Why the World Needs Risky Christian Fiction

Hello and happy Wednesday!

The topic I’m covering today is one that tends to be pretty controversial, but I think it’s important to discuss – Christian fiction. I’ve found that, for most people, the words ‘Christian fiction’ spark an instant impression. One that’s not often favorable.

When talking about ‘Christian’ movies, I’ve found that most people think of low-budget, attempted feel-good films that can be somewhat enjoyable, but are also often full of cringe-worthy acting, shallow plots, and unrelatable characters.

General impressions of Christian novels tend to be the same, though far more people also think of stories featuring Amish (which I have always disliked, not because of the Amish aspect, but because of the usual errors, stereotypes, and inaccuracies in the portrayals that are then believed to be true).

It’s horribly sad to be a Christian author watching the disappointed expressions when others hear that I write ‘Christian fiction’. I greatly dislike Christian fiction being synonymous with cheap stories, cheesy characters, and low quality in most people’s minds.

What’s even worse is that I often think the same thing. Though there are plenty of amazing Christian stories, sadly I’ve seen far too many lackluster or even bad ones not to be jaded now. And that’s just not right.

While the reasons behind so many cringe-worthy Christian fiction stories could be – and have been – debated for a long time, the biggest reason I’ve found is simply that most Christian fiction is too safe. Too clean-cut. Too predictable and fake.

But that’s not how life is. In real life, not everyone converts to Christianity, and if they do, their lives are not suddenly sunshine and rainbows. In real life, Christians aren’t perfect and lovable people that always do what’s right, and non-Christians aren’t terrible and brainless puppy-kickers with tragic backstories. In real life, not everything ties up neatly.

Personally, I feel that, while issues with a lot of Christian fiction can be broken up into many categories, it mostly comes down to not taking risks. For one reason or another, many Christian authors shy away from showing realistic struggles and difficult consequences. Whether it’s simply writing what we wish life was like, or because we want to ‘keep it clean’, a lot of stories that are meant to be inspiring end up being flat and uninteresting.

How compelling is watching a character that never struggles with sin enter into a tempting situation? Not at all, because we know the author isn’t going to let the character give into temptation. How inspiring is watching a character forgive someone who hurt them when we know nothing of their inner turmoil? Again, not at all, because when all we see is a character’s apparent perfection, of course they’re going to do the right thing.

But I think that, deep down, most of us want to see the struggles. We want to see the turmoil and pain and temptation, and we want to see characters deal with the same issues we do. We want to watch them face the same challenges as we do, see the choices they make, and then observe the outcomes afterward.

We want to read stories where everything is thrown at a character, where everything bad that could happen to them does, where they have every reason to give up on life – but they don’t. We don’t want to be told why life is worth living, why love is so important, or why a particular choice is good or bad. We want to be shown. We want to watch as the character learns, and make our own judgement from the journey we’ve witnessed them take.

The age-old writing proverb, ‘Show don’t tell’, is especially crucial when it comes to writing Christian fiction. It’s wonderful to have themes and messages in our writing, but if your intent is to tell someone why to follow God, why they need to forgive and love, and why sin is bad, then a novel is not the right medium for you. Try writing an essay, an article, a non-fiction book, or a sermon (very valid pieces to write!).

Fiction is not intended to be a way to tell someone why they should or shouldn’t do something. It’s a way of showing why you believe something is true, through a captivating story that presents all sides fairly, and then letting the reader draw their own conclusion from what they witness.

The author can’t be pulling strings to force characters into making certain decisions, or to cause story events to happen just to further their message. The message must come naturally through the story – and the author must be invisible. Characters must make decisions that are consistent with their personality, story events must progress naturally from the previous ones, and messages must be tested.

Personally, I think this is where a lot of Christian fiction – but not just Christian fiction – falls short. Often authors give their characters positive ideals and strong morals but then never test them. And how is that inspiring or encouraging to readers? As humans we know life is hard. We know people don’t always do the right thing, that they struggle with what they believe, and that life doesn’t always go the right way. Anything less than that in fiction will feel manufactured.

If you want to communicate that courage is important, show the main character struggling with fear. Show them letting people down because they’re too petrified to do the right thing. Continually assault them with opportunities to be afraid – but also give them a reason to be brave. Let the character learn and change and grow. Let them make mistakes and then have victories as their story progresses and they take lessons to heart.

If you want to share the truth of God’s unending love, show the ‘unlovable’ in your story. Show why they are considered unworthy of love, both by their own standards and/or by the world’s. Maybe they know the choices they’re making aren’t good ones, but feel too trapped to ever change. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they believe their choices are just as acceptable as the next person’s. No matter the case, introduce them to someone who loves them anyway, and show how those interactions impact them. Show their struggles and turmoil as they wrestle with how to handle the new situations arising; as they fight to discover what’s truly right and wrong.

