Several years ago, I reviewed a proposal on a subject commonly addressed in Christian books and quickly noticed it was not entirely original.
It wasn’t plagiarized from another author, but the proposed nonfiction book was comprised almost entirely of the best-thinking from other Christian authors on the subject. There was little original thinking by the author. The material quoted from other books was properly attributed, but it was much more of a graduate-school thesis or a summary of existing material on the subject.
I began to wonder what this author would say if they were interviewed in the media about their book since most of it was not from them!
Often academic books are structured in the same way, as the author uses other sources to give additional credibility to their own ideas and premise, or to show alternate approaches to the subject, which help readers think through various subjects on their own.
In consumer nonfiction, publishers want mostly original thinking and observations. Material from other sources is used sparingly to support points. Of course, for Christian writers, the frequent use of Scripture to illustrate and clarify is encouraged.
On a related issue, if you quote someone in your book, it needs to be the original quote, not “As (author name) quoted C.S. Lewis ….” Quoting someone who quoted someone or, worse, quoting someone who quoted someone quoting someone is not acceptable. (Yes, I meant to write that.)
When writing nonfiction, you need be confident enough in your position to be quoted straight up by someone else. This begins with author qualifications to write. At some point, they need to carry enough credibility to be quoted, with their credentials supporting their position.
However, great care is needed if a writer wants to venture into “original theology.” Editors (and, I might also add, agents) at Christian publishers have their antennae up for it, since new theology is always in error. Original thinking only goes so far when it comes to the Bible. Sure, we want a clear explanation of what the Bible says; but trouble is brewing when an author leaves Scripture far behind at the rest stop on the road to making their point.
To battle this direction, aspiring pastors and church-ministry workers who attend seminary are exposed to biblical languages. As they unpack a passage for their congregation, they support their points with knowledge of the original text. Many Christian authors find themselves returning to school to bolster their theology with proper methods of exegesis.
Your original thinking should be backed up by eternal thinking. The Bible is the best source of credibility for any book, so quoting it frequently has no downside. (Actually, the most dangerous part of any sermon is when the preacher closes the Bible and keeps talking!)
Be original as much as possible, because you are the expert with book-writing-level knowledge of a subject.
And by the way, “original” writing is not adding two more love languages Gary Chapman hasn’t thought of yet.
You can write anything you want and use whatever method assembling your manuscript you prefer. But in general, publishers (and agents) are looking for your voice and thoughts, not someone else’s thinking.
This doesn’t mean you never quote or refer to another work. But as much as possible, make every effort to create original material that someone else might quote in their book years in the future.
Damon J. Gray
Dan, while I applaud most of what you said above, one phrase is screaming for clarification. I read it four or five times trying to discern some meaning other than what it literally says.
“…since new theology is always in error.”
How can new theology always be in error? Theology is a method of study and analysis, specifically study and analysis designed to help us arrive at truth regarding God and his relationship to the creation, including us.
How can such study and arrival at conclusions be “always in error?” It sounds like you’re saying humanity knows everything there is to know about God, but that cannot be what you mean.
Surely I’m missing something here.
Good point. There is a difference between something which is new to someone and something made up by the author. As I study Scripture, eye-opening revelations are never new, just new to me.
Of course we don’t know everything there is to know about God, and never will.
Creatively, we can do just about anything to write an interesting story, but new theology isn’t one of them. Think Apostle’s Creed level issues.
And oddly enough, even the heresies seem to be on a “rinse and repeat” cycle.
My writing’s unoriginal,
plodding down the well-trod ways;
metaphors are marginal,
and I’m Emperor of Hackneyed Phrase.
There aren’t great insights to be found
in the void within my skull,
but although not tightly wound,
I find each day my joy is full
in pointing out the fresh green leaf,
the harbinger of coming spring,
and retelling my belief
that my best friend is Christ the King,
who walks beside me in this night,
the bearer of Eternal Light.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Good points, Dan. Even when writing magazine articles, there must be a balance between my own original slant on a subject and thoughts as well as an awareness of others knowledge of the topic.
So you’re saying that “giving donuts” is NOT a valid love language? I think you need to check your Bible again.
A theological issue far above my pay grade. I will gather more evidence from DD before commenting.
For those unaware, that’s “Dungeons and Dragons.” Dan’s go-to book of new theology.
The “Cruller Dragon” is particularly mean.