Like me, you may be a fiction writer who’s a Christian, but not a “Christian fiction” writer. There is such a thing as “Christian fiction,” but for some of us, that’s not the shelf we’re aiming for. Maybe that’s because we want to reach the folks that don’t know Christ; maybe it’s simply not where our inspiration lies. But how do you know you’re honoring God with your fiction, even if your stories aren’t strictly religious?
Honoring God with your fiction
Next time you sit down to write, say a prayer first– for God to lead you, inspire you, and speak through you. Go ahead and ask Him to give you a really great story, too… you know you can’t do it without Him. Then meditate on these tips as you write.
Teach, Don’t Preach
It’s no secret. People don’t listen to preachy people. If you want a surefire way for that reader, Christian or not, to close your book and never pick it up again, just get preachy.
As fantasy writers, we have a special privilege. We get past peoples’ walls, past their defense mechanisms. We can introduce our readers to concepts they would otherwise never entertain. Even if you’re not outright laying down the Gospel, you can illustrate facets of Jesus’ teachings.
In FORBIDDEN, for instance, there are two prevailing religions among my characters. You guessed it; one of them is analogous to Christianity. Through this I am able to touch on topics including the sovereignty of God, purpose in suffering, and more. My goal isn’t necessarily to convert the reader. My hope is to help these concepts make sense to people who tend to disdain them… so that the next time they encounter these concepts in real life, or a Christian tries to explain them, maybe it won’t all seem so silly.
God created this world with beautiful diversity. No matter what genre we write, we need to recognize this on the pages.
In fantasy, we have a bit of an advantage; we can create new and original races which may or may not comment on racial tensions in the real world; even so, we need to be careful not to reinforce harmful stereotypes related to skin color or ethnicity. We also need to be aware that certain characterizations or forms of description may be unexpectedly offensive. This becomes even more important for a writer of fiction set on actual Earth. Remember, everything you type will be interpreted very particularly by the people who identify with your characters. We must be certain, per 1 Corinthians 16:14 and Matthew 12:36, that every word of it is written with love and consideration.
Use helpful sites such as Writing with Color. You can also consider hiring a sensitivity writer. Remember also that responsible representation doesn’t only apply to race– it applies to depression, disability, religion, and any number of defining characteristics.
Don’t avoid representation, even if it’s intimidating, but be responsible with it.
Real, but Clean- How clean is clean enough?
Some of us are writing about some very adult topics. There may be battle scenes, torture scenes and– dare I mention it– sex. These topics CAN be handled by the Christian, but I propose two caveats.
First, we need to be careful what our writing condones. Yes, it would be unrealistic to write a novel set in the Tudor court and pretend no one traded in (ahem) favors, but it should not be treated as something wholesome and without consequence. Yes, we may have racist and abominable characters, but these traits should be clearly portrayed as negative.
Second, we need to avoid being overly graphic. It is enough for me to know the characters had relations; I don’t need ten pages detailing every carnal pleasure they extracted from one another’s bodies. Ask yourself: am I serving the plot, or am I only trying to create arousal?
It can be hard to define a solid criteria for what is “too much.” Pray about it, seek trusted counsel, and learn subtlety.
Be Honest and Raw
The reason people read is the same as why people write: to FEEL.
It’s not just about the adventure, although of course it’s about the adventure. It’s about processing emotion. Stories are about moments of epiphany. They’re about understanding someone else– and it’s about seeing yourself in a character. Sometimes, it’s about that overwhelming release when you realize you’re not the only one feeling this way, struggling in this way, facing those decisions.
You’ve got to speak to your readers, and you’ve got to give them permission to feel. Your job, as a fiction writer, is to put into words all those things the reader can’t. It’s your job, in a sense, to validate the human experience… and then the lesson of your work can permeate the experience of the person reading it.