am sitting in a coffee shop near our place on Topsail Island, North
Carolina, after having spent a week cruising around the Caribbean.
In other words, I’ve had a lot
of time to write and do some thinking .
. . and work on my tan while watching folks unfamiliar with the
Caribbean work on their lobster suits. Ouch! And
while spending some quality time with my wife/best buddy, I began to
think about a couple of things: (1) If your beer belly pokes out so far
you can’t see your feet, do not wear a Speedo; and
(2) Some of the changes in Christian/faith-based fiction over the past
In the early days of Christian
fiction, the available novels sold simply because nothing else was
available for those who wanted a faith-based fiction alternative.
Readers of that period weren’t picky, and though the writing generally
left much to be desired, readers were willing to pay the price. Plot
was often lacking, prose tended to border on pedestrian, and the answer
many questions seemed to be “gather the prayer warriors and pray.”
Fortunately those days are
mostly gone. The current quality of faith-based fiction is markedly
superior to those early efforts, and a new movement toward “edgy”
Christian fiction has made inroads, despite that few agree on what it
means. In short, things are looking up.
But that also that brings us to
the big question: As authors, how do we make faith-based fiction the
best it can be? Three things come to mind immediately.
• Get out of the office. You can’t sit on your butt all day in front of
a computer screen and expect to write honestly about real
• Listen to the poeple around you. Listen to those different from you;
without prejudging, condemning, or categorizing. (This doesn’t mean you
have to agree with what you hear, but you do have
to understand the attitudes.)
• Think about faith-based fiction from the standpoint of someone without
faith. How can you connect with
others in a way that won’t alienate them from the outset?
While the quality of
faith-based fiction has improved since those interesting first days, I
still hear and read these kinds of comments from readers:
“I don’t recognize
the male characters as being true to life, especially the Christians.
Few of the men seem to share my struggles or concerns or personality or
lifestyle . . .” or “Christians have a higher divorce rate than secular
people, and this is not reflected in Christian fiction. We have
precious few divorcees as characters.”
who’s to blame for these writing transgressions?
Actually, publishers and writers
must share the responsibility that characters are sometimes hard to
identify with. We’ve not been listening. We’ve not been reading as
widely as we should. We’ve even let those who don’t hold the same
beliefs and truths we hold to get the upper hand in some cases. And
while we do not need to mirror society, we must remember that we live
and minister in the real world.
One of the hard truths whispered
among editors is that Christian publishing consistently lags behind
secular publishing by five to ten years. Secular publishers do a better
job on the whole in publishing works that reflect the world as it is.
Christian publishers do a better job showing the transforming power of
Christ in the world, as should be expected, though (with a few
exceptions) they regularly describe a much more sanitized world than
the one we inhabit. This in itself interjects a nonrealistic and
element to the reading.
at the books that have
become crossover successes. They are often the books that show God’s
power in the real world, not our cleaned-up version of the world.
To be fair, there are some
reading public (secular and faith-based) will not allow, and that’s
what drives publishing companies. The bottom line in publishing is
making a profit. Publishers are not charities, and even those who
choose to “buck tradition” still have to keep the doors open. So they
sell what their target audiences are buying. But what about the new
markets? Are we still looking to the same markets we’ve always
Maybe it’s time to take a fresh
look at what readers beyond a few small sectors want. Maybe it’s time
to give them real life, allowing for real questions, some of which have
no answers. Or painful answers. Or incomplete answers.
Maybe it’s time to give them an
accurate view of faith, an integrated worldview that doesn’t preclude
all the real-life things that happen to real people.
What would happen if we found a
way to combine the two approaches: the real-life believability of truly
good fiction and a Christian worldview? What would happen if there was
a move toward the best of both worlds, the real world, inhabited by
real people like us and those not like us.
I’m just thinking out loud, and
I don’t really know what the answer is. There may not be an answer.
That happens a lot in this old world that God gave us. Sometimes the
answer is “I don’t know.”
But it’s something to think
And thinking is something we
writers are supposed to be good at.