Writing fiction would be easier if I wasn’t a Christian. I’d just sit down and write whatever I wanted. No problem. But I am a Christian. And it’s frequently been a problem.
When I began writing more than 35 years ago, I had a BA in English and the English medal for my graduating class. I also had a very strong faith in God. It seemed natural to me to combine my knowledge of good literature with my faith.
I soon found, however, that not all fiction written by Christians was for me. Some books, like the Narnia series, delighted me. A few, like In His Steps, challenged me. But many of the others seemed trite and unrealistic. How could I write in a genre that I couldn’t whole-heartedly endorse? (Of course I didn’t like a lot of mainstream books either!)
As a Christian, did I need to write for the Christian market? Or should I just try to write great fiction, regardless of content or theme?
Over the years, I tried various things. Some worked and some didn’t. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t simply a Christian/secular issue, but a far more complex one. I had to understand the various kinds of fiction, determine whether I was going to write for the market or for myself, and strive to achieve excellence in all my work.
To begin with, I sorted the possible fiction markets into four categories and I decided I wouldn’t limit what I write but simply determine which ideas fit best in each category and write accordingly.
That which is commonly known as Christian fiction—stories that are comfortable and safe for evangelical Christians to read—no overt sex or violence or swearing, solid hope-filled themes, Christian characters another Christian can relate to, plot-lines which teach something good for a person who is already a Christian. Likely to be found primarily in Christian bookstores.
Many Christian writers, including myself, still sometimes find writing for category A frustrating. The restrictions can be stifling. Sometimes a character really needs to swear. Sometimes there can be no happy ending.
A surprising number of the Christian writers I’ve talked to (especially in Canada) say they don’t read a lot of Christian fiction because in the past so many of these stories have placed the message above the character and plot. These writers say they care more about well-written stories than stories with a Christian message. But the same authors who may not read much Christian fiction may still want to include a Christian perspective in the stories they write. Perhaps the hope is that the level of quality will be raised, and perhaps that is indeed happening.
Stories where the main theme or themes fit with Christianity—redemption, salvation, etc.—but the story may have elements that some evangelical Christians would be uncomfortable reading. Some will be close to category A (e.g. the Narnia books, the Mitford series), but others will have swearing or other unacceptable things in them. While some will be found in Christian bookstores, most will be found in secular bookstores or public libraries. (e.g. Susan Howatch.) These may be published by Christian companies, secular companies, or companies that have divisions in both areas.
Stories written by Christians but not specifically dealing with any Christian issues or themes. May be light or heavy. Likely to be found in only secular bookstores. (e.g. Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James). They are normally published by secular companies.
Stories with at least one character who comes to have a faith (or a stronger faith) in God. The evangelistic overtones can be overt or subtle. The goal is normally to have the reader make a similar decision. These stories are normally quite difficult to get published, especially if they are overtly evangelical. They are not really targeted for Christians and therefore may not interest Christian publishers, yet may be too Christian for a secular publisher/bookstore.
While many Christian writers veer toward this type of book, few publishers are actually looking for this kind of story.
As I struggled over the years to decide which of these categories is the best one, I finally realized that none of them is any better or more sacred than the others. In other words, God calls Christians to write in every one of these categories. Some of us will stick to a single category; others will write in two or even three categories; a few of us will write in all four. But every Christian doesn’t have to write Christian fiction; and every book written by a Christian doesn’t have to have the gospel message in it. If we seek God’s direction, strive for excellence, and ask him to use not only our writing but every part of our lives, we will be fulfilling his call to be fiction writers.
Re-posted from January 2006. Copyright N. J. Lindquist, 2013. This article was first published in Exchange magazine in 2002. Not to be reprinted without permission.
This morning I decided to bring up the same questions other Christian writers wrote about on your website. I would like to share a clip of my own experience. One night while I was on my computer, I received what I refer to as a spiritual perception. It told me to clean up my act and I would receive the help I needed to write a novel. What I had to clean up I will leave as a mystery for now because each of us have our own flaws. Most important, I decided to comply. The next thing I discovered was searching for everything I could find on the internet to teach me grammar, punctuation, story telling, story showing, plots, themes, reading, writing—and the list goes on.
After a couple of months after writing the story, I began to ask myself if or even how I could include God in my story. The title of my novel: The Jurassic Jungle, came from one of my artworks. Revision after revision came as the characters in my story started to come to life and started to tell me what to write. I felt their pain, their darkness, their fight between fate and destiny as well as my own struggles that fit into the story. I must admit, I had tears in my eyes whenever I felt their pain, despair, love, and joy.
