Sometimes it’s not just the secular market that has problems with conversion scenes. Many conversions in Christian fiction are skipped over, viewed as boring, or actively avoided, because when someone attempts to write an “original” conversion story, it ends up being one that people have already heard. The fact that Jesus died for our sins isn’t a major revelation in modern Christian fiction. It’s not strange, or clever, or unexpected.
What are we supposed to do when the greatest story in the world becomes cliché?
Writing Unique Conversions
If you are writing for the Christian market, chances are that anyone who reads your book will be a Christian. At the very least, they will know enough about Christianity that the fact Jesus saved them will be old news. Thus, the easiest (and possibly best) way to write a conversion scene is simply that you don’t.
Hear me out. Your readers are Christians. Christians don’t need to be converted to Christianity. We have daily struggles and trials, but once we’re saved, we’re saved. If you’re trying to show a Christian how to get saved, you’re preaching to the choir (possibly in the most literal sense of the term).
Hebrews 5 tells us that “Solid food belongs to those who are of full age [in their Christian walk].” Although I don’t want to take that verse too far out of context, I think it does apply here. Christians don’t need to be told how to become Christians, or why they should convert. They’ve heard that. They’ve done that. Christians need to be taught love, forgiveness, justice, and hope, and how their faith should be turning their lives upside down. That’s what your stories should be about if you’re writing Christian fiction, not the moment of conversion.
But what if one of your characters has to be converted during your story, for purposes of the plot? Sometimes a character couldn’t possibly be a Christian at the beginning of the book but they have to be by the end. (A faceless assassin dude who falls for the pastor’s daughter. Big surprise, I know.) If your story has this problem, you will still write a clichéd conversion scene, and we circle back to our original question. How do you write an original, moving conversion scene in Christian fiction?
God doesn’t change; He will be the same in every one of your novels. History doesn’t change; the story of the cross will (probably) be the same in every one of your novels. But what does change? What will make your book’s conversion scene unique?
People are different. Every single one. Therefore characters should all be different. If your readers connect with your character on more than a superficial level, they will experience that character’s conversion deeply. If you make your scene personal to your character, it will be personal to your readers. Basically, it boils down to three aspects of character development: internal conflict, character change, and personality.
There are real people who hear about Christ’s sacrifice but sadly don’t put their faith in Him. But why not? Cynicism? Peer pressure? Fear of God? Fear of man?
If you want to write a genuine conversion scene, your characters must have real reasons not to convert. They have to weigh real arguments as they debate with themselves, and finally, they have to make real decisions. Remember, Jesus’ burden is easy, but Christians also have to take up their cross every day. There are costs to being a Christian. Always. What are those costs for your character? Why would your hero choose not to become a Christian?
If you are a Christian author, you have already weighed the costs for yourself and decided that following Christ was worth the price. Can you think of a convincing argument against Christianity? Yes, with deep-rooted, soul-examining, frighteningly-revealing honesty. We are all human. And we are all weak. We have had doubts. We might still have doubts. Of course, we know that Christ has answers for all our doubts and that we have no excuse to be doubters.
But still, we doubt.
We doubt the nature of Scripture. We doubt the presence of God in our lives. We doubt our salvation. We doubt that God’s mercy overshadows His justice and wrath.
The doubts we have as Christians are some of the same fears that your character faces when he is confronted with the choice to convert. The closer to your own doubts you write, the more genuine your scene will be. I know; it’s terrifying. Your readers might see you for who you are. Your readers might be your family, your close friends. They might never look at you the same way again, but unless they witness your honesty, they won’t ever be honest with themselves.
If you are still unsure what your character’s fears and doubts are, contemplate what he is learning in the story. What weakness is he striving to fix? Based on that weakness, why wouldn’t he want to convert? Also, how does the situation contribute to his fear? Are Christians being persecuted? Are they considered backward or simple? What external reason would your character have for not converting?
Finally, allow your character’s personality to show through. Realize that your conversion scene probably won’t convert thousands of readers. But if one reader connects deeply with your character, then your character might be able to walk that reader to the altar. Let your character be true to himself, even during his conversion. You don’t want him to break character in the most important moment of his life.
Writing conversions is hard, no matter the genre, but staying true to your characters, and yourself, will help you write a scene that is both original and moving to your readers.