Thursday, February 25, 2010

Philip Yancey on Christian writing

Some thoughts from Philip Yancey in his book Open Windows (1982), in an essay called "Pitfalls of Christian Writing":

. . . Christian authors tend to give only the ideas and thoughts, without tracing the personalities involved and the context of how those thoughts developed. Too often religious books are organized and written like sermons, with an outlined structure superimposed on the content.

Many successful evangelical authors are not authors at all; they are speakers who make their living by speaking at churches and conferences. One can hardly blame them for organizing their written material in the same way as their spoken material, and often it sells well. But speakers who write books in the same style defy the basic rules of communication. Writers cannot merely list facts and hope to penetrate readers’ brains. They must take readers on an emotional journey to hold their attention. People do not read the same way they listen, and a book-speech is effective only among an audience previously committed to agree with the material. It cannot reach out to a noncaptive audience such as a world skeptical of Christian ideas. That requires books created according to the rules of written communication.

An author cannot captivate an audience with his or her own personal magnetism as a speaker can. Authors must use such techniques as a gripping narrative style, well-placed anecdotes, suspense, and a structure that compels a reader to follow the train of thought. To a diverse audience, ideas come across best when they are embodied and live within a visual, imaginable context.