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Observations on the Other Side of the Contest

Observations on Writing Christian Fiction culled from comments on the novels submitted to the ACM novel contest.

First and foremost, our culture needs good stories, well crafted and edited, which affirm and extend thinking about Christian ideas and teaching. Sometimes these stories have to be communicated in an explicit way but that approach often limits readership and we end up ‘preaching to the choir’. A good story which is well crated can make its message subtle and therefore more widely appealing by restraining the impulse to make it explicitly Christian.

Don’t try to ‘put on’ a Christian mask in order to write a Christian story. Just be a good writer and let your deep commitment to Christ come out in the story you write. Don’t try to force some kind of moral onto it, or squeeze one out of it.

Seldom are introductions a good idea. They imply that the author doesn’t trust his own writing to convey his meaning, or that he does not respect his reader. This disrespect is implied by his unwillingness to acknowledge that the reader is smart enough to get the point.

Don’t  tell the reader too much; allow him to put the pieces together himself. It will mean so much more to him that way.

Since you obviously have some talent writing and desire to write Christian fiction, I recommend that you immerse yourself in Bible Study, find a good systematic theology book, and begin to study the kinds of false worldviews that influence all of us these days. Turn off the Christian radio station and television and movies so that your thinking is less influenced by anything other than the real thing.

If you choose to write a story in an explicitly Christian way, you have to be so careful that none of the implicit messages are contrary to it.

Some worldly ideas have crept into your story. You may not even have thought about it this way and are probably sure that young readers never would. And you may be right. This is what makes literature such a powerful tool for good or for ill. It is the subtle messages that shape the soul. The outright ideas are easily identified and rejected.

Most young people are so very quick to see through an attempt to teach them and resist it.

Every good story should begin with something happening which hints at the theme, the characters, or the meaning of the story, but does not come right out and tell the reader.

Historical Fiction is extremely hard to write for beginning writers. It takes extensive research, reading first hand accounts written at the time. It requires more scrupulous attention to the plausibility of settings and fastidiously avoiding placing modern notions and motives on people in the past. Unfortunately, Christian authors cannot rely on textbooks, the history channel, or the internet for research. We must go to original sources without preconceived notions and immerse ourselves in first hand accounts.

Fantasy has been so overused in recent times that it has become trite. Thinly disguised symbolism is more likely to stop a reader than draw him in. It often ends up making Christianity into a look-alike fairy tale. In a world that already assumes that it is a fairy tale, this approach is not helpful.

Conversion stories are notoriously difficult to write. To capture the depth of man’s sin and the amazing power and grace of the Holy Spirit as he converts blind, dead, enemies of God into beloved children is frequently beyond the scope of most authors.

A good story needs to show the reader things and let him come to his own conclusions about character, problems, and motivations. By doing this, Christian authors can avoid that preachy tone that we are apt to be accused of.

When writing an explicitly Christian story, it is important to avoid denominational lingo and stick by the historic language of the church.

While your characters can say anything, it is dangerous to associate Christianity with a particular political party. If there is some underlying philosophy of a particular party which is in direct opposition to God’s word, this can be taken on in a novel but it would have to be subtle in order to be received by the kind of postmodern readers we have to reach.

It is a general rule in fiction that you must begin at the most exciting point in your story and then communicate it in a way that draws people in.

It is incredibly difficult to write a love story which is not sappy or trite. Even though these seem to be very popular, there are already plenty of publishers for them.

Almost any rule or guideline, even the ones mentioned above, can be broken intentionally for some justifiable purpose. For example, if your narrator has Alzheimer’s it is good for the sentences to be short, choppy, broken off, and left to dangle, otherwise, it is not a good thing at all. If your narrator is only partly literate, it would make sense for there to be spelling errors, or malapropisms. Before you break any of these guidelines or other grammar, spelling or writing rules, consider carefully whether you actually have a good case to make an exception. Chances are you would be better off sticking with the rule.


1 comment

    • Clearly Crazy Mike on October 12, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Lots of good observations and starting points here for beginning writers. I would add/reiterate that the most important thing in writing a story is having a good story to write.

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