The story I wrote has some very raw moments and descriptions because life is like that. But, other scenes take us from doubt to enlightenment that brings Jesus into the story in a unique way. I am currently working on my next novel about a cowboy mentalist. My novels are peppered with both fiction and reality that I believe both Christian and non-Christians will find not only entertaining, but mysterious, profound, and a way for a person to think about a higher energy of what lies beyond our lives. I’ve also learned that I finally discovered one of the many plans Jesus through God and the Holy spirit have had for me. We are finally on the same page.
Hi NJ. Thank you for this post. It’s been very helpful. Growing up I’ve been heavily controlled by my parents with their Holiness conservative views and they’ve (in a toxic way) been controlling my writing ever since I was little. I found my niche of my favorite writing genre in high school and it’s what I love to do. I know paranormal romance to some is not their cup of tea and that’s fine but it’s my best work. As a Christian, I’ve struggled with my fear and mental health due to the trauma from my parents but I’ve come to the realization I have to break free from them and follow my dreams while still staying true to my self and God.
I write in Category C but stick to my values and morals. I don’t cuss and my characters value abstinence until marriage. Good over evil always triumphs. I use magic in ways such like Narnia and Lord of the Rings. Good magic to save people, bad magic to hurt and using good to stop them.
To me, how I honor God is to show that good overcomes evil, that finding love and holding onto it when evil tries to break it up is always worth it, and that waiting for your special one is amazing. I may show some scenes after to show how amazing lovemaking is once you marry and that’s it.
I don’t write to lead people astray. I can’t control what people do once they finish a book. But I work hard to keep my writing as I show above to hold to those reasonings and that’s all I can do as a writer.
My fear is always evident and I worry about others judging me. Fear of doing something wrong. But finding more and more of those who are more like me but staying true to themselves and creating stories that are authentic and real and prove the author’s messages clearly, as I’ve found here, is what helps keep me going even when my fear says not too.
Thank you, NJ.
Glad I could help.
Life is a journey and it seems there’s always something new to learn. And something to pass on for others.
I’d like to ask, what do you feel about fiction about characters not very represented in the Bible? For example, I’ve been thinking about writing the Pharoah’s experience in the story of Moses and other similar stories revolving around flawed characters and their downfall. I certainly wouldn’t like to offend anybody or insult the Bible or anything. How much is too much?
When I teach Point of View, I always encourage people to consider what a familiar story would be like if told by a different character. Because POV choice is a huge part of every story. Have you ever seen a TV show or read a book where several characters tell their verison of the story? It’s always interesting.
Thomas Costain’s book The Silver Chalice tells the story of The Last Supper from the POV of a young silversmith. Lloyd C. Douglas’s book The Robe tells the story of the Roman soldier who ended up wtih Jesus’s robe after the crucifixion. Both are fiction, but both books can really make you think.
One of my favourite books when I was young was a reader we had in Sunday school when I was in grade 7. It had short stories (all fiction) about people in the early church. It was called Theirs is the Kingdom. (Just happened to find this! https://www.etsy.com/listing/555605440/theirs-is-the-kingdom-jack-m-macleod )
So, yes, of course you can tell the story from Pharoah’s point of view. However, you’ll need to make sure you’ve done the research so you have a very good idea of which Pharoah it might have been and how he would have responded according to those times.
Hope that helps.
I was wondering, I am writing a detective/mystery series and the focus is on a rude, blunt, anti-social detective that is not nice to be around, but is a generally good guy, and doesn’t openly talk about it but is a Christian. I don’t know if it would make people think that Christians are hypocrites? Or should I just write what I want to write? Is it fine that the focus of the story is not necessarily Christ and the message isn’t Christian?
I’d say write what’s in your heart, what you know, and what you read.
Personally, I read very few mysteries written for the Christian market because so many of the ones I’ve read felt contrived to me. I do read a ton of mainstream fiction – especially the classic-style whodunits, so that’s the market I write for.
A key exercise is to picture your ideal reader, and think about what that person would enjoy. (My ideal writer is me! :) )
Many mainstream writers include Christians in their books without focusing on the religious aspects. (e.g. Donna Andrews)
One mystery novel I did enjoy – and that was published by a Christian publisher was Dead as a Scone. The description of your detective made me think of it.
