Tag Archives: Christian fiction

How “CHRISTIAN” should our stories be?

Christian story tellers write Christian fiction. I proudly belong to a national group called American Christian Fiction Writers.

What makes Christian fiction different from other types of fiction?

Is it the words we use? Is it the issues we tackle or the way we deal with them? Is it the amount of Bible references we put in our books? Or the subtle Christian themes we fold into the pages?

But what makes a book, theme, or scene Christian?

I’m convinced the answer to that question can liberating. Or dominating. Perhaps it depends on attitude and agenda. We like “black & white” answers, and that’s okay, but not everything can be so designated. For instance, here another question that stirs discussion in churches–even causes splits:  what makes a worship service a “real” worship service? Some demand the old hymns, while others want the newest praise songs. Some want a pipe organ and others get all giddy when they walk into a sanctuary and see a drum set and guitars. So which is it?

See what I mean?

When it comes to Christian Fiction, who decides what is and isn’t Christian? And what standards do they use to make such a judgment?

My opinion, formed through observation and experience, is that Christian Fiction can be defined as much by what is not a part of the story as by what is part of the story.

I believe our story should leave people thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute…(Phil 4:8a). But I also believe that we have a responsibility to keep in mind that all the things mentioned above–along with the source of our salvation–is specifically revealed in the name of Jesus. But does that mean that I have to include His name in every book? Keep in mind that there is an entire book of the Holy Bible in which God’s name never appears! Yet God included it in His collection of “books” called the Bible.

If I use Philippians 4:8 as a guide, then I’ll be careful to include story elements that honor God, AND I’ll keep from using profane things that dishonor him (such as explicit sexual content, profane language, and any other elements that celebrate “evil” instead of exposing it). But even deciding how much to hint at sexual attraction/activity, foul language, etc… isn’t always “black & white”.

I very much want to hear your comments on the questions in this post. Please take a minute to share your thoughts. Thank you.

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Lest We Forget

“I’m getting you that for Christmas,” announced my daughter, Jayne, as she pointed to something on a store shelf.

“Honey,” I said, “if you want to surprise me, you shouldn’t show me the present three weeks before Christmas, because now I know what it is.” My goal was to help my young daughter understand the joy of surprising someone with an unexpected gift.

It seemed to be a real hallmark moment…until she added, “I’m not worried, Dad. You’ll forget by Christmas.”

Out of the mouths of babes, huh?

One thing I’ve discovered about writing Christian fiction is that there’s nothing new under the sun. I’m not charged with discovering new truths to write about. However my task is nearly as hard (maybe harder). I’m called to reintroduce readers to truths that they’ve already seen before. And I’m expected to do it in a way that penetrates the walls of complacency surrounding their hearts and minds. I’m asking them to reconsider an old truth because I presenting it to them in a new way…wrapped in a story that captures their attention from both sides of their brain. And I’ve only got a few chapters…or pages…or paragraphs to do so.

What books have you read recently that caused you to think more about truths you already knew, but perhaps had forgotten about, or taken for granted?

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“The Best Is Yet To Come”

A little girl climbed onto her great-grandmother’s lap. She looked at the old woman’s snowy white hair, then at the many wrinkles that lined her face. “Great-Grandma, did God make you?”

“Yes,” the old saint replied.

“Did God make me too?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well,” said the little girl, “don’t you think He’s doing a better job now than He used to?”

I chuckle at that story, knowing that the little girl hadn’t yet learned that these physical bodies of ours are temporary, and are unable to hide the signs of wear and tear that come with age. She would eventually come to understand that her great-grandma didn’t start off old. It wouldn’t take long to discover that it was time that had carved those wrinkles and had taken the color from her great-grandma’s hair.

As a writer, I know that I only have a limited amount of time to write. And my readers are dealing with the same dilemma. I pray that the stories I write will draw them closer to the God that loves them. If I can urge someone to journey on with renewed strength toward heaven, then I’ve used my time wisely. If I write books that stir readers to a renewed commitment to the Lord, then it’s been time well spent. More than anything in this world–whether in preaching, teaching, or writing–I want to communicate that a God of love and mercy is knowable here, and invites us all into His hereafter.

No one will stumble into heaven accidentally.

That makes the call to write an important task. Time is limited to help point people in the right direction.

Can Christian fiction carry out this task?

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Little Writer On The Prairie

One day we had trouble with our DVD player. The prospect of it not being usable bothered my then nine-year-old daughter. Trying to be helpful, I said, “I didn’t have a DVD player when I was your age. They weren’t invented yet.” Then, as if the floodgates of repressed memories opened, I added, “And we didn’t have VCRs or personal computers.” For some reason I stopped short of telling her that when I was growing up we only had black-and-white television, and could get three channels…maybe four if the weather was just right. I chose not to mention thatI never had ANY video games…until PONG came along. And that hardly counts. I even resisted the and I had to walk to school every day–through knee-deep snow…uphill…both ways!

And never once did I seriously entertain the notion of telling her that the only time we had electricity when I was growing up was when lightning hit the outhouse. A tad too dramatic. Not to mention factually inaccurate.

