Jane Eyre, A Wrinkle in Time, Chronicles of Narnia, Ben-Hur, The Lord of the Rings. What do these titles have in common? They are all classic Christian-themed fiction.
What makes these stories classics though? A classic is a book noted for exceptional writing. A classic book resonates with readers and begs to be read over and over.
While some classics may be up for debate, the point remains the same. A classic becomes a classic by telling a good story. Unfortunately, this is something that many Christian novels lack today.
Before you get mad and think I’m bashing Christian authors, let me assure you that’s not my intention. As a Christian fiction author, I think it’s important for me to understand what makes for good, and not-so-good, books.
So what makes for good Christian fiction?
The Story is the Important Part
While Christian themes are important to portray, the story is the most important part of any fiction book. As a fiction author, it’s not my place to preach to you. My job is to entertain and draw you into the story.
This means creating believable characters with believable plot lines. This means giving you a picture and allowing you to take a journey with my characters.
It’s my job to share relatable stories with you. You need to care about my characters and the problems they are trying to overcome. It’s my job to make you care.
Keeping the Story Real
One way I can make you care about the story is to share real-life scenarios. Even when writing fantasy, people will have real emotions and real problems. If I try to sugar-coat or ignore real life, I’m not actually engaging you as the reader.
Too often Christian authors shy away from real-life scenarios because they don’t want their readers to feel bad. The thing is, you need to have those emotional connections to truly enjoy the story. If my characters never have to overcome real life obstacles, how will you relate to them?
This means, sometimes as an author, I have to deal with touchy subjects. I don’t have to go into great detail on these subjects, but I do need to acknowledge they exist.
This also means my characters have to react realistically. If my main character never gets mad at bad circumstances, are you going to relate to their struggle? The answer for most people is, no.
As characters, even my good guys have to be flawed. If I try to make everything sunshine and roses (or unicorns and rainbows), you don’t really get to know the characters.
Being realistic also means using factual scenarios. For instance, if I happen to write a historical fiction (this is just hypothetical), I have to make sure the language and terms are accurate. I also have to be consistent with my language choices.
A good example of this is the emergence of the village name in Children of the Forgotten. While past generations understood the term Anistemi, the “modern day” citizens did not. All except one of the village teachers.
By only introducing the significance through this teacher, I am being true to the understanding of the village people. If I had introduced this in any other way, it wouldn’t have made sense to the story.
Challenging the Reader
Realism in fiction also means challenging my readers in some way. A story shouldn’t make you comfortable. At least not in the beginning.
A good story should make you think about something you’ve never thought of. It should challenge you with a flaw you struggle with. It should make you nervous for the characters.
A good story should make you think about something real. If I’m not making you a little uncomfortable, I’m not doing my job as a storyteller.
As an author, it’s my job to observe the real world and weave those things into my books. Flannery O’Connor said it best:
“The Catholic writer is precisely someone who cannot rule out any subject matter; belief adds a dimension to what is seen, it does not take away. The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe.”
While she spoke to Catholic writers, the same is true for any Christian writer. It is our place to observe and share those observations. It’s our place to share truths of the world while still showing God in control.
Growing as a Christian
One of the best things about being a Christian author is the growth that comes with it. As I continue to learn and strengthen my faith, I get to share that growth through the stories I share. Hopefully I also help you grow in your own way as well.
Would you add anything to the list of what makes good Christian fiction? Let me know in the comments.
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