Editor’s Note: Since we’re discussing Christian fiction this week, I asked another Christian writer, reader and editorially-minded manuscript enthusiast to weigh in on the subject. And that’s exactly what he did. Josiah DeGraaf has some significant points to consider for Christian authors writing in the Christian fiction genre. If that’s you, you might want to prepare to rethink your entire craft.
One of the most important things an author of Christian fiction can do is to clearly understand their target audience.
This may be surprising. After all, isn’t the target audience obvious?
And yet, somehow, many Christian authors seem to forget who their target audience really is.
The target audience of the Christian fiction genre is, of course, Christians. After all, the average non-Christian is likely not going to pick up a book that’s marketing itself as Christian fiction. As a result, these authors ought to be writing with a Christian audience in mind and dealing with themes that are relevant to Christian readers.
What sorts of themes would those be?
Contrary to popular belief, conversion narratives shouldn’t make the list.
If you’re writing to Christians, you don’t need to convince them to become Christians. And so, writing Christian fiction that has evangelistic goals is a bit counterproductive. Non-Christians aren’t reading these narratives, and Christians don’t need it.
The sorts of themes that are relevant to Christian readers are themes that presume the truth of Christianity (like the readers do) – but which then grapple with what it looks like to live an authentic life as a Christian. In other words, stories about maintaining faith under adversity, reconciling the goodness of God with suffering in the world, staying steadfast when faced with temptation, and so on.
They’re stories that deal with the problems and moral questions that Christians actually have to struggle with.
The Christian life isn’t easy – and this can be overlooked when stories are just focused on getting the non-Christian to convert. When Jesus said his followers must be willing to pick up their crosses and follow him, he wasn’t joking. The Christian life is tough, and conversion doesn’t rectify all your problems in life. That’s why Christians need stories that deal with the difficulties of life post-conversion without sugarcoating anything.
If you’re just giving Christians another conversion story, you’re missing a big opportunity to authentically connect with readers.
What might this look like? It may look like Silence by Shusako Endo, which takes a raw look at persecution and examines how to react when God appears to be silent about the suffering of his children.
Or it may look like The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry, which looks at a Christian struggling to discern the difference between actually helping people and simply acting off of a “savior complex.”
In other words – it looks like stories that deal with the real issues of life.
To tell great stories, you need to understand your audience. So make sure you understand who your readers are and what needs they have if you want to write truly compelling Christian fiction.
About the Author: Josiah DeGraaf is the editor-in-chief of Story Embers and the fiction content manager of The Young Writer. He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations, and loves to take normal people, put them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then force them to make difficult choices.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write stories with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, and themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s.