Meredith Efken

Meredith Efken is the owner of the Fiction Fix-It Shop, exclusively serving writers of adult and YA fiction. A multi-published novelist as well as freelance editor and writing coach, she is passionate about great stories and about empowering other writers to reach their full potential. Actively pursuing that desire, she started Fiction Fix-It Shop in 2006 where she has helped many fiction writers achieve their personal and professional goals. Her clients include award-winning Christian fiction authors such as Deborah Raney and Randall Ingermanson. She is also a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers as well as Word Sowers Christian Writers – a local group she has cofounded. Meredith currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, Jason and 2 lively daughters.

What Makes It Christian?

Sometimes we tend to define Christianity by what we don’t do...

I have the task of ranting about something fiction-writing related each month. Just because I run a fiction freelance editing service, people think I’m opinionated or something. That I must be overflowing with rants and pet peeves. Where do they come up with these things?

Just because I’m picky about scene structure. And point of view. Well, and I do hate clichéd plots, clichéd characters, and clichéd dialogue. Then there’s the dodgy theology, the contrived spirituality, and the conflict that never dives deep into the human experience—not so fond of those either.

Why would anyone think I’m opinionated? Mystifies the mind.

At any rate, each month I hope to give an entertaining, mildly informative rant about one aspect of fiction writing we all can improve in. I say “we” because in addition to being a freelance editor, I am also a published novelist in the Christian market. Pet peeves aside, I have found that Christian authors are some of the best people on the planet. Much talent and amazing stories can be found in Christian fiction.

I hope you will sense in my words the deep love and respect I have for Christian fiction. Most of what I address will not be issues specifically related to Christian fiction. They will be issues that all fiction writers struggle with as we seek to elevate our art and skills. It’s important to remember that writing fiction is a subjective process. Many times we in the fiction community disagree with one another. Any opinions in this column are strictly that—opinions.

So with that small disclaimer, I want to talk about what makes Christian fiction “Christian.” The Christian market and the general market’s borders are blurring more and more. It’s not enough now to say that a novel is Christian if it is published by a Christian publisher. Some Christian fiction is published by general market publishers. Some Christian publishers are putting out novels that have no overt Christianity in them.

What makes a novel Christian? Sometimes we tend to define Christianity by what we don’t do. Many people say that in Christian fiction our characters don’t do certain activities:

• Swear
• Smoke
• Drink
• Sex (unless they’re married)
• Dance
• Lie
• Date non-Christians (much less marry them!)

Others insist that Christian fiction should be characterized by a lack of certain things:

• Swear words
• Sex, or even sensual, scenes
• Magic
• Time travel
• Aliens
• Graphic violence
• Any theology with which the reader disagrees

On the other hand, many people define Christian fiction by a set of traits they feel should be included in the story:

• Prayer
• Sermons
• Salvation message or conversion scene
• Bible verses

• Scenes showing characters studying their Bibles
• Characters who evangelize other characters
• Lots of references to God
• Characters who go to church
• A “spiritual” message or lesson

The problem with all these do's and don'ts lists is that they don’t capture the essence of Christianity itself; so how can they define what makes a novel “Christian”?

Good Christians do a lot of things on the don’t list. Good Christians don’t always do a lot of things on the dos list. Many Good Christians don’t believe swearing is wrong, dancing is evil, or having a beer will consign them to hell. Many Good Christians do not spout a prayer every time they can’t find their car keys, or remember a Bible verse in time to keep from yelling at their children.

Many Good Christians enjoy sex. Some even like reading sex scenes. (Psst . . . even yours truly, but don’t tell, okay?)

The Christian community tends to be slow to offer one another the grace and freedom to serve the Lord and live our lives under the control of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we fully trust the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those around us to teach or direct them; therefore, we try to do it for God by creating these lists of dos and don’ts that will keep everyone looking the same—looking like what we think a Good Christian should look like.

This plays out in the Christian fiction market because each of us brings to a book expectations of what this “Christian” book ought to be. We tend to get angry or disappointed when those expectations are not met. We judge authors as “worldly” or “not a real Christian” because they didn’t write their stories with the values or morals we thought they should have. And then we pout and throw the books against the wall, vowing “never to read that horrible author again!”

The Christian faith has always struggled with this problem. In the first century church it was “What should we eat? What holidays should we celebrate? What should we wear? Should we be circumcised? Should we still be friends with our pagan buddies and family?” And Good Christian leaders, even the apostles, disagreed and fought over these issues. Relationships were broken. They had to labor for their love and unity with one another. On some issues, they never came to agreement.

Even Jesus was judged by His own community for drinking, feasting, and hanging out with immoral, ungodly people. I think what really made his critics angry is that He appeared to enjoy it!

So in our fiction, we have to try to avoid sticking in “Christian elements” as if they were a brand logo slapped onto an otherwise generic product. “Christian” has little to do with what we do.

“Christian” is who we are.

Next month, I’m going to elaborate on that thought a bit more and explain how I believe this relates to “Christian fiction.”

Thanks for reading!

Fiction Fixit Shop