No conference can be summed up in one thought or idea, but, for me, the most useful advice to come out of the STORY event was from David McFadzean, a Hollywood executive. There had been a couple of intellectually challenging speakers before McFadzean, and his credits in comedies like Home Improvement and Rosanne didn’t inspire much anticipation in me. But you know where this is going . . . his words are the ones that have stuck with me. And his message was every bit as intellectually challenging as anyone else. (By the way, if you check out that link, Seren, do you recognize him from one of the HI episodes or something? I don’t know, but he looks so familiar! Imdb was no help.)
So, the life changing words of wisdom were simply this: Art has a cumulative, not singular, effect on us and in us. McFadzean noted that as Christians we often think we need to cram the entire gospel message into our painting or book or song or it won’t qualify as Christian art. (I recognize that feeling!) But instead, McFadzean encourages that good art should work on us in cumulative movement toward better questions, more realistic stories, and an appreciation for the radiance of life. This radiance, he said, includes the good and the bad and especially the mystery of what it means to make the invisible visible.
For me, this advice means I can stop stressing about writing the ONE novel that will change the world, and instead put my effort into the story that is in my head right now. This story involves a lot of themes that faith speaks to, but it does not revolve around a traditionally Christian plot line. (In other words, my protagonist isn’t going to answer an altar call at the end and then see all her dreams come true!)
But if good art should have a cumulative effect, then my little novel doesn’t need to be the end-all, it just needs to be itself. It just needs to tell the story it is meant to tell and be content. As it spins around in my brain, it is quite happy just being its own little tale of loss and discovery. I’m the one who tries to make it more, tries to add characters and sub plots that might propel it into blockbuster Christian stardom. It doesn’t want to do that and neither do I.
Thank you, David McFadzean, the pressure is OFF! : )
P.S. To be fair, the pressure comes back on a bit when McFadzean emphasizes the importance of craft. He says if you don’t have the craft, drop out. (His words, not mine!) And this is good advice for Christians in any line of work. In our culture, we can’t rely on the truth of our message despite the weakness of our form. But for this post, let’s just hang out in the pressure’s off zone, okay? There’s always more . . .