I got a little brutal about writing Christian fiction on Tuesday. Now it’s time to get really brutal.
Most traditionally published Christian fiction these days is lame. Embarrassingly so, turning many more Christians than me off from reading Christian fiction, much less writing it.
Part of that is due to the melodramatics mentioned on Tuesday. Again, in this genre’s defense, it is dealing with love. And love too easily trends toward the cheesy side when put into mere black and white.
But, I’m afraid to say, that’s not the only common problem with writing Christian fiction. There are so many reasons why today’s Writing Challenge exists.
Don’t make your Christian fiction lame.
These days, Christian fiction has a horrible habit of being pathetic, and not in the kinda-cute-and-pitiable way.
The entire genre is marked by sappy writing styles, unrealistic plots, unhelpful messages, and poorly written dialogue. Hate to say it, but the state of Christian fiction these days is an absolute disaster, with plenty of Christian readers giving up on it altogether.
Yet this isn’t a call against writing Christian fiction. It’s a call to start writing it well! Read on to find out how.
This subject matter probably warrants its own book, or at least a good-sized pamphlet. But let’s try to break down the basics in this single blog post anyway:
Sappy writing styles – To avoid these while writing Christian fiction, start out by avoiding sappy characters and sappy plots. Why? The less sap you’re working with, the less sap you’re probably going to write with. So try to think realistically from the start, as further explored below.
Unrealistic plots – Why is it that just about every single Christian fiction book has to have a “damsel in distress” scene? Maybe that's not the whole entire plot, but it’s definitely a reoccurring plot point that needs to be addressed. A beautiful young woman gets accosted, the attacker succeeds in tearing her shirt, and then the knight in shining armor comes racing onto the scene to slay the bad guy and take the fainting fair maiden into his arms. It’s like there’s a Christian Writer’s Guide out there with a chapter specifically devoted to covering this kind of thing. Yet writing Christian fiction is possible without throwing in a damsel in distress into every – or even any – scene. Seriously.
Unhelpful messages – There’s another problem with that alleged Christian Writer’s Guide mentioned above, and it’s this… It doesn’t even come close to acknowledging that, sometimes, the knight in shining armor doesn’t make it in time. Sometimes, the damsel doesn’t get saved. Bad things do happen to Christians, as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs proves all too well. So do all the Christians you know of who have cancer or who had cancer or who died from cancer. Implying otherwise paints God as one giant protection pill and Christians as having sinned every time they suffer. When, sometimes, we just suffer. And, sometimes, we can’t understand why that has to be until God calls us home. As Josiah DeGraaf pointed out in his thought-provoking guest blog post yesterday: “The Christian life is tough, and conversion doesn’t rectify all your problems… That’s why Christians need stories that deal with the difficulties of life post-conversion without sugarcoating anything.”
Poorly written dialogue – This actually brings us full circle to that sappy writing style. Writing Christian fiction should be done with the same dignity as writing any other genre, which requires studying both the craft and human nature. Don’t just put dialogue down on paper. Ask yourself if it sounds realistic. Read it out loud to yourself. Pay attention to what people actually say. And what they don’t. Once you start noticing normal speech and reflecting it in the dialogue you write, it’s bound to show in your writing style too, turning it from sappy into something so much stronger.
Again, none of this is meant to keep you from writing Christian fiction. It's just that writing Christian fiction shouldn’t be this bad.
It shouldn’t be bad at all.