I’ve only thrown one book across the room in rage, but this book was about to be the second. I was reading a story that actually had me saying to the character “stop praying about this!”
It was bad.
One thing that frustrated me: making the characters sing “Happy Birthday” in a story that was set before the song was even written. That’s when you know you’re reading a book that is considered “period fiction.”
Before you think I’ve become a book critic (wouldn’t that be a great job!), let me tell you that this indeed does have a spiritual application. As a writer, however, I do think it’s important to know the difference between period fiction and historical fiction.
Period fiction is a non-contemporary story. Set the story in the 1870s, mention bonnets and shawls and doing “figures by candlelight” and you’re pretty much set. The book I mentioned above was period fiction; and not one of the better examples! Lazily researched and badly written, the main character moped around praying when a simple straightforward conversation would have taken care of her problem. Sorry, I digress. (It’s still painful and it’s been months since I read it!) Period fiction only skims the surface of the time it is set in. I’ve written many of these stories, so I don’t necessarily think they’re inherently bad. But let’s talk about what’s better…
For a truly historical fiction story the author dives deeply into the research material of the time period so no detail is incorrect. A story I wrote set in the French and Indian War attempts to be a historical fiction piece. (“Attempts” being the key word.) The characters interact with people who actually lived and take part in events that you can find in history books. The attitudes and interactions of the people are meant to portray a real picture of what it was like back in that time. Writing a historical fiction story or novel means you’re research as much or more than you write. Sometimes, the books you’re studying for your story take over your dining room table.
Now let’s talk spiritual application.
There is a big difference between sounding Biblical and actually being Biblical. If you’re on social media, no doubt you’ve seen flowery phrases over photos of sunsets or what-have-you. Many of them are positive sayings…but not all of them are Biblical. If it’s just a nice saying, fine. If it almost sounds Biblical, but isn’t, then I have a problem with it. They’re the spiritual version of period fiction. Lazy imitations. Perhaps you’ve met people whose actions in life gave no indication they knew Jesus as their personal savior or they lived by the Word of God, but who could throw around spiritual platitudes with the best of them. “I just need to get back to church,” or “I don’t know what I’d do without Jesus.” Or our all-time favorite. “Judge not!” Their words, however, don’t match the reality of their lives.
Then there are the people that when they open their mouth, the encouragement or rebuke that comes out has been tempered by years of Biblical study and knowledge of the Scripture. They don’t rely on feel-good sayings. These are the people that find blessing in a relationship with God that finds its foundation and identity within the Bible. They’re not just saying, “I love Jesus” because they think they sound good. They’re saying, “I love Jesus,” because they have grappled with the depths of their sin when they’ve looked at the holiness of God revealed in His word and want to search deeper. Like the writer of historical fiction who puts in ten hours of research for every hour they spend writing, these people study more and speak less. Their genuineness is a blessing to the hearers. Like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prov. 25:11 ESV)
Better a sentence of truth than a paragraph of lies.
Now, if only I had a photograph of a sunset to paste that on…