Best-selling author of The Legacy of the Kingʼs Pirates series, MaryLu Tyndall writes full time and makes her home with her husband, six children, and four cats on Californiaʼs coast. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ. For more information on MaryLu and her upcoming releases, please visit her website at http://www.mltyndall.com.

Writing Edgy Historicals without falling over the edge

I love to allow my characters to dabble in all kinds of evil...

If you’re like me, you’re pretty disgusted by most of the trash you see in books, movies, and TV. Our culture’s perception of what is acceptable has really changed since I was a child. What was deemed inappropriate, too violent, and even pornographic fifty years ago is now commonplace. And don’t get me started on secular romance novels or love scenes in movies. What does casual sex have to do with romance and love, anyway?

Disturbed by what I saw in our declining culture, I decided I would prefer to write romance novels set in the past. Weren’t people better Christians then, more proper, more pious? They appeared to be, especially as the Reformation swept through Europe and brought America’s early settlers to the new land. In fact, strong Christian values coupled with the respect and chivalry with which most men treated women are some of the reasons I love romance of the past (that and the gowns!). But the more I dug into cultural history, the more I realized people were just as wicked then as they are now. People struggled with the same overwhelming sins and trials that we do today. Most just hid it behind a façade of propriety.

Undaunted in my path to write a clean historical novel, I didn’t want to inaccurately portray a bygone society, or depict only a small section of it that did not reflect the culture of that time. I wanted to get into the heart and soul of the people, reveal their struggles, trials, successes, and failures. However, I soon realized that doing so is an awesome ministry opportunity. After all, human nature hasn’t changed.

Let’s face it, our culture is in moral decay, and I truly believe many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, are seeking an alternative to the immorality they find in the secular market. An alternative that does not glorify rape, murder, violence, abuse, alcoholism, fornication, and adultery, but instead reveals these sins for what they are—dirty, wicked, and harmful. Since most people are already bombarded with smut, isn’t it up to Christians to show them a better way? We should take these same things that Hollywood glamorizes and deglamorize them by showing their ugly side in light of the truth and the Word of God.

Consequently, I love to allow my characters to dabble in all kinds of evil. But then I show them suffering under the frustration and emptiness their actions have caused. And slowly through other characters, through miracles, through disasters, and through God’s love, I show how God can transform their hearts. Isn’t that what people need to read about in this day and age? A story they can not only relate to, but also one that gives them hope and shows them the way to God? But how do we show this type of evil without romanticizing it like Hollywood does and without offending people who have been fortunate enough never to have dealt with these types of sins?

1. Give a strong reason for your character’s wicked behavior: some flaw in his character or something in his past that causes him to be the way he is.

2. Develop a spiritual arc for each major character that shows through plot, other characters, actions, and miracles how God reaches out and changes him by the end of the book. Make it realistic and happening over time.

3. If the character has a vice, such as excessive drinking or inability to resist sexual temptation, then show throughout the story how this flaw causes repeated problems for the character and have him realize it by the end.

4. Don’t be graphic in your descriptions of such activities. A hint, a suggestion, a brief glimpse is all the reader needs to spark their imaginations.

5. Do not make these issues the focus of your story. Concentrate on the positive aspects: repentance, healing, growth. God is the God of Hope, not despair.

What about sex in a Christian novel? For one thing, we Christians need to get over our fear of the topic. After all, the Bible has tons of sex in it. Have you read Song of Solomon? God created this fascinating facet to the marriage relationship for us to enjoy, so why shy away from it? Truthfully, I adore reading a great scene with lots of sexual tension between the characters. It’s natural and beautiful when expressed within the divine precepts of God. With all the horrid, twisted portrayals of sex in the world, media, magazines, and books, I believe people are hungry for a better way, a pure way, of enjoying this gracious gift of God. But how do we do that in a Christian book without being offensive?

1. Fade to black. Remember the old movies? The good movies that used to come out of Hollywood? Whenever a married couple entered their bedroom, the screen faded to black. We didn’t need a play-by-play of what they did behind closed doors, did we? Personally, I’d rather use the vivid imagination God gave me than watch or read some sordid producer’s or writer’s idea of what sex should be like. To me, it’s embarrassing and it takes away from the story.

2. True romance God’s way is not lust. It’s not a one night stand or using someone for your own physical pleasure. It’s pure, romantic, and unselfish love for someone else. It is more emotional than physical. As writers, we have abundant tools in our hands to express the emotional connection between two characters. Let’s use them to their fullest capacity. Think about the difference between the sexual tension in Pride and Prejudice and Titanic. Both were romances. One had a bedroom scene, the other did not.

3. Trust your reader’s imagination. It will take them to far more satisfying places than you could ever portray.

We need to attract people who are tired of reading the smut that’s in the general market, but who believe Christian fiction is too sweet, too boring, and too unlike their own lives. What a fantastic witness to those borderline Christians and nonbelievers to show them God’s plan for what ails this world and what ails their own lives. Because let’s face it, it is an evil world we live in, and it’s growing more evil by the minute. Although the Bible says we are not to be of the world, we are still in the world. Let’s show this world that Jesus is the answer they are seeking.

M.L. Tyndall is an award-winning, best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series and The Falcon and the Sparrow.

The Falcon and The Sparrow