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Monday, June 15, 2009

Weaving Faith Into Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Christian fiction plants seeds of hope and inspiration in readers. It does not always bring salvation and evangelize people, although it can. We must remember that salvation and evangelism isn't the purpose of Christian fiction. While there is a place and a time for sermons, fiction is neither the place nor the time to preach to your readers. Save that part of your ministry for the pulpit and your nonfiction. The purpose of Christian fiction is to entertain with a Christian worldview faith message woven throughout the theme of a story.

Some people are called to plant these seeds of inspiration through stories just like Jesus did through parables. If you feel led to write Christian fiction, then you need to know a few rules of how to weave a faith theme throughout your story that are accepted in the publishing market and understood by all.

Faith Message
Most Christian fiction can be labeled or centered around a universal scripture that becomes the theme or moral of the spiritual aspect of the story. As the author, you need to sit down and determine where your two main characters are in their spiritual walk with God at the beginning of the story, and where you want them to be and what you want them to have learned by the end of the story. No human being outside of Jesus Christ is perfect, and neither should your characters be. They need to have a few spiritual and physical flaws that can grow and develop or that can somehow eventually be accepted.

Once you do this, pick out a few words that identify what they are struggling with such as unforgiveness, lack of faith, holding a grudge, pride in a certain area, feeling unloved and lonely, etc. Then pick out a few words that bring a solution to the problem such as love, hope, faith, forgiveness, humbleness, etc. If a scripture doesn't come to mind, I suggest using Bible Gateway as a source for looking up scriptures that are applicable to your theme. You can choose the Bible version that you like best and search those key words you've picked out. If you are writing historical Christian fiction, I suggest sticking with the King James Version as many of the other versions were not available until after the turn of the 20th Century.

Developing Characters of Faith
Your characters do not all have to be Christians, but by the end of the story, the two main characters need to be Christians. Also, just because a character changes and becomes a Christian doesn't mean he/she has to change their profession to be a pastor or an evangelist. They don't necessarily need to go into ministry. In fact, it would be best if they are regular folks working to make a living out in the real world just like the rest of us in real life. They do need to have a desire to go to church and learn more about Christ. Few Christians do not have this desire unless they are backsliding or wrestling with an issue of some sort.

Your characters' spiritual flaws need to be evident in the first couple of chapters of the book, and then you need to show scenes in gradual succession of how their thinking begins to change. It could be due to a new situation that occurs in their lives or new people who come into their lives. People don't change over night, it's a gradual process and you need to show this. Don't have a preacher preach endlessly to them with multiple scenes of sermons. If you choose to show a sermon, keep it to a paragraph or two at a minimum, no more than a page. Your character will need to hear a couple of sentences and then think on what he/she has heard. Show how his/her thoughts are applying the message to his/her life. Once this thought process begins to change for a few chapters, then you will need to show it in their speech and actions. Again, this is a gradual process. Show them doing well a few scenes and then slipping and having a bit of guilt.

I recommend Gail Gaymer Martin's book, Writing the Christian Romance. Even if you aren't writing a romance novel, she does such a wonderful job of teaching writers how to weave in the faith element into a novel through the growth development process, characterization, and how much sensuality to use in a relationship. She explains in detail, using examples, the difference between sexuality and sensuality.

A Few Rules to Remember
1) Sensuality is permissible in Christian fiction, sex isn't.

2) Using curse words isn't necessary and won't be allowed. Show a character's anger in other ways. Read Christian fiction novels and study how characters' behave when angry or when they simply don't know any better.

3) Christian characters should behave and speak in a way that shows they are Christians without making them look perfect.

4) Christians are real people and becoming a Christian doesn't mean that God is going to keep us from experiencing pain, hardship or death. We still have to live in a fallen world and experience these things, but we have the faith and hope that we are not alone and that there is a better future beyond our life here on earth.


Great post and information!! thanks!!

I have had many questions about this subject. This helped me out a lot. Thank you!

Thanks for an enlightening post. I've seen bits and pieces on the subject, but you pulled it all together.

Jennifer, thanks so much for covering this topic so well.

Good suggestions and comments, thanks. I'm not a fiction writer (except for short stories), so this is helpful to me. wb

This an absolutely wonderful post! The information is thorough and creates a great map for those who read and write Christian fiction! Thanks!

I started a gadget on my blog called, "Writing Helps." Would you mind if I linked this article there?

Warren, Feel free to include the link on your blog. I'm glad you think it will be helpful to others.

Thanks, Everyone!