An enduring problem faces Christian writers who want to share their faith through their novels: if they include their faith in their books, it becomes “Christian” fiction. Christians read Christian fiction. Christians don’t need saved. Unsaved people read secular fiction, and they won’t ever end up touching an outspoken Christian’s book. Does that mean that no outspoken Christian will ever be able to lead someone to Christ through a novel? How in the world are we to use fiction to glorify God and bring people to Christ? Is the deck stacked against us and that’s that?
God is greater. Christians can (and will) change the world. But how are we, as writers, supposed to fulfill the Great Commission?
By writing stories so enthralling that they can’t be put down—or forgotten.
1. Write Well
Why do Christians read secular fiction? Because the stories are moving. The characters are relatable. The plots are gripping. Sure, we don’t agree with some of the morals or language in the books, but we’re willing to gloss over that to enjoy the novel as a whole.
Why doesn’t this work the other way around?
Why do Christians feel they have to compromise their beliefs to entice non-Christians to read their work? Why aren’t secular readers reading our fiction the same way that we read theirs?
Because our fiction isn’t as riveting.
I don’t mean that all Christian fiction is duller than secular fiction. After all, we have The Chronicles of Narnia. Everyone reads Narnia, or at least watches the movies. Why? Because it’s too magnificent to bypass.
If we intend to share our faith with unbelievers through our writing, we have to get them to read it. If they’re going to read it, it has to be exceptional. That’s a high calling, but we won’t influence anybody if our fiction isn’t up to par with mainstream publishing.
There isn’t a secret formula or pattern for Christian fiction, only good fiction and bad fiction. Inspiring stories and forgettable ones. Compelling characters and stale ones.
Your writing won’t go anywhere if it’s not top-shelf. Neither will mine. Or Ted Dekker’s. Or John Grisham’s. Or Suzanne Collins’.
2. Write to Answer Specific Questions
Now you’ve hooked them into reading. Of course, they’re hoping to enjoy the story and ignore all the uncomfortable Christian parts and walk away from the book unchanged.
Don’t let them.
Shake them up by depicting present-day issues. Issues they can’t escape by tossing your book aside. Issues that are down to earth and everyday. Issues they’ll encounter if they turn on the news, or log in to Facebook, or watch the neighbor’s kids arguing in the yard. Plant inescapable questions and doubts in their head.
The religion of the unbeliever (whether Atheism, Islam, or Hinduism) is riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese. Atheism is a belief in chaos and cruelty and barbarism. Show that to your readers. Demonstrate how slavery, tyranny, anarchy, murder, and greed are caused by their own atheistic beliefs.
One great way to do this, without having your mentor sit down and explain it, is by using your villain. Villains will always use silver tongues to win over your hero as well as the masses. Is he causing anarchy? He calls it freedom. Is he selling slavery? He calls it safety. Is he propagating Godless immoralism? He calls it progressive thinking. Orchestrate your story, and your villain, to show your readers the ultimate outcome of what they believe, and make them loathe it. Then leave that image so permanently ingrained in their mind that they can’t ignore it.
3. Avoid Clichés
“Jesus is love.” “Jesus forgives you.” “Jesus loves you.” Yes, those sentiments are all true and beautiful and wonderful and awesome. But your secular reader will dismiss them out of hand because he’s heard them numerous times before. It’s like unbelievers have developed an antibody for these clichés, which prevents the message from ever penetrating them.
You have to circumvent their defenses. You have to be original. You have to show the love of Jesus before you say it. You need to exemplify the forgiveness of Christ before you expect them to believe in it. Not in the wise words of your hero’s ally, or father. Not when your character goes to church and listens to a sermon. You must show, and test, your faith in your characters’ actions and decisions. Actions speak louder than words.
And actions are not cliché.
Using clichés is the surest way to hinder your story from touching anyone. Don’t give your readers the option of disregarding your message.
Change the World through Writing
If your fiction is irresistible, people will have to read it. If it’s down to earth, they won’t be able to forget it. If it’s original, they won’t be able to lump it into a category and dispose of it. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound like everything your writing teacher told you? “Write compelling, authentic, down-to-earth fiction and you’ll have it made.” Maybe. But that’s sort of the point. There isn’t a special way to write exceptional Christian fiction. There are just good ways to write good fiction.
And good fiction changes people’s lives.