The Art of Surprise

Lots of beginning writers pen stories with surprise endings. Surprise! your quirky narrator was actually a bowling pin . . . Surprise! they were on Mars the whole time! . . . Surprise! This is such a ubiquitous phenomenon that books on the craft perennially warn against using such trickery. Jerome Stern gives precisely this […]

How Stories Talk When They Talk About Love

In one of Raymond Carver’s classic stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” two married couples sit around a kitchen table, drinking gin, talking about what they really mean when they use the word “love.” Three of the four have been married multiple times, and they’ve got some disagreements on the subject. […]

Why Do We Love Spooky Stories?

What is it about spooky stories that gets people going? And spooky things in general? Creaky old houses, unexplained mysteries, skeletons, ghosts. Given that it’s October 31st, it seemed appropriate to devote some thought as I did last year to the driving force behind the allure of the dark and mysterious—specifically to the kinds of tales […]

Nuancing Ayn Rand’s Polarizing Fiction

Ayn Rand is one of the most polarizing literary figures in American history. She’s also one of the most politically influential. Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian-born American novelist, playwright, essayist and philosopher. Having personally suffered under what she considered a brutal, collectivist Soviet state, she came to exalt the value of the individual over that […]

Christian Virtues in Dystopian Fiction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. Dystopian fiction. That brand of sci-fi that imagines a future world in which the powers that be—usually overzealous, overpowerful governments—have taken radical steps to ensure the well-being of […]

Unhappy Endings

Most of us will readily acknowledge the value inherent in the Happy Ending. Christians particularly make much of it, and I’ve discussed in numerous other places how stories with such endings reflect the ultimate realities of our universe. But what about unhappy endings? Is a story that lacks clear redemption—or in which a character’s misfortunes are […]

Fiction and Fear

In all meaningful fiction, there exists an element of fear. It may lurk more or less in the background, more hidden in some stories than in others, but it’s there. This seems to hold true even outside the genres you’d expect to incorporate fear—horror, thrillers, weird fiction. The dynamic of fear is also hard at work […]

“Weird Fiction” and Christianity: Strange Bedfellows

Ever wonder where the word “weird” comes from? Ultimately it derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word “wyrd,” which basically meant “fate.” The original meaning is often still felt. As Michael Moorcock points out in the “Foreweird” (ha!) to a gripping new collection of stories, “should you mention a coincidence to someone, they are likely to […]

Show, Don’t Tell: Good Friday and the Power of Story

One of the key components to writing successful creative literature—poetry, drama, fiction, even creative nonfiction—is specificity. There’s a long history of evidence for this. And some of the most compelling evidence, maybe surprisingly, is theological. Stay with me. Concrete, sensory specificity is particularly important—appealing to the senses, to the physicality of our human natures. That’s […]