Shannon Dittemore

September16th

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Hello friends! It’s been a while. Thought I’d jump back into the fray with a little rant. Join me, won’t you?

With my very first novel out there like a bloodhound, sniffing the carpeted hallways of publishing houses, I have lots and lots of conflicting emotions ravaging my gut. It’s not a bad thing, I’m sure, but often I wonder if the butterflies flapping away in there have developed fangs and venom. Still, the overriding…. sensation–if you will–is that the fate of my manuscript is entirely out of my hands. ENTIRELY. There’s nothing else I can do at this point, but wait.

And waiting is what incites the manic butterflies.

It also kicks my brain into overdrive.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about our responsibility as writers. “What responsibility?” you might ask. Well, we have them. Writers do. Just like any other trade, we have a responsibility to learn the craft. To do our very best to understand the rules and to decipher just when those rules should be bent and broken. We have an obligation to read. For entertainment. For the sheer love of it. And we have a duty to take the books we’ve read, even the bad ones, and learn from them. As the genius that is Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.”

So as writers, as those who pen thoughts and stories, as those who write to further our own agenda or simply to entertain, as those who sit in front of a computer screen and bleed ink, we have responsibilities.

But, what defines me is not my drive, desire, or ability to write. As a Christian, what defines me is my adoption into God’s family. As a Christian, what defines me is who my heavenly Father is. As a Christian, what defines me is the cross. So, perhaps the premise is flawed. No THING defines me. It is Christ–His life, His death, and His resurrection–that define me. If I am a Christian, those things must come first. Before my responsibility, before my duty as a writer.

In a practical, time-is-of-the-essence kind of way, this is easily remedied. Christ stuff takes first priority. Other things, including my hours at the keyboard, take a backseat. It doesn’t mean they’re not priorities. It doesn’t meant they’re not important. But, in the grand scheme of things our God commitments come first.

Most Christian writers I know don’t struggle with this to excess. It’s in the actual business of writing that we get off-kilter.

Let’s talk for a second about the concept of “artistic liberty.”

First let me clarify. I’m a fan–a huge fan–of artistic liberty. Of taking something and switching it up to entertain or shock. I’m a fan. On stage, between the covers of a book, down the ivory bones of the piano, or on pointe shoes. I am a fan. I think artistic liberty makes us unique. As a writer, it is a fantastic tool to carve niches. With it we break molds, we jump into waters unknown, we dare to break glass ceilings. Artistic liberty, when taken and handled with a level of precision, can produce art in the highest forms.

That being said, I struggle with stories that claim to be representing the God of the Bible and then take artistic liberty with His ESSENTIAL ATTRIBUTES. I am not talking about ethereal, fantasy representations of a god-like being. Not at all. In fact, if I can get past the excessive descriptions of trees and wood elves, I enjoy a great fantasy or sci-fi read. I am also not talking about fairy tales or allegories. I am talking specifically about books claiming to represent the God of Scripture and feel that to adequately tell their story they must change Him.

This post, I am sure, will rile some of you. While I speak and write emphatically, I am certainly open to discussion, and I can find beauty in many, many things. But, that doesn’t mean my gut doesn’t clench when I read something that represents the God of the Bible as something other than what He is. Even in fiction. Even when it’s a throw-away line in a movie. Especially if it’s what makes the movie popular.

And please hear me–I believe that characters can and should misrepresent God when the story calls for it. That is very real. That happens all the time, and quite often it happens by Christians. The question is this: What conclusions do your readers draw about God when they read your work?

No, I don’t think every book has to be about God. No, I don’t read strictly Christian fiction. Yes, I’m a fan of Harry Potter and Twilight. And not a single one of those books claim to represent the God of Scripture in any way.

But, does your book? Are you striving to represent God and having to mold and carve away at Him so He’ll simply fit into your story? If you are, I am concerned. If you are, I wonder if your primary responsibility as a Christian is taking a backseat to your duties as a writer. And, don’t get me wrong. We all have to evaluate from time to time. We all need to examine ourselves. Examine our lives and our craft. And we must, MUST be honest about who are audience is and who we are leading them to.

If we’re representing God incorrectly, we’re adding to the confusion already swirling about who He really is. As a Christian, that has to be my first concern. Ahead of story lines, turns of shock and awe, and surprise endings. Ahead of finding our place and making a splash. If we choose to represent God, we must heave the burden of representing Him accurately.

If we don’t, our stories, successful though they may be, have already failed.

Thoughts?

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