A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Learning From Novels: Leah Good’s Counted Worthy


For the first of hopefully several novel discussion posts, I’ve chosen a novel I got for Christmas last year. Leah Good is a young, self-published, Christian novelist. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. I was convinced to put Counted Worthy on my Christmas list because there was some excitement over the book on The Rebelution.

  First, before I go on, let me say that I am almost literally impossible to please when it comes to novels. (And I use ‘literally’ in the literal sense.) Modern novels have even less of a chance. I don’t like the typically scanty atmosphere they are barely able to muster. Nonetheless, I decided to try to stay positive, and read Counted Worthy.

  There are a lot of different little things I could say about this book, but I’ve narrowed it down to a major good point, and a major bad point. Bad news first:

  In a word, worldbuilding. The term “worldbuilding” is commonly thrown around in the realms of speculative fiction writers, but really, it applies across the board. You must build your world. Counted Worthy is a futuristic dystopian novel. One of the essentials of the dystopian genre is to give a very strong sense of cultural decay by vivid, imaginative worldbuilding.

  Good slacked a little bit here, in my opinion. No, she did try a bit. You have the typical banned-book list and incinerator combo, the neglected city slums, the hyperactive corrupt police force…but she stopped there.

  Frankly, what she needed was either more imagination or more ability to express it. We have here, the framework of a dystopian culture—the bare essentials. We need some specific details.

  For example, she metions briefly that the clothes people where in the inner city are extravagant. But she never describes a single outfit that would typify these fashions. So, the reader is left wondering if it’s really okay if they’re imagining Hunger Games style mock 17th century garb.

  Likewise, you hear next to nothing about architecture, technology, or transportation. Okay, so we know people have these things called ‘pocket screens’ which are essentially no different than today’s iPhones. For whatever reason, we just call them pocket screens now. (Think about this: do names for technology usually become more bland and literal, or more trendy and brand-based as time goes on? Television is called TV now.) Also, she does avoid the problem of creating futuristic means of transportation by saying that cars are too expensive for non-government people to drive, therefore they stick to old-fashioned bicycles.

  In my opinion, this makes some of the action scenes a little bit humorous to imagine visually, but for some reason I’ve never been able to take cyclists seriously.

  On the other hand, the main thing I observed about the book was a good thing. There are a ton of Christian writers at work today, but barely a handful actually write Christian fiction.

  In saying this, I’m not judging Christian authors as writing immoral or un-Christian novels, what I’m saying is what they’re really doing is pumping out a lot of ‘clean’ romances. If you took the occasional prayer, or church service, or scripture-quoting out of the manuscript, not much would change. Not so with Counted Worthy.

  The subject matter of Good’s novel is what makes it good. It’s not just a mediocre story with some good things in it and, most importantly, some bad things not in it. The essence of the story is Christian. What’s more, it’s a very non-rosy, non-happily-ever-after story about gritting your teeth and hanging on when things look hopeless. For that reason, I hope it starts a trend.

  But keep in mind, if you intend to write a dystopian novel, you will need to invest in your setting. Hone your worldbuilding skills. Have fun with it. Your readers will thank you.

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