Linda Hall is another writer who has written atypical Christian mysteries. Especially her Coast of main mysteries. http://writerhall.com/my-books/coast-of-maine-series/
Hope this helps.
I was told by God write a story of how my life took turns and glitches but now I am on the right path. Please help me with your knowledge of how to publish my book. Thank you Valerie Andrews
You might want to check out some of the articles on my websites for writers: https://writewithexcellence.
For example, you might want to listen to the short video I did. https://writewithexcellence.com/10-essentials-for-successful-writing/
Thank you for this!
I am curious regarding my graphic novel series…
It is similar to Narnia, but includes death (as well as resurrection; only by God) and sword fighting (little to no blood at all). It also has light romantic themes ( kissing only) and very mild language from the antagonists at worst (da*n or jacka**). The heroes don’t swear and God in my book is all Christ-like characteristics in action for obvious reasons, while in a fictional universe.
Should I make edits to any of this if it is going to be teen friendly? What category is this considered?
Thanks for your comment.
The main thing is, what do you hope to do with your novel? Are you hoping for a traditional Christian or mainstream publisher or planning to indie publish or… ? It’s basically about what your target audience wants/accepts.
Also, if you haven’t, you might want to check out my other website for writers. https://writewithexcellence.com
This is a great article. As Christians we want to be salt and light in the world but it puzzles me why we are so worried about a swear word or the mention of sex. I honestly think we need a reality check. Which is closer to Christ’s heart – a story that exposes injustice and points to healing (and contains the occasional swear word) or a story that doesn’t say much about anything really but has no swearing? I don’t like ultra gritty stuff, but I think we’ve lost sight of what godliness is really about.
Thank you for this blog! I am also struggling with it lately. I used to write ‘clean’ stories in the past, but lately I enjoy writing about characters on the edge of society, people who are so different than I am, but who have also different opinions than I have, f.e. about violence and premarital sex, or characters who are gay (not giving these kind of people a voice in my stories started to feel wrong too). I know my audience consists of mainly non-christian people and I like to communicate a positive message through my stories, not something overly evangelic, but more like being able to forgive someone who has hurt you, or self-acceptance, just letting them reflect on their own lives… I think something that most non-christian authors also do. But yeah, contrary to what I’ve seen below in the comments I do write sexual scenes now and then (let’s say 4 out of 100 scenes) if it contributes to the story line (for example, I wrote about a girl who was abused in the past, so anything sexual wasn’t something I could simply skip, for it felt like it would be a hiatus in her character development). I always focus on the characters’ thoughts and feelings instead of the actual acts, because that’s what’s most important for their development. I don’t know, leaving out premarital sex feels weird when characters don’t have a reason to do so. I did write a book about a Christian girl who fell in love with a pirate and towards the end they married and he started to believe, but I’ve ‘done’ that kind of person now and I like to delve into the mind of other types of people.
Haha sorry, I have no idea where this is going, I kinda felt the need to just let my thoughts flow. The main thing is that I wonder if I should feel bad about writing violence, or sex outside marriage. Things God doesn’t approve of, but which is an issue in daily life. I’m writing for years and it never bothered me, but I feel like my boundaries are getting looser and I’m not sure if that’s something I should fight.
I don’t mean to promote the things I mentioned above but I neither feel like it’s my role to judge it (mainly premarital sex among non-Christians) , but I just like to write about different kinds of people and not only about Christians.
I consider myself as a secular author who is a Christian, and who writes mainstream books, sometimes with Christian protagonists, but often not, and I don’t know, I just don’t know other authors who are also Christian with whom I can discuss things like this. I tend to reason everything I write and I always strongly believed that God is the one giving me inspiration, and I also pray for it, but I feel sometimes like I’m judged for writing about non-christian people without converting them.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think we do need to talk about these things and not merely “assume.”
Some random thoughts:
In my mysteries, in particular, I usually have a couple of Christians (not that all Christians are alike) as well as a lot of people of varying degrees of faith or none at all. But I don’t seek to have people converted. Maybe to think a bit. Possibly move one square.
Also, a Christian isn’t necessarily a good person, any more than a non-Christian is necessarily a bad person. I think there’s a lot more grey in morality than we sometimes realize. I’ve had a number of people comment on Glen’s parents in my Circle of Friends series. They aren’t Christian but they are really nice, kind, loving, intelligent people. And some of the Christians in that series aren’t kind, loving, or intelligent.
