On the Lack of Timeless Stories

Writing

Last week on Speculative Faith, Becky Miller addressed the fact that many Christian fiction books (as well as their general market counterparts) are not “keepers” despite the fact that “Christians are writing about timeless, universal themes of eternal value.

Clearly, it isn’t just the themes chosen that give a book merit. If it were, every Christian book dealing with matters of faith would reach that keeper level. Rather, when the writer manages to capture the emotional reality of meaningful themes and portray them in a way that grips readers with their truth, a book has lasting impact. I discussed this in more detail Wednesday.

So why are timeless books comparatively few in number? Some claim that few of these books exist due to a lack of readers who appreciate such novels, but I have a difficult time believing that theory.  After all, many great books become classics, speaking to generations of readers, who read, re-read, and freely share their love for these tales.  CS Lewis, for example, still makes bestseller lists, almost fifty years after his death.

If readers do, in fact, provide a willing audience for timeless works and many authors aspire to write them, why the lack? A number of factors may contribute to this. Our society promotes concepts of instant gratification and overnight success, which doesn’t lend itself well to crafting excellent, timeless works of literature. Certain publishing avenues now allow a book to release at the click of a button, so there’s a temptation to move forward before a story has become mature and refined or before writing ability has been honed.

In addition, not every writer will possess the ability to create a “classic” work. There will always be books that stand above the rest and make their mark on readers for countless years, but even if a book doesn’t become timeless, it can still find a wide audience and have strong merit. As a writer, I think it’s worth aspiring to craft a timeless novel, whether or not the goal is ever reached. Certainly, such a vision will ensure you write the best books possible, and as Christian writers aspire to create timeless novels, approach each story with a commitment to excellence, and write thoughtful, meaningful themes, I expect the number of books on the keeper shelf to increase.

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