Excuse Me, But Your Faith is Showing - guest post by Mirriam Neal

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

You know how it goes. You see the title of a book that might be interesting, you pull it off the shelf, and you see – horror of horrors – it's a Christian book. Well, never mind, then; you put it back on the shelf. The worst part? You are a Christian.
            But just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you have to support mediocrity – and having a watered-down, Sunday School version of the Bible awkwardly dangled in front of you every time the oh-so-pious main character says anything is not your idea of good literature.
            I don't believe we should stand for lame, mediocre, sad 'Christian' anything. Literature, art, music, entertainment. The label 'Christian' should be the highest standard for everything, and yet it's the opposite more often than not.
            When I began to seriously write six or seven years ago, I wrestled with the question – how do I write a Christian book without writing a 'Christian book'?
            Bad writing has become almost a rule for Christians, and I wanted to be an exception. But how? I prayed, struggled and experimented for a very long time before the answer came to me.
            I had to stop trying so hard.
            I had to stop trying to force my characters into good little Christian cookie-cutters. Why? Because I couldn't write real, believable, relateable people who respond to every trial with, “The Lord provides,” or “All things work together for good.”
            For one thing, it's boring. For another – who does that? Quaker pastors in black-and-white movies, that's who.
            What's the point in reading the story of a character who's already perfect?
            Jesus was the only perfect One – attempting to write someone Jesus-perfect is not only a bad idea, it's an affront to His perfection. You want to read about imperfect, struggling, flawed characters with somewhere to go, a journey to follow. You can't grow with a character if they aren't...well, growing.
            So, I stopped trying to force Christianity on my characters, and a miraculous thing happened. A novel – about an atheist scientist, a naive test subject, and one Christian professor. The two main characters were not Christians. In fact, they were the opposite – especially the scientist. A story of redemption, the scientist and the test subject did come to believe in God – but none of it was forced, because I didn't force them into anything.
            That was my first independently published novel, and I was surprised at how well it was received.
            After that, I branched out. Not all characters are going to be baptized at the end of a novel – some might have once believed, and turned away. Some might not be interested. People are, after all, people – whether they have fangs or not.
            I wanted to break the 'Christian' mold and so, after reading a book by Susannah Clements called The Vampire Defanged, I wrote a vampire novel. After five rewrites, it was finished – and it is, to date, the largest cast of any novel I have ever written. The story focuses on a man who once believed, but a series of circumstances have made him hate even the idea of God; a young preacher who rides a motorcycle  and believes vampires have souls; a vampire who loathes his own inability to withstand his craving for blood; and dozens more. I wrote because I felt these characters were important, that they needed written, that we can't leave the supernatural and paranormal entirely to the secular side of the world. I wanted to tackle the issues of blood and killing and what truly makes us human.
            And, to me, this is the most Christian novel out of all of them. This is the novel the most people have related to. I've gotten emails from beta-readers telling me how they connected with the hunter, or the vampire, or the preacher, or the half-breed, or the skin-walker.           
            Have you ever seen the movie Signs? It is, as far as I know, the only 'Christian alien' movie ever made (I'm probably wrong, but I have watched a lot of alien movies). Aliens attack earth, and at the end of the movie, we see Mel Gibson return to his faith – and his position in church.
            And it's beautiful.
            The heart of what I'm saying is this: don't force Christianity on your characters, because it will feel forced. If you are a Christian, with a heart for God, that will be evident in the novel, because you hold certain standards and beliefs. The best stories, the ones that stick with us, aren't 'that one Bethany House Amish novel,' but books like Tolkien's Middle-Earth novels, or Lewis's The Great Divorce, or Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love – stories that tackle the hard issues, where characters have their hearts broken and their faith questioned and they come out victorious anyway.
            Write with heart, write with guts, and write with faith – and write well.
            Then you will have something better than a 'Christian' novel.

            You will have a good novel.

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-year-old INFP with serious issues including a) misplaced character attachment, b) an overwhelming sense of humor, c) people-think-she's-an-extrovert-but-she's-really-an-introvert syndrome,
and d) Compulsive-Obsessive disorder. She blogs weekly (sometimes daily) about whatever catches her fancy, and she's the author of bio-thriller "Monster" (available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and selective retailers). 

5 sweet note(s):

  1. Great article!! I have struggled with this as well, and I've kind of resigned myself to just stop trying to make my writing "Christian" and to just try to make it good. I'm sort of proud of myself for one short story I wrote because it started with this atheist guy and instead of steretypically ending with him getting saved kneeling in a church or something, I just ended with him starting to think that maybe there is something more.

    And yes, I saw Signs....I thought it did a great job with the protagonist's inner struggle and redemption. I actually wrote a review XD http://lauramizvaria.deviantart.com/art/Movie-Review-Signs-373175084

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  2. Fantastic post! I have struggled with this issue in my own stories and now realize I'm trying far too hard to include my faith in the pages. So, thank you for this!!

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  3. Very enjoyable post :). I so agree with the point not to FORCE one's characters into anything. I'd take that a little farther, though: the most glaring examples of preachy literature are the ones where the characters express themselves in ways that don't feel natural, to the people or to the time period. So, for example, characters in a WWI story are more likely to refer obliquely, once in a while, to "Providence", while characters in a story set in 1400s France are more likely to do things "by the example of Monseigneur Saint Nicholas", whereas Regency characters will speak of "religion" and "good principles".

    Doing one's research and being faithful to the setting makes a HUGE difference :). Your characters MAY be the kind who naturally discuss spiritual things (mine, somewhat to my surprise, certainly were). Just as long as their vocabulary and point of view is authentic to the time period, you can get away with quite a lot of overt Christian themes.

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  4. I remember when I first made that mental connection and understanding... that writing as a Christian didn't mean you had to write "CHRISTIAN!!!!!!!". It truly made all the difference in my stories.

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"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body..." ~Proverbs 16:24

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