No matter what message you’re passionate about, the most important thing is that you let that message stand on its own two feet. If it’s truly worth believing, you don’t have to help it. In fact, it will be far more impactful if you don’t. Let it speak for itself, through the story; through the characters and plot.

Readers are smart. Think about it – you’re a reader too, aren’t you? You can recognize when authors are pushing their own agenda, and not presenting matters fairly. You can tell when characters make decisions that aren’t consistent with what they’ve done before. You can tell when authors aren’t allowing truly bad things to happen in a story, as if they’re afraid to show what might happen to a character’s morals when they’re under pressure.

But that’s exactly what we need to show. We need to take risks in our fiction, and allow our characters to be tested and stretched and put through trials. We need to give an accurate representation of what it’s like to live while upholding values and also show why it’s worth it, no matter what difficulty arises as a result.

When we’re willing to take risks with our stories, and not allow ourselves to ‘play nice’ with our characters, it shows. People notice. Those are the stories that continue to circulate over the years, touching hearts and influencing lives. And that’s what we all want our stories to do.

We want our stories to be more than a way to pass the time. We want them to be remembered and cherished and reread. I believe the best way to craft stories that do that is to be intentional about writing real, raw, and risky fiction.

Not horribly grim, depressing, and dark, but not painting the world to be candy corn and butterflies either. Light won’t show if there isn’t any darkness to contrast with.

Though I’m still new to this journey, I’m striving to take risks in my fiction. and to trust that God will use my stories to touch hearts. Will you join me?

Well, there’s so much more that could be said about writing Christian fiction, but those are some of my thoughts. Though I know everyone has varying opinions about it, I hope mine made sense to you. I’m no expert, but I’m learning – and enjoying the process of discovering what truly makes a life-changing story.

What are YOUR thoughts on Christian fiction? Is there anything you’d like to see a lot more – or less – of within those stories? I’d love to find out what you think, so let me know in the comments!

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Published by E. G. Bella

E. G. Bella is a bookworm turned author with a passion for cheesy puns, colorful characters, and contagious faith. Unlike most of her characters, she comes from a warm and loving home, and actually enjoys getting up with the sun. She writes in a wide variety of genres, crafting memorable, page-turning tales the whole family can enjoy.

13 thoughts on “Why the World Needs Risky Christian Fiction

  1. This is so good and such an important topic–one Christians need to talk about more! You have so many good thoughts here, and I completely agree with you. I would love to see more Christian authors deal with the darker side of life (such as abuse or depression) from a hopeful perspective. I believe that the light and truth of the gospel will shine more brightly when the darkness is greater. Of course, I’m not saying to put it in just for shock value or to dive too deeply into it, but we should be able to address it in a mature way that shows that no one is too far gone for Christ’s redeeming love.
    Thank you for this great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Kristianne – exactly! Light against light isn’t going to be noticed, but light against dark will shine brightly. And yes, the balance between shock-value darkness and using it to reveal Christ’s love and grace is a crucial one. Thank you so much for your thoughts today! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! I like your thoughts! And this is what I’ve done/tried to do with Knights of the Promise and the other novels in the Kaarathlon Series, not that I don’t do it with the Areaer Novels but those are less explicit. The Kaarathlon Series is high fantasy, but it’s very explicitly Christian, in a way the others aren’t.

    By the way, unfortunately it is out of print, but The Treekeepers by Susan Britton is really good! I think it does a lot of these things.

    But, yes, this is what Christian Fiction needs to be – real, and, also, drawn from the author’s not necessarily experiences but beliefs, understanding, struggles, or even attempts to understand, not what a book or paster he or she read or listened to said. I think the commonness of these issues in Christian Fiction is part of why a not insignificant amount of the fiction I like isn’t Christian (though I will always want to see what others think, including what those who don’t think what I do think).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s wonderful! It’s so great to hear from other authors who are striving to portray authentic Christianity and struggles in their books 🙂
      I absolutely agree with you. Finding a well-done Christian book is like finding a diamond; rare, but a true treasure. I hope those treasures start becoming a lot more common!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so great, and I completely agree! Too often Christian messages are seen as “cheesy and lame” when Christ’s story is anything but! I recently watched the movie “Beyond the Mask” with some friends (one of my favorites, I had seen it before and they hadn’t) and someone commented, “Woah, this is on pureflix? I didn’t know they could make anything good!” The point being, often Christian writers and movie-makers don’t make things “good”, but they can and must! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, it’s very sad to even have to make such comments, but it’s often true! Christian writers (of all types of media) must definitely strive to write quality pieces 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment!

      Like

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