So… I guess I’m saying it’s good to write about life and to be honest. Not that everyone will read or write ths same thing, but I think you need to write what you would want to read. And to explore what you think in your writing.
And not only does every book not have to have someone be converted, but books can be for pure entertainment, too.
Also, the very act of writing can be an act of worship.
Thank you so much for this article. I’m a bit relieved to see just how difficult this topic can be for other Christians too, not just for me.
You see, I’ve always loved books with magic and fantasy-like creatures. And in my book, I planned to give powers or magic to these mystical creatures that I would create… but… I’m not so sure if this would please God. I don’t want to do anything sinful by writing this book, and I’m just not sure if Christian authors are able to write about magic, because I know the Bible condemns magic. (These powers would be like the character controlling the wind or having ice powers). I also know Jesus can only do this, so… I don’t want to like in a way ‘impugn’ Jesus’ power to that of these characters. It would simply be like a world with magical creatures (such as like dragons can breathe fire). Does that make sense?
I also did plan for the protagonist for awhile to sort of assassinate people, but throughout the book they would begin to realize just how wrong it is, and no matter how far someone strays, they can always turn back to God for forgiveness. Though I’m worried if writing about like… murder and assassination is sinful as well.
Could I perhaps get your advice on these subjects? Thank you so much.
Writing about bad things or bad people doesn’t mean you’re bad or sinful. It means you’re exploring the human existence. The reality is that none of us are perfect, and by accepting that reality, and delving into what makes someone go outside the lines of right and wrong, you might be helping a reader understand something that is hard for them.
The best examples I can think of are C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series and Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring . In each of these series there’s at least one “good” person who does something wrong or fails to do what they know is right. How they and others dealt with that weakness is what ultimately makes the stories so powerful. We all have flaws. It’s what we do in spite of those flaws that matters.
There are many more current fantasies written by Christians. For example, Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper series. https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/donita-k-paul/ Another Christian author I know whose books I love is R. J. Anderson. https://www.rj-anderson.com/books/ Two other Christian fantasy authors I’ve read are Stephen R. Lawhead and Bryan Davis. But if you Google Christian fantasy you’ll find more.
I don’t know if they’re Christian at all, but two of my favourite books over the last year or two are The Dragon with Chocolate Heart and The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis. My oldest grandson loved them, too.
I’d also strongly suggest you check out some of the books published by Enclave Press, a Christian fantasy publisher. https://www.enclavepublishing.com/ They also sponsor an annual writing conference.
Hope that helps!
I Thank God that I’m not the only one struggling about this. I love reading and writing fiction books that is about Christian Faith. Although they are very “rare” since not everybody is interested in Christian Novels.
So my Opinion on Christian writing, for me it’s okay to write how sinful and disgraceful the Protagonists or the Characters could be because then you will apply how God will step in to their lives. How great is God’s grace and love that he forgives a sinner like a murderer, a fornicator, an addict, an adulterer and others. Because the Bible itself talks about God’s forgiveness towards sinners. So as writers were just going to write something similar with that but in a modern world.
God bless and Keep writing for the Glory of God.
Thanks for your comment, James.
Personally, I tend to read many more novels than nonfiction books, and I feel I learn just as much from them. especially about people.
Hi! I’m working on a story right now and I have a question. I’ve characterized the female protagonist as a hard-drinking free-spirited young lady who engages in premarital sex in flings from time to time, but over the course of the story she sobers up and stops engaging in premarital sex. However, I’m afraid that writing a character that starts off the way she does would be a sin on my part. What are your thoughts on this?
I don’t see how portraying the character as she was could be considered a sin. How else can you show the difference? The key is not to expend a lot of detail on (kind of glorifying) on the “bad parts,” but to show the small changes as they occur as honestly as you can. yes, i have read biographies (so true stories) where 9/10th of hte book is about the past and only a single chapter at the end is about the present. I’d rather see both sides of the person – then and now.
For example, my novel In Time of Trouble is about an 18-year-old who has messed up his life, but I have to show the reader who he is and how he feels first so you can understand how he changes. it wouldn’t have the same impact if I just said he was a tough guy who turned to God. The story is about why/how he turned to God.
