There has been quite a lot of disagreement in the world of Christian fiction in recent years (and I suppose in Christian music, too) about balancing story and message in Christian (biblical worldview, CBA, or whatever you want to call them) novels. Many readers are tired of the same old story lines with a preachy style and a mandatory character conversion. Other readers denounce more "edgy" books that uphold story and questioning over overt message and giving answers.
I was listening to an old CD of mine this morning, produced in 1994, called "Everything That's On My Mind" by artist, composer and producer Charlie Peacock. On the last track, an interviewer asks him questions about the CD, his life, and his music. Charlie talks about why this album is different than some of his other ones, and why it is so introspective. He also talks about using a live band to record with instead of doing so much of his instrumentation alone on his computer, and why he wanted the music to be simple and consistent. Below is a partial transcript of his answer to one of the questions. I'll tie this in to fiction in a moment.
Interviewer: Why was consistency so important to you?
Charlie: Because I didn't want people to miss the lyrics. When you're all over the map musically, there's gonna be some degree of people that can't enter into the music simply because they don't like the form of it, and I felt by creating a consistent style of music and consistent instrumentation that it would serve the content. I don't think Christians can ignore the degree to which the medium is the message in our culture. Let's try not to do that. More often than not, people need to be able to walk into the music first, and then the lyrics, second. That wouldn't be my first choice of the way I would want it to be, but that is the way it is. And if people can't do that, that is, to walk right into the music and enjoy it and then find their way into the lyrics then the chances of them ever getting to the meat of what the artist is trying to say is pretty slim.
When I heard that I thought, wow, that's the way it is in fiction, too.
The medium is so important to the delivery of the message. In essence, Charlie is saying we have to please, or entertain, the listener (or for my purposes, reader) in order for them to enter into the music and connect with the lyrics (the message of the story). We can't just plop the message out there any old way and expect people in our time and our culture to lap it up just because it's truth. Who are we trying to reach in our music or our fiction? The medium is as important as the message. The message will never be heard if there isn't something for the listener/reader to enjoy and get into first. Only if they're already engaged will they be able to hear the message. So write the novel with the story in mind. Make sure it's great, so the reader can engage. Don't just write to bash them over the head with a message.