Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day Three - June, 2011 CSFF Blog Tour, Darkness Follows

Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso
Published by Realms, Lake Mary, FL

In this final post, I would like to touch on two things, Dellosso’s writing and the question of what makes Christian fiction, Christian.

The writing is average. Character development is key for any novel to be good. For me, none of the characters drew much empathy. Evoking empathy always goes back to how life-like the characters become in the imagination of the reader. If the reader lives out the character in his mind, the author has done his job well. Certainly, the success of that has a lot to do with the reader, but I think it has more to do with the writer. Granted, creating good characters is not easy and most of us have to work hard at it. I don’t think the characters in Darkness Follows rise much above those that are commonly found in Christian fiction today. My favorite example of good characterization is George Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon. His is a high standard, and we would all do well to try and meet it. That doesn’t mean we emulate Polivka. But we should study him (and others who equally qualify) to see what factors and techniques he uses that make his characters so good, and strive to use them within the complex of our own personality, vocabulary, temperament, and style.

Having said that the characters drew little empathy from me, I confess that I liked Dellosso’s characters of Symon and his victims, the latter of whom (excluding the state trooper, Ned Coleman) were cameo appearances. Short-lived (no pun intended) but memorable. The fact that they were murdered didn’t elicit empathy because they weren’t around long enough. Even so, they were vivid and interesting.

One of the things all writers commonly make use of is simile. I find simile to be a good litmus of an author’s writing ability. Good writers use simile that fits the situation or mood without excessive verbiage. Bad writers don’t. Using appropriate simile is difficult. When done well, it is like the brushstroke that finishes the masterpiece. When not done well, it is like spinach topping on your least favorite ice cream. Darkness Follows has too much of the latter.

...his words trailed off like a column of smoke into a starless sky. (p 37)
...tickling Molly’s skin like insect legs. (p 50)
Questions, like day-old bug bites, nagged him. (p 57)
Those words rushed back from the past like a winter wind... (p 130)
His hands quivered like the last leaves of autumn buffeted by a stiff November wind. (p 166)
The bullet pierced Symon’s palm like an awl through leather... (p 260)

It’s not that these don’t give us a vivid picture, I think they do. But they just don’t fit and some are overstated. Words trailing off like a column of smoke is good, but the starless sky adds nothing and hampers the effect. Insect legs on Molly’s skin probably wouldn’t tickle, but they sure would draw a reaction. Day-old bug bites presumably itch, but how does itching carry the imagery of nagging. What is the connection between the sudden recollection of a conversation (real or imagined) and a winter wind? Leaves buffeted by a stiff November wind don’t quiver; they thrash about. A speeding bullet through a palm is nothing like the slow-pressured force that pushes an awl through leather.

To be fair, there were some fine examples of simile; here are two:

The line began to move like a segmented worm... (p 83)
A memory, like a gunshot, exploded in Symon’s mind... (p 83)

The question, What makes ‘Christian fiction,’ Christian? is a crucial one. As writers of Christian fiction, we want to get this right. For me, Christian fiction is not truly Christian unless it pointedly and clearly brings in the salient truths of the gospel. One may argue that such a definition is too narrow. Some would say that it should include any fiction written by Christians, predominately for Christians, and does not require a heavy emphasis on the gospel itself. Wholesome themes - love, faithfulness, kindness, graciousness, humility, forgiveness - essentially the fruits of the Spirit delineated by Paul in Galatians 5:22 are sufficient to mark the literary work as Christian. These themes are good, and they are Christian, but they are genuinely so only when they are understood in the light of the Gospel. Christ came to save sinners, not from hell primarily, but from their sins, which has implications not only for one’s eternal destiny, but also for this life. Christ saves his people from their sins, transforming them into a people who grieve over their sin, repent continuously, recognize the deceitfulness of their own sinful hearts, and in an ongoing manner, humbly seek the mercy and grace of the One who saves them that they may overcome worldliness and carnality. As overcomers, they manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Bringing these truths out is what qualifies a novel to be worthy of Christian classification.

