Monday, May 11, 2009

Good writing makes good reading

I'm sitting in my living room surrounded by suitcases, book boxes, grandchildren's birthday gifts, and a small stack of papers begging to be looked at one more time before bed. Tomorrow Steve and I leave for the Colorado Christian Writers' Conference, a singular experience high up in the Rockies at the YMCA conference center in Estes Park. It's a favorite of mine, a place of miracles year after year. Some of my closest writing friendships were formed here. I'll be teaching a continuing course on "Writing a Life-Changing Non-Fiction Book." Should be fun.
But in the back of my mind, I'm forming the mind of a fiction writer. For several years a novel has grown roots deep in my soul, awakening me at all hours. I long for June's clear slate to get to know my characters "for real."
 Now I wonder, as you may, what's the real difference between good fiction and good non-fiction? The stock answer is that one is true and one is not. But I question that every night as I pick up Jan Karen's first book in the Father Tim series, Home to Holly Springs. "A childish title," I thought when I first opened it. But now, I'm riding on the front seat in Father Tim's old Buick, squeezed between him and his enormous black dog, visiting rooms in his life long shut.Some of them frighten me, as old rooms from my own childhood sometimes do.  It's a stunning revelation how this character has become real flesh and blood. I know him. I feel his pain, love his wife, experience his weakness, and struggles. He is no longer fiction.
 How I'd love to write such living prose that readers would find it impossible to separate from real life. That's what reading good writing does. It trains our ear to the sound of reality, allows us to peer inside the microscope and see what others miss. Good writing, finely honed by those who didn't quit, illuminates life. How perfectly fitted Christian writers are to listen to the Master, and see with His eyes as we write. That's what I long for. How about you?