Last week I published a post on why I write Christian fiction, and it was very well received. A lot of people agreed with me on why we should be writing Christian fiction and it was really enjoyable to discuss finer points with readers who didn’t agree with everything I said. However, I’ve not quite finished the series I started with that post. I still have three(ish) posts left to do, including this one.
I’m going to be away next Saturday, so I’ll have a scheduled post for you guys, which may or may not end up being the next in this series. However, today I’m going to share five things that have helped me in my quest to write Christian fiction (and over the coming weeks I’ll be talking about what I believe is wrong in the current Christian fiction market and the pros and cons of Christians writing secular fiction over Christian fiction).
So what makes fiction valuable?
In my opinion, there’s a lot of things. First of all, it should be entertaining, it should teach you something–whether you realise it or not–it should encourage you, inspire you and bring you closer to God and His word–again, whether you realise it or not.
And that brings me to my next question. How do you write fiction that does all of the above?
I can’t speak for you, but personally, I don’t want to be the next clean romance bestseller. I want to write things that speak to people in deep ways. I want to create good and inspiring art.
(*I believe these things can be applied to any Christian who writes, or does any type of art, really. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to write “Christian” or “secular” fiction, but I will refer to Christian fiction in this post. In this context, I simply mean fiction written by a Christian).
1. Immerse yourself in God’s Word
There are probably Christians out there who think they can write a novel without ever opening their Bibles. And there are probably some who do. But in my opinion, that would be like trying to build the Lego Death Star without the instructions. You might get something out of it, but it isn’t going to be a reflection of the real thing (it’ll just be 3,000 Lego bricks stuck on each other at random).
The fact is, Christians should not–cannot–write valuable fiction without immersing themselves in the writing of God. I think I’ve learnt this the hard way, if we’re being honest. You can’t just throw John 3:16 into your novel and label it as Christian, the whole spirit of God–that’s found no better place than the Bible–needs to be present in your writing. You need to study God’s word, ask questions and seek answers.
Immersing yourself in God’s words may not always be a literal reading of the Bible, but also in reading trusted commentaries, listening to sermons, discussing Biblical issues with your pastor, youth leader or parents and the reading of trusted Christian (non-fiction) books. Either way, it should be growing your knowledge of God and His ways and the Bible should always be the touchstone.
In 2 Timothy 3: 10-17, Paul writes to Timothy, telling him to continue in the way that his mother and grandmother had been teaching him. He tells Timothy to keep on learning, to know the holy Scriptures more deeply for the word of God is able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
A lot. All the time. Sometimes our human wisdom is not enough to understand the exact meanings or implications of selected sections of God’s instructions and we need additional help, someone who knows better than us showing us exactly how to place that brick. And of course, that’s God again.
As writers, we aren’t afraid to ask our fellow writers questions about plot, arcs, prose, twists, etc, but for some reason, we shy away from asking the Author of all things these same questions. Do we think that God doesn’t care about our character arcs? Do we think the villain’s personality is too mundane for God to invest time in?
The fact is, people, that God has called us to this task. And He cares, He really does. I’ve been trying to practise this a bit more than I currently do. Lately, I’ve been worrying that the antagonist of Stars Fill Infinity is too dull and robotic. Instead of defaulting by going to my beta readers, I prayed, asking God to show me what to do with this antagonist’s arc. And He showed me her motivations. He showed me how to twist the story into something better and different.
God is much, much bigger than we think He is. He can use our novels to change peoples lives (the way He’s used novels to change our lives). If He is going to use the character arc you write to turn someone back to Him, then He will make sure you do it right, if you listen to Him and seek His will, in small matters, as well as large. Psalm 34: 15 tells us that God hears the cry of the righteous, 1 John 5:13-15 tells us that if we ask anything according to God’s will, He will hear us aand answer us.
And that doesn’t mean that we should never ask the advice of others, because sometimes He reveals His answers through them. All I’m saying is that God should be our first port of call.
3. Study the Greats
You know the kind of people I’m talking about–C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, John Bunyan, G.K. Chesterton, etc.
This is a stylistic tip as well as a theological/spiritual one. These people are listed among classics such as Dickens, Tolstoy, Austen and the Brontes (study them too, while you’re at it) for good reason. But more importantly, they all understood the basics of Christian fiction. MacDonald, Bunyan and Lewis all wrote primarily allegories, Tolkien didn’t (I don’t know what Chesterton wrote :P). But they all wrote powerful stories, that are deep and full of light and truth.
They aren’t in any way “fluffy” or even always “comforting”. Lewis knew that God is “not tame”, that He is justice and mercy, that He is love, but not in a sugary-sweet way. Bunyan wrote, maybe better than anyone else, about the trials of the Christian life (this life is not a bed of roses guys)…
These people knew how to write valuable fiction that pointed people toward God. Sometimes they did that in a light hearted or comical way, sometimes they did it in serious, dark ways. Either way, they didn’t pander to what consumers wanted. They wrote the stories God placed on them.
Study them for style, study them for allegory, study them for their themes, even study them to find their faults.
4. Work Hard and Do Our Best
Its important to also work hard. We shouldn’t be giving God our half-baked ideas in the hope that He will accept these offerings as good enough.
God demands our very best.
In Genesis 4, Cain is rejected because he did not give God his best. In the minor prophets, God often tells His people that they are only give Him their second best. That they expect Him to make do with injured, crippled animals as His sacrifices. God even tells them, in Malachi 1: “Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” These are rhetoric questions. No, a governor or a king or a president would not accept these animals, so why should the Lord of All accept them?
The fact is, we are to give God our best. Best doesn’t mean perfect. He knows we’re human and will never do anything perfectly, but we can do our best. And that is what we ought to do.
5. Relinquish Control
Out of all five points, this is the hardest. It’s also a point that I’ve been realising with more and more clarity lately. To create truly valuable, impactful and powerful fiction, we need to relinquish control to God. We need to realise that this is not our story. It is God’s.
Our human nature’s want to control everything, but God will never be able to use someone who clings onto everything the same way He can use someone who has relinquished everything to Him. James 4:1-12 talks about submitting yourself to God, and frankly, it doesn’t sound like a pleasurable procedure. But it is a good one. Only in humbling ourselves and drawing near to God can we truly live as Christians. Otherwise, we’re just “talking the talk”.
Of course, I’m not perfect at this. I struggle with it more than anything else, but I’ve been practising. Every day now, before I write, I open my Scrivener tab, titled “Prayers” and I make a new note and I type out a prayer. In those prayers, I’ve been trying to change the focus from me to God. I used to say “God please bless my story”. Now, I try to say “God please show me how to write your story.”
Your own human talent can only get you so far. God has to do the rest. And we need to learn to relinquish (I just love this word! I don’t know why my obsession with it :P) everything–our talent, our stories, our characters, our dreams of fame and fortune and musicals based on our works, all to God to do with as He will.
Do you agree with me? Which of these things do you struggle with? Can you think of any other points that make valuable Christian fiction? Isn’t it amazing that God cares so much for us and our little works of art??