This does not mean a Christian can’t write purely for entertainment. Nor does it mean that all the elements of the Christian faith must be treated with equal emphasis. As an image-bearer of God, writing good fiction, creating a world of fiction (reflecting God’s creativeness), even if there is no effort to include Gospel truths, is a worthy vocation, and one that honors God. But if it does not pointedly bring out the truths of the Gospel, let’s not call it Christian.

Darkness Follows is anemically Christian. It mentions the love of Jesus, but doesn’t tell the reader what that means. It provides a contrast between good and evil, but the most pagan of literary works does that because it is impossible to avoid. The Christian novel should show why it is unavoidable through a strong Gospel oriented story.

Dellosso’s novel is dark, and alarmingly so in several places. That in itself doesn’t disqualify it as Christian. What severely damages its qualification as Christian is that the Gospel is absent. Merely including Eva’s need to tell her daddy that Jesus loves him fails to qualify the novel as Christian. Stephen King could write a novel like that, but no one would think of it as Christian.

Many in the world and the professing Church have been told that Jesus loves them yet have none of the grace of God that transforms them from sinner to saint because they misunderstand what that love is. These do not see God’s love side by side with God’s holy hatred of them as sinners (Psalm 5:5) who are under divine condemnation and are powerless to do anything about it because they are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1). They don’t understand that their hope is not in any inherent goodness they think they have, nor in any value they think God sees in them. They don’t see that their only hope is in the atonement of Christ through which they may be saved from their sin and sinfulness. Without the clear, pointed presence of the Gospel in a novel, the novel is not Christian.

Participant Links
Mike Dellosso Website
Darkness Follows on Amazon

Thanks to Realms Publishing for kindly providing a copy of Darkness Follows for review on the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


  1. For me, Christian fiction is not truly Christian unless it pointedly and clearly brings in the salient truths of the gospel. Thomas, I'm going to disagree with you in degree here.

    I tackled the issue of what makes fiction Christian over at Spec Faith a couple weeks ago, and this is what I concluded: And here is the point that separates Christian fiction, I believe, from all other fiction. Christian fiction speaks the truth about God. Other fiction can speak the truth about morals or the way the world works or what makes a person love or hate or live on the edge. Other fiction might be silent about God. Other fiction might speak a lie (though undoubtedly the author believes that what he’s written is true) about any of these things. Only Christian fiction speaks the truth about God.

    The only way a work can speak the truth about God is if it is anchored in His self-revelation recorded in the Bible. However, I don't think there is any required amount of truth that a story needs to include. Obviously, I think deeper stories will include more, but I'm not going to say that a story whose message is "Jesus loves you" isn't Christian. The fact is, no other piece of fiction will carry that theme.


  2. Becky, is the message of Darkness Follows, Jesus loves you? Those words were there, certainly, but I don't see how they came as the message of the book. But assume those words were intended to encapsulate the message. They were devoid of content. What does Jesus love you mean? There was no unpacking of that in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ. It might make someone teary-eyed because of who said it and when, but did it really say anything significant without the cross?

    Can one say, Jesus loves you, to anyone and mean anything by it unless he has in mind that electing love he has for his people, and that explanation follows.

    Can one nilly-willy say, Jesus loves you, to anyone without qualification. He prayed for his own specifically, not the world, whom he specifically excluded in his intercessory prayer in John 17. An angel reveals to Joseph in a dream that He came to save his people, not everyone, from their sins, Matt 1:21. Christ gave himself for the Church, not everyone in the world without exception, that he might, sanctify her, and present her without any spot or blemish, but that she (alone) should be holy, Eph 5:25. The Lord is longsuffering toward us (his people, not those whom he does not intend to redeem) and not willing that any (of us) should perish, 2 Pet 3:9; and on and on.

    Jesus loves in a saving way with the intent to make us holy and equip us to fight against the forces of spiritual darkness, Eph 6:12.
    None of this was in the book, and these pointedly Christian truths are not conveyed by the expression of a seven-year-old daughter to her father that Jesus loves him.

    I'm not saying a novel must have everything there can be said about the gospel, or that it must go into deep explanations, but it must have substance if it is going to be Christian.

    Much of what we call Christian fiction today is fluff, beats around the gospel without ever getting to it, almost as if it is trying to not offend the sinner.