the importance of accuracy in creative narrative, and a recommendation for isobel kuhn's whom God has joined
In my last post, I shared the book Telling True Stories and discussed the craft of narrative journalism, or creative nonfiction.
As I read that book, one of the really important themes that emerged was the importance of accuracy in writing.
- In his article "The Line Between Fact and Fiction," Roy Peter Clark writes of "two cornerstone principles: Do not add. Do not deceive" (166).
- Katherine Boo places "the moral imperative ... with the writer" in her article "Truth and Consequences" (177).
- And Melissa Fay Greene, in her article "Adventures in History," points out, "When we choose to write nonfiction, our first commitment is not to be readable or to educate or to curry favor with our readers. It is to be as accurate as possible" (89).
As I reread Isobel Kuhn's Whom God Has Joined about John's and her early years of marriage and ministry in China, a scene she shared reinforced and fleshed out this theme.
Creative writer that she was, Isobel took on the writing of their missionary report letters. And conscientious editor that he was, John took on the marking up and nit-picking of her every word.
Isobel had a way of painting a picture with her words. And John, well, let's just say he wanted to make sure her painting wasn't too impressionistic.
It was quite a contention between them for a while. But as good marriage partners do, John and Isobel each learned to appreciate the gifts and personality of the other.
John learned that when Isobel wrote the letters, God used her words to move readers' hearts to prayer and giving. He eventually saw her creative skills as an incredible gift and was able to encourage her in it.
As for Isobel, she came to see the importance of accuracy in her writing and was able to graciously accept her husband's stricter conscience and accountability. As God moved in her heart later in life to write nine books, Isobel was truly grateful for John's early emphasis on accuracy, knowing that the honest telling of the historical details made her books that much better.
To this day, Isobel Kuhn is among my favorite missionary authors. Her voice is authentic, her transparent honesty and humor both endearing.
And I would have quoted her telling of these events, if I could only find my copy of that book. I write from memory here, so I hope I'm getting it right as that would be tragically ironic to write on the importance of accuracy and then not get the details right. I'm still hoping it will turn up. But if not, I will purchase another copy from OMF.
I highly recommend Isobel's books, my two favorites being By Searching (Isobel's story of losing her faith and finding it again) and Whom God Has Joined (one of my favorite wedding gifts for couples heading into ministry).
May your writing be honest and your reading stir your soul.
Multiplied grace and peace,