This may seem a little like splitting hairs, but there is a big debate brewing among certain writing/reading communities about what sort of faith-based fiction is “the best” or the “most appropriate.” And considering that I subscribe to a particular beliefs system, and it does affect how and what I write and read, I do feel that this debate will affect me. And that deciding where I stand on some of the more concerning topics is probably a wise plan.
There have been a lot of thoughts regarding this subject floating around my head the last several weeks. One: I totally think that typical “Christian fiction” has become way too categorized, unappealing to non-churchgoers, and really just “preaching to the choir.”
Two: I definitely think that it’s time for more Christian authors (meaning religion and lifestyle, not profession) to be writing “outside the box.”
Three: It’s more than beyond time for churchgoers of all denominations to stop telling writers of non-traditional genres (in the faith-marketing area) that what they’re doing is “wrong.”
Could some members of the Christian speculative fiction community please back me up here? I’m reading a lot of similar musings on your blogs and social media pages. And it’s helped me to feel that I’m not alone, and that has made me feel good.
Here are some other “guidelines” I think we should be bending:
The idea that faith-based fiction can’t have anything truly horrible or horrifying or even minorly dastardly in it. Think all the sappy Hallmark movies rolled into one. All the time. Absolutely no hint of bad language or sin. Not only is it intensely unrealistic, it is extremely off-putting to non-religious folks. If you’re a writer with a specific code of conduct for your characters — even the sinners — then please stick to it. But it doesn’t need to be so strict that the worst thing that ever happens in your novel is the protagonist breaks a nail.
Readers will relate so much better to a narrator whose spouse has just been caught having an affair (and, no, you don’t have to provide all the sensual details to get the point across), or a secondary character who spent a few days in jail after getting a DUI. This is real life. And if you want readers to find hope in a story of redemption and mercy and personal growth, this type of plotline is a great place to start.
The idea that faith-based fiction can have all the terrible and terrifying things it wants as long as it promises the glory of salvation. Too far the other side of the coin. Personally, I don’t think showing all the various sorts of depravity the world has experienced/is experiencing, and indicating that the only way we’ll find true peace and happiness is after we die and go to Heaven, is going to win people to a spiritual cause. Nor do I feel it’s ethically or morally responsible, quite frankly.
Why can’t we have a balance, of some bad things happening, but there being enough good while we’re still alive on this planet, to help keep the characters going, and the readers, too? (Cue the famous-and-best-ever Samwise/Two Towers speech.)
The notion that “true Christians” don’t ruminate on the dark and less-than-holy things of the world. Sorry, folks, but we do live in a fallen world — and how the heck are we going to explain the difference between the dark and the light if we don’t ruminate at least a little bit?! Whatever happened to the novels about a kid who lived a “bad” life — sex, drugs, juvie — then regretted his/her mistakes, and wanted to find a better way of living? Then a minister or angel in disguise meets them on the road when their car breaks down, and a message of hope and forgiveness gets woven into the story without being too preachy?
We truly need to have morally good characters — they go to church, they don’t smoke, they always recycle — that have a crisis of faith due to unfortunate circumstances. Or heroes that we know will do the right thing, but maybe they’re sometimes tempted to lie, or act on their attraction to a pretty girl, or consider getting drunk — but then they have this important moment of weighing the pros and cons and making a decision not to behave a certain way. Fictional people who mess up and try to learn from it are very easy to empathize with.
The concept that “true Christians” don’t ruminate on things like aliens, mythical creatures, other dimensions… Blah, blah, blah. I really cannot even with how ridiculous this is. How much of the Bible itself is devoted to unseen realms, dreams, miracles, visitations from angels, on and on?
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien really broke the mold in their lifetime, and we need to be proud of following in their footsteps. There is so much benefit to seeking out things you can’t see in the natural world, don’t necessarily understand right away, and may even defy conventional explanation. Trust me on this.
What do you think, my community? Anything to add to this slight diatribe?