Some Thoughts on the Fabrication of Stories

Last week my Bible study class was reading in 2 Peter about false prophets, of whom, as Peter warns his listeners, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:3 NIV).

Of course, as a creative writing professor currently leading a novel workshop—that is, teaching eager students how to fabricate stories—and as a writer currently engaged in writing a novel of her own, I shivered a bit.

He means a different kind of story, I consoled myself, as the class question-answered through the passage. He’s not talking about fiction writing, the passage makes clear, but about preaching, about spreading “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord(2 Peter 2:1 NIV).

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking aboutVan Reymerswaele--The Moneychanger and His Wife the uncomfortably commercial side of the writing world in which I am involved. How the buying and selling of books necessarily engages our—i.e., writers’, agents’, publishers’, marketers’, publicists’—greediness: to get more media exposure, to sell more books, to make more money. And, we Christian writers are, in effect, preaching, aren’t we? I worried. The Holy Spirit was at work, I feared, forcing me, as always, to look again, think again, before proceeding.

Just then, one of my classmates confirmed my fears by reading from his version of scripture the same passage about greedy story-fabricators: “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter 2:3 KJV). Isn’t that what we seek to do in our blogging and signing, platform-developing and tribe-building? I confronted myself. Turn our readers into merchandise sold?

The self-promotion demanded of us writers has always disturbed and embarrassed me. Deep down, I genuinely believe that, if a book is good, it will sell itself. But, the publishing world sages are quick to remind me, if a book’s not out there for people to see and read, no one will know it’s good. My efforts as an author stretch thin between these two pillars of writerly wisdom.

No answers here. Just puzzles, some worries, and a bit of scripture—fodder for reflection, I imagine, among fellow writers bent on being transformed into the image of the One God Sent.

14 Replies to “Some Thoughts on the Fabrication of Stories”

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Sergio. I hesitated a bit about posting something about the ugly side of publishing on this blog, but I do worry about it.

  1. Patty, thanks for expressing the dismay most of us feel about the self-promotion we’re expected (required) to do.
    You and I have a bit in common–I grew up on a farm in OK (clear across the state from you). Tho I live in Oregon, I still wave at people who drive by when I go out to get the mail, which almost no one does out here. Some studiously avoid meeting my gaze, but most wave back, just like in OK.

    1. You’re welcome, Samuel. I’m quite the waver myself, these days–especially on the back roads when I’m running. It started out in response to drivers waving at me, but now it’s just habit, mostly. With strangers, I feel as if it’s a form of self protection, somehow–reassuring drivers by that I know they’re not dangerous and thereby willing them not to be. Comically, when a car is whizzing toward me so fast I’m afraid of it, I instinctively don’t wave, thinking, I guess, that they ARE dangerous, so why gesture otherwise? I wonder if there are any sociologists out there who’ve studied and written about the waving thing. Or greeting habits in general.

  2. Patty, I’ve wrestled with this question often, and will continue to wrestle with it as long as I have writing to market. However, I do believe the answer lies in the heart of the writer. I know I watch my blog stats too much, wondering how my “ministry” is evolving. I know my sinfulness has me thinking contracts and dollar signs at times, but that’s not all I want. It’s a constant personal battle. However, at the risk of promoting my blog, you might find this post interesting. I was reading through the Gospel of John and things Jesus did to get attention kept grabbing me and I kept thinking about how God used these things for His Glory, so I wrote about it. It looks at the good, bad and ugly side, but as I mentioned above, it’s a balance we teeter over perilously on this journey—one of the heart. We will constantly be tempted in this ministry to make it about ourselves. Satan is tricky that way. That’s why it’s important to have good fellowship who’ll challenge us continually as we journey on.

    1. Agreed, Connie. And I love your blog post, “Would Jesus Market Himself”–especially the opening discussion of the word platform. Wow. Wish I’d written that myself!

  3. I appreciate you addressing this topic, Patty. It’s something I’ve wrestled with since I decided to become a writer several years ago, and as another commenter above said, I’ll continue to struggle with it. I pray, though, and leave myself open to His leading, hoping that on my blog, as in my writing, I’m helping others.

      1. Jesus did speak in parables, teaching lessons in an indirect manner. Modern fiction with a moral or inspirational message does the same. Fiction does serve a purpose that it has served since its beginning–telling a story that, for various reasons, cannot be told, or maybe understood, with the cold, hard facts.

        Sometimes the time for the truth is not right. In the meantime, we tell stories, and stories can add meaning to life. I have learned much from reading good fiction during my lifetime! And sometimes truth cannot be told without hurting others as one has been hurt, or cannot be done so, without much forethought.

        The more recent post on memoir was helpful and inspiring.

  4. Patty, you pointed out the elephant in the room for many of us who desire to spread the good news through the craft of modern day writing.

    As flesh and spirit wrestle throughout our lives, I’m sure this will be a major match. But saying it honestly and transparently as you’ve done here, seems to shift things in favor of the spiritual part of our being. Thank you for your courage. I’m sure I’m not the only one your post helped.

    1. Anita, thanks for your own willingness to question the matter. As with other elephants in rooms, often the only real action we can take, individually, is to talk to one another about the matter. I think that’s why the Lord entreats us to talk about scripture all the time–to get its messages, with all their attendant difficulties, out into the room.

  5. I come at writing from a different direction, I guess. God gave me this gift and talent, and He has given me opportunities to use it and hone it. He expects me to use what He has given me for His glory. As in all of life, I am supposed to know His words and keep them in the forefront of all I say and do. My stories, although “fabricated” by me, have been written–as much as I am able in my sinful state–with Him in my mind, soul, heart, brain, and keyboard. If this is our focus, I think we are following His will. Take this verse and read it again, and read Jesus’ other words throughout the Bible, and ask the Holy Spirit how they fit together, then listen for His answer. And we have to do this daily, because, yes, our tendency is to make it all about us.

  6. Great questions to ponder, Patty! I’m trusting God will continue to guide me with His peace. Btw, thanks for pointing out that elephant in the room! Gulp!!!

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