What I DID mention was effective enough. She was sufficiently horrified by the thought of growing up without computers and videos. She looked at me, sad eyes filled with pity, probably thinking that the reason our family owns several seasons of Little House On The Prairie (On DVD) was because the Ingalls were my next door neighbors. Which, by the way, they weren’t.

But I didn’t have access to the technology that kids today are raised with. And when it comes to writing, sometimes that’s awkward. I’ve had to learn how to email manuscripts, deal with track changes, and create proposals in digital form. And don’t get me started on the whole formatting my WIP thing! Indent here…don’t indent there…double spacing every where, except here, here, and over there…no spacing…ittalics okay…ittalics not okay…NO semi-colons…ever…under any circumstances…and Word this…Mac that…Manomanoman! To be honest, it’s not been easy for me. But it’s just part of the writer’s life now.

What’s been the most challenging part for you as a writer?

By the way, did I mention that when I was a kid, the only time we had electricity was when…oh, never mind.

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Writing a Wrong

Should Christian fiction use dark topics to tell a story?

Let me answer that question by asking another: Can light shine in darkness?

Of course light can shine in darkness. So why not show how the light brings hope, peace, security, or direction? As a suspense writer, I’m aware of the struggle to be realistic about the darkness while being optimistic about the light. Many of my favorite Christian writers tackle hard–and uncomfortable–issues with vivid skill. Their desire is not to glorify evil or a reader to enter into that evil, but their prayer is that their writing will grab a reader’s heart and mind with the liberating hope that is available in God. We want to describe the “real” world in which evil lurks, but only to set the stage for the light.

It’s my opinion that as a Christian writer I do not need to use profanity or sex as props in my stories. I can show a person’s anger or tell that they “cursed” or something like that without getting graphic. Yet I’m not going to shy away from tough issues (like divorce, death, abortion, rape, abuse, deceit, etc…) just because those are hard to deal with. I’m of the opinion that some Christians are way to squeamish. They are the ones who probably skip the Old Testament. It can be pretty gory.

What are some books you’ve read that were set in tough settings? What topics do you wish Christian fiction writers would deal with?

If you want to see what topics Christian fiction addresses, you can go to Fiction Finder and search for books by topic. It’s an incredible resource.

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A Matter Of Interpretation

Some time ago I went to the doctor. With that experience still in my mind, let me offer the following interpretation to a few medical phrases.

  • When the nurse says, “This may sting a little” what she really means is, “This has been outlawed in three other countries.”
  • When the nurse asks, “How would you rate your pain?” what she’s really asking is “On a scale of one to ten, how big of a sissy are you?”
  • When the person weighing you says, ‘Wow!”, what they really mean is “Oh, Wow! Can you say Jenny Craig?”
  • When the nurse says, “I have to shave you in a few places,” what she really means is “The doctor has no idea I’m doing this, but I’m bored and I found a razor.”
  • When the doctor says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle” what he really means is [insert evil scientist laugh here].
  • When the doctor offers to “pull that tape off for you” what she really means is “Have you ever been skinned alive?”
  • And when they say “You’re going to feel a little pressure” what they really mean is “This will hurt until you cry for your mommy.”

I offer this gift of interpretation for the betterment of humanity (plus that, I don’t often get to use the word “betterment”). But seriously…the whole “what did he/she really mean by that?” quandary often causes undue stress in many areas of our lives. We can become suspicious of another’s intent, thereby making us seek for the hidden meaning between the lines.

We can do this as writers too.

In fact, writers are one of the more susceptible groups because we seek critical feedback so often. Not to mention the editorial comments offered without invitation too. If you don’t already have thick skin, you’ll need to acquire it pronto. Otherwise your imagination can run wild, draining you of the creative energy needed to be a good steward of story. If a friend says “not bad” you can get tough enough to ask them to explain, or you can just assume that what they’re really saying is, “I barely know how to read and you didn’t have enough pictures in the book.” And when an agent says, “I don’t think I can sell this,” you can either learn more about the problems that are hindering the future of that project, or you can just decide that what the agent is saying is “I don’t have the skills or contacts necessary to get this obvious bestseller to the right people.” Or when a contest judge gets snarky and misses the brilliance of your entry, you might be tempted to think that what they’re really saying is, “You’ll never amount to anything as a writer. What were you thinking by even entering this contest?”

Friend–and fellow writer–the only way to grow as a writer is to be able to control our tendency to look for hidden messages in every comment we are given. And we have to be able to separate who we are as a person from the particular piece of writing being discussed. Most people–especially other Christians–are not trying to hurt you. They’re just assuming that when you said you wanted honest feedback, you really meant it and were prepared to handle it. They want to see you succeed. (At least I believe this to be true of the members of American Christian Fiction Writers).

As a Christian writer, I want to create the best stories I’m capable of writing. And I want to stay teachable and open, able to listen to the educated opinions of others. I’ll accept some. I’ll give a polite nod to others, but respectfully disagree with them. Because none of us knows everything.

And I’ll keep writing for the Lord. Because when Jesus said, “Be on the alert,” what He meant was, “I’ll be seeing you.”

