Instruments for good

"Instruments for good" Continued...

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

WORLD: But there are dangers in this.

O'CONNOR: It is very possible that what is vision and truth to the writer is temptation and sin to the reader. There is every danger that in writing what he sees, the novelist will be corrupting some 'little one,' and better a millstone were tied around his neck. . . . This is no superficial problem, [but] to force this kind of total responsibility on the novelist is to burden him with the business that belongs only to God.

WORLD: So what do good writers do when they see the need to describe but want to minimize the anger of corruption?

O'CONNOR: [The good writer should] take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to the central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses.

WORLD: Should readers have obligations as well?

O'CONNOR: [Some readers] open a novel and, discovering the presence of an arm or a leg, piously close the book. We are always demanding that the writer be less explicit in regard to natural matters or the concrete particulars of sin. [Such readers] are over-conscious of what they consider to be obscenity in modern fiction for the very simple reason that in reading a book, they have nothing else to look for. They are totally unconscious of the design, the tone, the intention, the meaning, or even the truth of what they have in hand. They don't see the book in a perspective that would reduce every part of it to its proper place in the whole.

WORLD: Where do beginning writers often go wrong?

O'CONNOR: [They] are apt to be reformers and to want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, of case histories and of everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth.

WORLD: You emphasize that "in most good stories it is the character's personality that creates the action of the story." Where do beginning writers often fall short?

O'CONNOR: [Some] don't go very far inside a character, don't reveal very much of the character. I don't mean that they don't enter the character's mind, but they simply don't show that he has a personality. . . . In most of these stories, I feel that the writer has thought of some action and then scrounged up a character to perform it.

WORLD: Are you overly hard on some Christian writers? Can't even poorly written religious novels with pious characters be edifying?

O'CONNOR: Poorly written novels -no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters -are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying.

WORLD: But can't God use them for good?

O'CONNOR: We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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