Here is my dilemma – I am a new author and have written a book that straddles older MG & younger YA. It is an adventure/mystery/animal story. It is not overtly Christian, but one mention each is made of church and Bible reading. I would like a broader audience than just Christian bookstores and I need a literary agent and/or publishing house. How do I find an agent or publishing house that shares my values? Too many agencies have agents who will accept all kinds of definitely UN Christian themes (immorality or occult, etc.).
First, congratulations on writing a book!
A mention of church or a Bible reading shouldn’t be a problem. But there has to be an overall context they fit into. Maybe a relative who is a Christian, or some other reason for them being there. But everything in the book needs to fit in some way.
There are mainstream books that do mention God and/or are written by Christians. By reading a number of books that are aimed at the same target audience as you, you might find a publishing house or see which agent represents the author. Or you might just realize that what you really want/need is a Christian publishing house.
You might want to check out this blog and others on my site for writers:
Wow. I really needed this article. Currently I write under 2 different names so I can write in different genres. Sadly both are really me. Thanks so much for this article!
– James Howard, author of “What So Proudly We Hailed”
Exactly. I write under two names as well (soon to be three), and all are totally me!
Thank you for this article. I am writing a book that involves a murder-plot but no cursing or detailed sexual scenes. As a christian , I was hesitant about writing a book that does not have biblical principals . Your theory and categories clear up some of my concerns .
Glad to be able to help! It’s all pretty confusing.
When I started reading books the church library was my main resource window. I quickly learned that Christian fiction was usually overly simplistic or poorly written. Patricia M St. John’s books were a welcome exception.
Then, reading aloud the Narnia collection to my children, introduced me to the wonder and class of quality imaginative fiction. I no longer leaned on my church library after discovering Lewis.
From there, I moved mostly to Christian non-fiction, enjoying the likes of Elisabeth Elliot , Corrie ten Boon, and in time, meatier theology (Lloyd-Jones and Packer for example) all of whom I privately ordered or picked up (occasionally) from my local Christian bookstore.
Now, three-plus decades later, I’m neck deep in my own writing season (a spiritual memoir) and am deeply surprised at how under-connected, under-serviced, or under represented this genre is in the Canadian Christian market. Perhaps in the North American market. Another take on the fiction Christian writer conundrum.
I imagine, thanks to the Word Guild and a few others (quality blogs are certainly helping) things are a thousand times better than they used to be.
Still, it’s rather shocking to me how little market, visibility, interest, and community there is, in readily visible ways, that mentor, promote, and feature skilled Christian writing.
Perhaps what Canada needs is the incorporation of MFA degrees or Creative Writing diplomas in our Christian colleges and universities? If this arm of education isn’t being recognized and promoted there, as it surely should be, how can we expect to develop enough thought and craft leaders, and a generation of appreciators of great Christian Canadian content?
This is the most helpful advice I’ve ever read concerning the Christian writer dilemma because I have the same problem.
I am a Christian but the stories I find myself writing aren’t all that “Christian”. I’ve tried writing for category A but always reach a roadblock.
The best I can do is pray and let God, Himself, guide my work.
Thank you very much.
Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa!
Agree, you have to figure out (with God’s help) where your heart is and write for that audience. I tend to write for Categories C and D myself. :)
Great article! I think the key to any of this is to infer. I’m writing a romance/thriller and it is clean, but there is still (obviously) a killer, FBI agents and police, and a heroine who has made a mistake in her past. I think the issue regarding profanity and death and sin in general is to infer it, not put it on display. I just read one Christian author whose character ‘muttered a curse’. And he was a Christian character. But now, I don’t have to have that word in my head. Of course, I don’t write sex scenes: my characters do have hedges up, and while there is desire there, it is handled the way a couple who is courting should handle it. I want it to be an example, as a single woman, on how we are to act. And I have many newlywed friends who handled it this exact way, so it’s not unrealistic. As far as the killer, I have ways of showing his coldness and inciting fear and showing him as a formidable adversary to my law enforcement, without being gratuitous. It’s like driving past roadkill, glancing at it, maybe catching a whiff, and driving on, knowing you have to be cautious on that road, as opposed to getting out of the car and going and playing with it. I’m no veteran writer, but from what I’m learning, the key is compelling, intelligent storytelling. Using the world’s words and ways isn’t necessary for that. By the way, I used to work with law enforcement and rode with one female deputy who didn’t cuss. We still had an exciting ride, some arrests, and she said that when one subject accused her of calling him a (cussword), no one believed him because they knew she didn’t cuss. There are Christian cops out there and no, they don’t cuss. And if they do, it doesn’t need to go in a book.