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The Fog

Some call it “being in a funk”, but the more I’ve thought about it, I think it feels more like driving in a fog. I’m still doing things as a writer, but as I bang out the words to this post I simply can’t see very far down the road. I stare ahead, trying to stay alert so I don’t miss anything. This is how I feel right now as I’m pushing ahead on my writing journey. I’m in a fog.

I’m still brainstorming some ideas for my next book, and I’m trying to get up the emotional energy to send out proposals on my last one. In fact, my last book is one that I am very excited about…if I can just get it in the hands of readers. And while I enjoyed the many blessings of the writer’s convention I attended in September, a discouraging fog has settled in around me.

No…I’m not ready to quit. I am just being real with you: if you want to be a writer, expect to have to fight your way through the fog every so often. The way you deal with the fog may be different than how another writers tackles it. Some drink enormous amounts of coffee (I’ll leave the drink of choice as coffee since I’m talking about Christian Fiction), others go on retreats and attempt to ignite their creativity, some master solitaire, and others go shopping. And some of us blog. Whatever works.

There are many things I don’t know about this fog–like how long it will last–but there are a few things that I DO know:

  • God is bigger than the fog & that will never change.
  • I’m his child, so He never loses sight of me…not even in the thickest fog.
  • I’m blessed to have a wife and family that believes in me unconditionally.
  • I’m still moving forward…even if I can’t see very far down the road.

Have you ever been in the fog as a writer? How did you handle it? What did you learn?

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If the Declaration of Independence were written today

The worldview of the author shapes what he or she writes. So as I look around at the humanistic mindset that fuels our society, I shudder to think of what the Declaration of Independence would look like if written or revised by our pagan leaders of this era. I submit it might begin something like this:

When in the course of human events (although there is nothing superior about the animal known as “human”), it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another (those disbanding should apologize for their intolerance and out-dated morality), and to assume amoung the Powers of the earth (i.e. United Nations), the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature (Evolution and Global Warming) and of Nature’s God entitle them (pick your “god” and your entitlements), a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare (but not in a way that would be offensive) the causes (extremism) which impel them to the separation.

We hold (loosely) these truths (tested in focus groups and subject to change without notice) to be self-evident (unless they are not politically expedient), that all men (animals, plants, glaciers, and ozone layers) are created (empowered by indoctrination) equal (unless they are Christians), that they are endowed by their Creator (Federal Government) with certain unalienable (no offense to illegal aliens) Rights (as shall be determined by the Supreme Court and/or the United Nations General Assembly), that amoung these are Life (once you escape the womb), Liberty (freedom from responsibility or accountability) and the pursuit of Happiness (as defined by your inner desires and not shackled by organized religion).

Yes, what we write is most certainly colored by the lens through which we view the world. As a Christian, I write stories that are informed by my belief in God. I recognize–even if imperfectly–the power of words and their ability reach people emotionally and intellectually. And I believe that God will hold me accountable for what I do with those words.

Writing is not a game or a therapeutic hobby. It is a powerful stewardship.

People who might not spend much–or any–time in a Bible, might read one of my books. I must shape more stories so that light shines out and helps them see a path to truth…to redemption…to God.

What stories to you think our society needs hear today?

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Writers and Spiritual Warfare

Make yourself familiar with angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you. (St. Francis de Sales)

The longer I walk the journey of discipleship I become more and more convinced that the call to write for God is a call to battle. This call to duty is not based on my value as a human being, but on the particular stewardship that God has entrusted to me: the stewardship of story. Every Christian has a place on the spiritual battlefield. All followers of Jesus are participants. There are no bleachers in which we can leisurely sit and chomp popcorn and drink the beverage of our choice. We are soldiers, not fans.

Every Christian is gifted…which is another way of saying that every Christian is equipped to take part in the warfare between light and darkness. There’s no sitting this one out. Stewardship brings responsibility.

I believe that my writing is a part of the battle. I want to show how God’s light can penetrate the darkness. I want to use the power of story to testify to how God’s power can reverse the curse. What an awesome privilege indeed! God can use our stories to bring victory in readers lives.

How do you think Christian fiction has helped you fight the spiritual battle in your life?

 

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Snoopy the Great American Author

Penelope Stokes, in a book called Complete Guide to Writing and Selling a Christian Novel, told about a Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy was chasing his dream of being an author. Snoopy is sitting atop his doghouse banging away on the keys of an old typewriter. When he finishes his story, the overjoyed beagle does a happy dance and the caption reads, “It’s a wonderful feeling when you know you’ve written something really good.”

Ever been there? You sit back in your chair and bask in the glow of a job well done. “That’s good,” you say to yourself. “Really good.” Snoopy danced on his doghouse; how do you celebrate?

If we could just bottle that moment, then take a sip when we needed inspiration. Or when we write something that’s…well, less than good. But it doesn’t work that way.

I hope, as writers, we never loss sight of the sheer joy of writing. Whether or not that story is ever read by anyone else or not. I’m convinced that when we stop relishing the incredible thrill that comes from writing, we begin to sink into a life of “duty” and not “joy.”

Isn’t being called by God to write enough to fuel our joy?

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