As a Christian, I enjoy fiction that incorporates a Christian worldview into the story. Not Christian fiction per se, though I read that, too, but I prefer stories in which the characters bring their own Christianity into the story. Madeleine L’Engle is great about that.
When I clicked on Revival: The True Fairy Tale, I didn’t know it was a work of Christian fiction that also claims to be science fiction. I mostly clicked on it because I found the title to be ambitious, and probably too pretentious, and I wanted to check the trailer against the preconceptions the title evoked in me.
Judge for yourself:
If you’re like me, you probably had a hard time suspending your disbelief through this trailer. In case it’s not obvious, a viewer’s (or reader’s) inability to suspend disbelief is bad. Readers come to a book (usually) willing to suspend their disbelief. They take a leap of faith and expect the writer to catch them and carry them through to the end. There are lots of ways to lose a reader when writing a book. There are lots of ways to drop them or shock them back into their disbelief. Sometimes it’s a temporary hiccup, but sometimes it shatters the narrative of the book and the reader can’t get it back, can’t follow you through the rest of the story. This is bad in a book; it’s worse in a piece of marketing.
This trailer starts by introducing the characters with a plain visual background and a heavy-handed musical score that, along with the title, really seems hard to live up to. What follows is a series of images that seem distorted, and it’s hard to tell how much of that distortion is intentional and how much of that distortion is poor execution. The animation—for example, the blinking boy—grabs attention, but it jars me out of the trailer. Please note that we’re 40 seconds into 3 minute trailer. Not a good sign.
Then, at the 1 minute mark the heavy-handed music turns into crashing symbols and the word “astounding” is highlighted. And I can’t help but think, “Let me be the judge of that. Saying your book is astounding doesn’t make it so. You haven’t even begun to convince me yet.” The trailer has literally lost my attention for 15 seconds, simply because I find that claim unbelievable, and I have to scroll back to catch up. At this point, I realize that the music is very Christian and that the images are… Well, I’m thinking that it seems too much like Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web with a little dose of Alice in Wonderland thrown in. And it’s still lost me. My skepticism is up, like the bristled back of a cat in full hissing mode, and I can’t seem to suspend my disbelief. A mix of fantasy, Christian, and horror images scroll by, and I have no idea what’s going on. What’s the story? What’s the plot? Do these images really have anything to do with the story?
And then another audacious claim: “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story.” Now I’m thinking, “What the…?” (Yes, that is an accurate reflection of how I try to censor myself from unnecessary profanity.)
I mean, really… I totally buy that you can mix fantasy and Christian or science fiction and Christian. I totally get that stories can be true in ways that matter, without being factual, without being real events. But… When you compare your own work, your own story, to scripture…
Tangent: I first read C.S. Lewis in the fourth grade, started in the middle of the series, and stopped because I was confused. Then, in the fifth grade, I had to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I devoured it. I read the entire series. Multiple times. I was in my twenties before I realized—and I had to be told this—that these books were Christian allegory. I didn’t know. And that’s okay. The stories worked, both as stories and as life lessons from a Christian worldview, whether I recognized the stories as Christian allegory or not. Granted, the not knowing is probably a rarity—C.S. Lewis was a very public Christian apologetic, after all—but it worked without that, it worked as a story.
So, this in-your-face association makes me wonder if the story can hold up on its own, as a story. More than that, the claim that the story is scripture is an affront to my sensibilities as a Christian reader. Overly ambitious and pretentious doesn’t begin to cut it. It’s the power of words at work. See, if the writer claimed that hers was “A Spirit Filled Story Inspired by Holy Scripture,” then that would be one thing. That would be just fine. Claiming that the story is “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story” is something else entirely. The meaning is entirely different, and the meaning of the latter is at best preposterous, at worst sacrilege.
Then, and keep that hissing cat image in your mind, the trailer challenges my courage with the words “if you dare!” I mean, really, at this point, not only do I not know the story (a big mistake), but any daring that would be required is how much offense I’m willing to risk. I have no faith that, whatever story this writer is trying to tell, the writer can pull this story off. The question is, “Is it worse than I think? Is it so bad that I couldn’t even finish it?”
Then there’s this claim that it’s sci-fi and the whole thing where nothing I’ve seen suggests science is involved at all. But, as significant as that might be for another trailer, it’s really beside the point for this one. Trust and faith is already broken on a much bigger scale.
The point is that marketing a book requires a deft hand. People who view your marketing materials, like people who read your book, are going to come to your work willing to suspend their disbelief. But you can lose them at any time. You have to earn the claims you make, and you have to make only those claims which you can earn within the scope of your material. Be bold, sure, but don’t overdo it. Promising too little is problematic, because it’s harder to capture interest and build excitement. But promising too much is worse, because it breaks trust. That’s bad enough when you make believable promises and your book doesn’t deliver. It’s worse when your promises are unbelievable, because even in the unlikely event that your book makes good on all your promises, the potential reader won’t ever know it, because they’ll never read it.