Thought-provoking article and your response is on point. I just want to follow up, as I’ve been pondering very similar thoughts in my attempt at writing a thriller (yes, a big leap from writing a kids’ book). The challenge is obtaining a “competitive” level of sensation and establishment of character, without including profanity or adulterous sex scenes. Can we take guidance from the narrative in the Bible of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba? If the goal is to make the situation as clear as possible, appeal to the reader’s emotions and keep them engrossed in the story, can we achieve that without providing a platform for immorality? Quite often profanity and explicit sex scenes are not used to drive the story, they are used to hook the reader by feeding lusts and appetite for the outrageous.
Just stumbled upon (not via that social network) this article. Excellent article, by the way. The categories are interesting. Intriguing, even, but I’ve tended to approach it from a slightly different perspective, one that accommodates more “secular” fiction and more “Christian” fiction. When I’ve talked to fellow Christians about my ideas, I’ve found that some definitely wouldn’t like some of the stories I write (because of characters who swear, for example), and others who have no problem with it.
My approach is this: We accept the Bible as the Word of God. It is the Truth, with a capital T. And what do we find there? We find that God gives us His commands and instructions on how to live. Yet we also find a lot of people who break those commands, who don’t follow those instructions. Some people commit murder. Others commit adultery. Some blaspheme. Some lie. Some cheat. People do all kinds of things, objectionable and commendable.
So why is it that some Christians find those actions offensive when put into a *fiction* context, but have no problems with it in the Bible? I find that to be a most intriguing question.
Many, including non-Christians, say that fiction is supposed to tell us the truth about the human condition. That sounds to me like it puts fiction right in the ballpark for any Christian. Or it should do. In the Old Testament and in the New, when people were adjured to “glorify God,” it often meant, “Tell the truth!” So, telling the truth, even in a fiction context, is God-glorifying, is it not? Christ told parables, and while they typically had a specific moral purpose, these were still stories, fiction. (I don’t think that means that all our fiction should have that purpose, although if people *are* doing wrong, readers *know* it, and readers — even when they’re not Christian — expect some kind of justice to follow as a result. They want the world to make sense.)
With that as my foundation, the questions I have (which are pretty much rhetorical) are these: Why then should it be sinful for a character in fiction to sin? Is that not telling the truth about the human condition? People do swear, after all. People do murder. They lie, cheat, steal, etc. So, why shouldn’t fiction be truthful about this aspect of humanity?
And then I started to notice that there are a lot of pithy statements in Proverbs that provide great themes for fiction. Some provide a great principle for characterizing fictional characters. To give one example…
“All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2, NASB).
There’s a principle that could go both ways for a fictional character, and it would all depend on his motives and his choices.
“He who returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house” (Prov. 17:13, NASB).
In a mystery, someone typically commits a murder, yet there is also someone who seeks to bring the murderer to justice. That’s so thoroughly Christian we’d have to be blind not to see it.
If you have a character who makes good, Christian choices most of the time, and she’s the hero of the story, you don’t need to search Proverbs for a godly theme for your story. Your character will provide it as a natural consequence of her actions as the story plays itself out. And that one principle, for me, is enough to know that the genre is irrelevant (unless it is explicitly sinful — porn being one example).
I appreciate your line of reasoning Gary. Your 2nd paragraph is particularly one that illuminates a sound rationale (to me anyway) for allowing our ungodly characters to be who they are — ungodly!
I remember reading Elisabeth Elliot’s one work of fiction years ago, and being surprised that she had one of her character’s swear. I wasn’t offended, just surprised. Elliot, after all, was one of the leading godly ladies and influencers of the 20th century, as far as North American authors/missionaries/speakers went.
Thanks for sharing your good, and biblical, line of reasoning with us.
Thank you for this post/thread. I’ve struggled with this issue in the writing of a thriller that involves Mafia activities. My protagonist’s father is the boss of the the Philly mob. Nick chose a nobler path in becoming a surgeon yet is thrust into his father’s dark world when his mother (who was a faithful Christian) is killed in a car accident. Nick struggles with the idea of a God who allows or is unable to prevent suffering yet sees God working throughout the plot. I’ve tried to write scenes that involve mob activities (including murder) without any profanity and they just don’t come off as authentic. I fear my manuscript will be too edgy for Christian publishers and too Christian for secular publishers, yet I felt God leading me down this road. Time will tell.
