read such a book a couple years ago. The character was unique, without a doubt, and had a different outlook that came through in his voice. But the “difference,” to me, was unattractive. I didn’t like “living” with that character for an entire novel. His voice undergirded some traits that were not admirable.

So I think choosing a character voice is a bit of a balancing act. It needs to be different, but “quirky” can be asking more of your readers than they want to give.

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Different Fiction

I’m reading a work of fiction this week that defies categorization. The debut book by Matt Mikalatos, entitled Imaginary Jesus (Tyndale), includes the caveat “A not-quite-true story” on the cover. So it’s not pretending to be non-fiction, which usually leaves us with Novel. But this book isn’t quite a novel either.

There have been a few books like this before. C. S. Lewis wrote a couple—The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. In essence the “story” has some autobiographical element—even if nothing more than the writer’s supposed discovery of letters, explained in a prologue—and has less to do with “what happens” than with what the characters think and believe and choose.

Another more recent book in this style comes to mind, though written from a different worldview. I’m referring to The Shack. In a similar way to Mikalatos’s work, the “story” is primarily a vehicle to discuss theology, though Imaginary Jesus does so by employing humor and The Shack by utilizing pathos.

So what genre are these kinds of books? They aren’t “true” in the way we generally think of biography or memoir, yet they aren’t fictitious in the way we are accustomed to think of novels.

They exercise a great deal of latitude when it comes to the reality of the events.

Lewis wrote about two demons corresponding and a dead man destined for hell experiencing a taste of heaven. Paul Young, author of The Shack, wrote about a man’s encounter with the three persons of the Godhead, in physical form. And Mikalatos employs time travel to visit the first century, a talking donkey, and an appearance of the Apostle Peter in the twenty-first century.

Yet the content—the what’s-it-about—of all these works deals with spiritual reality, though not in the straightforward way a book on theology does. The uncommon manner of delivering the subject matter makes it more easily understood because, in essence, the books use the ultimate fiction technique—showing more than telling.

So I wonder, will more such books be on the horizon? In which case, we may need to create a new category, a new way of labeling this kind of different fiction.

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