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Grace Roman

Preaching In Fiction Or No?

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I've read some articles  (most of my writing education has been obtained from Pinterest now) about including sermons in fiction, how to get a point across without preaching... but we're Christians; at my age I've heard at least 2,132 sermons, and I'm a preacher's kid, so it's been more.  Trust me.  Sermons, love them or hate them, are a part of our lives.  What do you think?  As long as we "animate" our pastor-character, can we include sermons as long as they are a reasonable length?

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Sermons are part of life for people who go to church, who like / expect sermons. The problem seems to be when you write sermons for people who not only have no interest in sermons, but have a visceral hatred of sermons. If a sermon is sharing unfiltered scriptural truth, fiction typically is a place where you filter that truth and deliver it in a way that the reader can not only appreciate it but love it and want to know more. 

This is typically where we point to the example of those who write such fiction: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, and so on. This is where I typically mention that I prefer redemption stories in fiction to sermons and point toward The Count of Monte Cristo as an example of a story with a moral component that isn't preachy. 

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Wow,Grace,it sounds like sermons are living beings to you.  They were the life blood of your childhood?  Maybe you can relate to your preaching parent in a unique way through them that gives rare satisfaction. 

The rest of the world hears that word and hides.  

I think including parts of a sermon in a story is possible for two reasons. 1 it is a plot point. ie. Buddy heard Pastor Jim use an illustration about how he was in the kitchen when the rectory blew up. 2. it develops your character. ie. Pastor Jim always begins his sermons with a reference to his Aunt Jo and then he visits her after church.  

Fiction is a sensitive and fragile vessel. It has space for certain tools for getting the point across that have no relation to the tools a sermon would use.  We need both, just not in the same place.

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the Hi Grace,

 

Just a few points:

 

1.  Phy and Nicola make great points, as do you.

 

2.  Nowadays it's an attention span thing.  So length is important.  Short is good, long is bad.  John Galt's speech in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is longer and, too most, more boring even than the overlong dialogue of Dostoyevsky's characters.  There are, in fact, many people who shy away from and actually turn away from reading the apostle Paul's letters simply because of his byzantine sentence structure.

 

3.  Flashbacks are frequent winner's of the Quit Preaching Award- such as the second part of Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," titled "On the Great Alkali Plain."  It provides a backstory, but is cursed with excessive moralizing (sermonizing).  There are readers who don't like to read them because they are often heavy handed attempts to sneak in either sermonizing or moralizing, which are perceived as taking too long to get to the point.  In the main, modern readers want immediate immersion.  In other words, they want to be immersed in the action as if they were there.  Sermons distance them from that experience- if they even border on taking to long to get past.  So Nicola's right that you might get away with including portions or-better yet- snippets of them in the story, but the moment that they break the participatory spell, they need to be either downsized or removed.

 

4.  (And last- you see what I mean about attention span?)  Having said all of that, if you can include the sermons and create a compelling story, then the rest of us can learn a thing or two from you!

 

Good luck!

Edited by suspensewriter
missed a word!

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I read a lot of Christian fiction. The better stories may include snippets of a pastor's sermon - a phrase or two - that capture's the protagonists attention. They may shut out the rest of the sermon as they reflect on that particular point. The worst stories - ones I have even done the dastardly deed of putting them down without finishing - are ones where the protagonist is not a pastor, but proceeds to give sermons from a "holier than thou" position to  someone at rock bottom. Characters are flat and are pretty much black and white as far as  moral character. The in-between books, if the sermons are long and obnoxious, I will simply skim through those parts. this is especially true if they are preaching their denomination over Christianity.

I hope this reader's insight helps you decide what you need to do.

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I've read my share of Christian fiction and some of it comes across and preachy and moralizing. I personally think it detracts from the novel and can be a turn-off if not done properly. I love studying theology and listening to sermons but I do not enjoy it so much in fiction. If referencing a sermon, summarize in as few words as possible. Make the story shorter snippets of dialogue intertwined with action. Show don't tell applies just as much to sermons as anything else. My WIP has a lot of theological underpinnings but my goal is to weave it seamlessly into the story so that it is organic and not forced.  Less narrative, shorter dialogue, and more action.

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39 minutes ago, InspiredHome said:

My WIP has a lot of theological underpinnings but my goal is to weave it seamlessly into the story so that it is organic and not forced.  Less narrative, shorter dialogue, and more action.

 

Amen.

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