“Too edgy” for one group, “too Christian” for the other.
My, how many, many times (not in my writing, but in my theology – grin) I’ve been in a parallel place.
In your favor, at this time, is the far more open-minded world of publishing, on both sides — perhaps particularly so on the secular side but I can’t speak authoritatively on that. I imagine they’d perhaps be ahead of the Christian publishers on being willing to make room for the Christian / faith imprint in well written fiction. Mitford books for example, case in point. I’m sure there are many others.
It will be interesting to discover what Christian based publishers pull ahead of the pack by not being afraid to let crude boldness have its necessary place, even as they uphold, overall, good faith-driven writing or plots.
I’m category B, C, and D. It is not that I’m not a Christian or don’t enjoy occasional Christian fiction. I just can’t write it. I like books with great themes, plots, character development, and struggle. I don’t consider swearing necessarily wrong, either. I will never take God’s name in vain. Any other words I use (examples being the other word for illegitimate, whore, or a-s-s) are used in context. I think violence can be used the same way. And romance (not heavy erotica, mind you, but kissing and the like). I’ve made some friendships of mine uncomfortable with concepts like this, but it’s just who I am. And I believe God is calling me to write for the secular YA group. I know their voice and I know what they will listen to. God’s using that.
I’ve needed to read this so much!!! I’m a relatively new Christian (I grew up going to church and yet my faith in God has grown to be deeper and closer than any other time in my childhood or over my teen years (when I really didn’t think too much about it). It’s part of my daily practice now and I feel SO much closer to God. Yet, as a fiction writer I’ve struggled greatly with what I would normally write about – I’ve written about supernatural topics and ghost stories and I’ve thought lately…that really really doesn’t feel right anymore. I’ve been contemplating and praying about it a bit (I should more) but finally decided to google this topic. Reading your post made me feel better about more guided about what I should write. I will pray about it more but now I feel like it’s less of a taboo for me. I’ve loved writing all my life and can’t imagine giving it up or only writing Christian fiction (which is nice but not something I’ve connected to a lot; although I definitely don’t want to write it off). Thank you!
So true, NJ. While we often critique books from a literary/artistic standpoint, this brings up the question of how we should critique fiction authors for their “spiritual” decisions. That one is too moralizing. That one is too secular. That one is too dark. It’s hard to draw the line.
Ultimately, our writing should come as an extension of our spiritual life and relationship with God. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”, or in this situation, “the pen writes”. We have to walk and write in his Spirit, and encourage the writers around us as they also endeavor to write out of the overflow of their hearts.
WELL SAID. Allowing God to write and create together with us… Nothing can beat that!
Be filled and moved by the Holy Spirit as we write and he will make our work supernatural and leak out glory to all the readers. We’re not just engaging minds but human spirits. I believe in God’s creative power to flow through my pen.
Great post! You made things clearer for me. :)
Glad to help. :)
[…] *Inspiration for this post: The Dilemma of Being a Christian Who Writes Fiction […]
Awesome. Was struggling to figure this out :)
May I post a link to this article on my Twitter feed and LinkedIn update? (I’m a Category B and C-type editor, proofreader and reviewer.)
This is a wonderful article and a great help to one who wants to write as a Christian writer no matter how that may work out.
Maria, I don’t think there is a firm “right or wrong” as to what genre of fiction we write. That said, I can’t see writing any benefit to writing porn or erotica. However, within normal genres, I think there is room for lots of fiction that isn’t blatantly Christian but still has an element that will come in because of one’s faith. Just as someone who is into saving the environment will likely have something about that somewhere, large or small, in what they write.
A big thing is to understand who your target audience is and why. I’ll be talking about that one of these days.
I can definitely relate to this, thanks for posting. I am an incurable romanticist but as a Christian I too struggle with my stories as I do not want to write anything that would compromise my Christian values. I do write non fiction stories that are faith based and which I hope will inspire the reader, but I also write fiction in the romance genre. This is where I have to ask God for direction. I recently placed a story on hold because of this….. still struggling with it.
It seems to me that you have a unique ability to articulate the questions I have rolling around in my head, and then answer them quite well indeed. I’m confident that God has called me to write, but what shall I write and to whom??? I know that I need more education in writing and much, much more practise, but I still felt torn as to what direction God was calling me to. You’ve answered many of my questions and have shone a light through a soupy fog. Thank you for your insight, experience and your inspiration.