Erin Brown 

Erin Brown is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. She is a three-time Christy Award judge, and her memberships include The Christian PEN, Editorial Freelancer’s Association, ACW, and ACFW. When Erin isn’t editing or proofreading manuscripts, she finds her R&R by . . . reading and writing—no obsession there! But her favorite pastime revolves around her family. She and her husband reared and homeschooled their seven children on their one and a half acre “spread” in western Montana. To find out more about Erin, please visit her Web site at

Purpose Driven Fiction:

Writing True Fiction

You may scratch your head and wonder how this verse applies to fiction.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve heard the exhortation “Do as unto the Lord.” Does that refer to the manner in which we work, or does it have more to do with the final product? What should be the ultimate objective for the Christian author who writes fiction or nonfiction, regardless if the market is religious or secular? I suggest that no matter what genre, style, or audience, the goal is the same.

For the past several months I’ve been leading a group of high school students through the Understanding the Times curriculum, a dynamite course all Christians should experience. Recently we tackled a chapter that included entertainment. From the video entitled “Entertainment,” the speaker, John Stonestreet, addressed how Christians should and should not approach entertainment. He specifically noted music from the consumer’s perspective: what we listen to. I came to the conclusion that what he said can and should be applied to movies and TV programs we watch, the materials we read, and as authors, the ideas and stories we write.

Do we have a responsibility to our readers beyond taking them on an emotional and satisfying journey? Does God address “entertainment” in his Word? Let’s look to Philippians 4:8 for our answer. You’re familiar with it: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (NASB). This is our model.

You may scratch your head and wonder how this verse applies to fiction. Look at the first line “whatever is true.” Fiction is not true! And its genres seem even more removed from what is true, for example sci fi and fantasy. How can we possibly write fiction and be true to God’s Word?

To find the answer, let me break it down into three questions. First, is what we write done well? I must be honest and say as a copyeditor and Christy Award judge, I see too many poorly written manuscripts making it through the publishing houses and onto the bookstore shelves. This disappoints me. To paraphrase Edith Schaeffer from her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Christians should be the most creative people because the Creator resides within us. That’s it in a nutshell. We should be better at our craft than non-Christian writers, no matter our genre. Ouch! Whatever it takes to hone our skills, we must be quick and diligent to do so.

Second, is the message true? Is the message we write for our readers the truth? Overall, I think Christian fiction does a relatively good job here—but not all. I have read a few books in

the Romance and Chick Lit genres whose message was anything but true. And the only way we can ensure the message we convey is true is by first knowing the Truth (Jesus) and understanding his Word.

The third question is my favorite when evaluating a book, yet probably the hardest to accomplish as a writer. Ready? Does the effect of our writing accomplish a noble goal? Three typical writers’ goals that give a negative answer to this question are amusement for the readers, fame and money for the author. If any of these is our ultimate objective, then we’re writing for the wrong reason. Let me rephrase that. If I’m a Christian and write because I simply want to entertain people, fill my pockets, and/or enjoy name recognition, then I have the wrong goal(s). Do the characters we create react to their situations in ways that will direct readers to the truth of what is revealed in the Bible? Are we writing to challenge our audience in their walk with the Lord? Do we challenge unbelievers to seek God? After the last page has been read, do our readers continue days and weeks later to ponder the message our characters delivered through our contrived adventures?

If we can answer yes to all three questions, we have the correct approach to writing. And that doesn’t mean we can write to only Christian audiences. If our writing is well done, if the message is true, if it accomplishes a noble goal, we can write to any market. We don’t have to be locked in to Christianese. We can publish through secular imprints. The Book of Esther doesn’t mention “God,” yet it’s an integral part of the Bible; God’s message is there. It’s not only a great story, it also answers affirmatively all three questions.

The books The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Song of Survival (this and White Coolies inspired the movie Paradise Road) confirm my premise. In some ways these are difficult to read. Although, the brutality of the witch against Aslan and the cruelty of the Chinese to the women are horrifying, once again the response to our three questions is a resounding yes.

Join me in raising the standard. Let’s fine-tune our skills so that we write well, put forth a true message, and achieve noble goals in order to influence our audiences for God’s kingdom.

The Write Editor