The Best Writing Book You've Never Read

I tried to get off easy this week with my Fourth of July pictures, but my conscience wouldn't let me skip the real post I had intended for this week.

A series of events led me to purchase Jeffrey Overstreet's

Through a Screen Darkly

from Amazon. This is a 2007 release, so I'm a little late with my review! But you can still purchase this book online from various major booksellers. (I don't know him--this is not a paid promotion. :-)

This will probably be the best nonfiction book I read this year.

Jeffrey Overstreet writes a beautiful series of personal essays on his experience of watching movies as a Christian moviegoer. And he was the movie reviewer for Christianity Today, so he's seen a few movies in his time.

The opening of this book was so moving and well-written I was surprised by my gut reaction to it. This is a book for everyone who cares deeply about faith and art, and how the two mix. You know all those blogs about whether Christian writers "should" write this way or that way, or whether such-and-such is immoral in inspirational fiction? This book is a profound but gentle invitation to consider these issues, as a believing moviegoer or as a writer of faith. Overstreet takes us through his own experience and what it means to watch secular films with an eye to God's glory, even when a filmmaker may not have been conscious of those elements in his work.

Here's why I call this a writing book, and one I would recommend to all my writing friends.

Overstreet meditates on the power of story, and character, and how the spiritual effect of a movie depends on how an event is portrayed, not so much the event itself. I loved his point that many hero movies never portray the consequences to the villain's family when the hero kills the villain. (In Fairer than Morning, I wrote a scene in which the heroine considers the real implications of the death of a 'bad' character, which is exactly the kind of thing Overstreet means.)

Readers and moviegoers, Through a Screen Darkly will remind you why certain novels or movies changed your life, and why watching a film can be a deep spiritual experience. Overstreet will also give you a great list of films for your "to-watch" list.

Writers, Through a Screen Darkly will make you think deeply about your writing and its purpose. It will energize you with the power (and oddity) of some of the stories that have proven to be unexpectedly moving on film. If you're ever feeling discouraged or doubtful about the power of story to change lives, this is the book to pluck from your shelf.

And if, like me, you are part of Overstreet's generation, you will love it even more as he takes you back to your childhood as a moviegoer.

(Review policy: As many of my friends and readers know, I don't review fiction on my blog because of potential conflicts of interest. I do occasionally review nonfiction, as I have here, or discuss the technique in a novel as a praiseworthy example of good craft.)