Friday, January 15, 2016

8 Problems in the Christian Fiction Genre (And How to Fix Them)


I’ll admit it. I don’t enjoy reading modern Christian fiction. I know this statement isn’t very unique, because a lot of people don’t like that particular genre. But here’s the interesting part: I’m a Christian. A Christian who writes Christian fiction.

So if Hannah, a Christian author of Christian fiction, doesn’t like modern Christian fiction, then I’m pretty sure that’s a huge red flag. And the fact that I know a few other Christians who aren’t particularly thrilled with this genre is an even larger red flag.

What has happened to this genre that has caused the people most likely to enjoy it to turn away?

Well, I have some ideas about that. Here are a few common problems within modern Christian fiction books, along with ways to fix them:
  1. They’re formulaic. Has anyone ever noticed that most modern Christian fiction follows the same general storyline? The character who is kind of (but not really) on the fence about Christianity. The conflict involves being confused or angry (but not too confused or angry, because that’s blasphemous) with God when bad things happen. If it’s fiction, the conflict is resolved by the MC realizing that God was right all along (surprise!). If it’s fantasy, the conflict is resolved after a long inner-struggle and the killing of a demonic force. Rather than copying this stereotypical plot, how about we write something of our own? A wild idea, I know, but I’m sure we can make it work.  
  2. They tend to contain the same antagonist. The bad guy is almost always either atheist or a demon. The atheist hates believers, usually because something bad happened to him that caused him to turn from the faith. The demon hates believers because...er...that’s kind of his job. There’s nothing wrong with demonic bad guys, but c’mon. We can do better than suave dudes in suits or sexy, red-lipped ladies. Also, please note that being non-Christian does not make a person evil. Christians are just as messed up as non-Christians, so try not to take a narrow view of things. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an antagonist who thinks he’s Christian, but has a very different and warped view of what a “Christian” is? There are so many different ways to write villains, so let's look beyond just two types. 
  3. There aren’t very many subgenres. It seems like most Christian fiction is either some kind of fictional romance novel, a good vs. evil fantasy, a story about a missionary, or an end-time story that’s a rip-off of Revelation. That’s about it. But nobody said that we have to confine ourselves to these genres. So please, for the love of Christian writing, think outside of the box! There’s no reason that Christian fiction can’t span pretty much all genres.
  4. The answers come too easily. In other words, Christian fiction portrays the world in a much too fluffy manner. The character struggles with coming to terms with his faith, but then the scales fall from his eyes and everything is okay. Not only does this not make for a good storyline, but it’s simply not true. Gaining faith is not easy. Keeping it is pretty hard, too. If a book is to send a meaningful message, then it must be truthful. Don't sugar-coat. Life can be dark and ugly. Believing in Jesus doesn't automatically make that go away. So tell the truth. Despite what some movie characters say, we can handle it.
  5. Christian fiction skirts around difficult issues. I think a lot of Christian writers have the idea that they aren’t allowed to bring up serious questions against God’s existence, his love, or his reasons for allowing suffering. This is a misguided idea. I think C.S. Lewis explained this best in The Weight of Glory: “If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.” There is nothing wrong with questioning and exploring Christianity and God in your writing. In fact, this questioning tends to be what will allow your book to help others....And yourself. Is this scary? Yes. But if it’s not scary, chances are it’s not worth writing about.
  6. It targets only Christian readers. Christian fiction should not be something only enjoyable to Christians. How are we supposed to reach people if we stay in our own little bubble? The fact that a Christian novel is only liked by Christians means that it’s doing something terribly wrong: It’s relying on a common link between the writer and the reader (Christianity) to cover up all of the plot holes, preachy scenes, and fluff. This is not okay. If you cannot send a message about Jesus in a way that is understandable and relatable to those who don’t believe in him, then you probably shouldn’t be attempting to write Christian fiction. Harsh but true.  
  7. Everyone’s trying to be C.S. Lewis. And this is in no way conducive to creating unique, helpful novels. Remember: You are you. You are a good writer. Go write like no one else can. Go write like yourself.
  8. It’s too preachy. Unless you’re a dictator, books should not be used as brain-washing propaganda. I’ve said it before in relation to other writing, and I’ll say it again in relation to Christian fiction: If you feel the need to preach, then you’re coming at this in entirely the wrong way. If you cannot get your message across through characters, actions, and symbolism in a strong yet pleasant way, then you’re doing it wrong. Write a story, not a sermon. Sermons cannot be stories. But sometimes stories can be the very best kind of sermon: a beautiful, helpful, penetrating message that will be remembered long after the book is closed.
I think the biggest problem with Christian writing comes from the fact that authors are human, and thus struggle with how to come to terms with, and write about, the problems of the world in light of their faith. This generally leads to books that are either too aggressively protective of their faith (leading to Bible thumping), or too insecure in it (leading to timid, fluffy writing).

If you fall into the first group: try to keep an open mind in your writing and understand that you cannot make everyone believe what you do.

And if you fall into the second group: it’s okay. Nobody expects you to have all of the answers. They just expect you to be truthful enough to admit that you have questions.

But, no matter what group you’re in, remember to pray. You can’t write something meaningful without guidance.

What do you think? Whether you’re a Christian writer or otherwise, please jump in with your thoughts. What areas would you like to see improvement in when it comes to Christian novels? What Christian books have you read that you thought were done well? Please keep comments thoughtful and respectful.

Related articles:
Challenging Writers to Create Stories With Meaning
8 Stereotypes in YA Dystopian Novels
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop

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75 comments:

  1. This is so true! I'm a Christian Fiction writer and I have gotten so tired of CHristian literature these days. I did (regrettably) identify with a few of your statements i.e. the killing of a demonic force, sexy, red lipped ladies. That's not to say that what I'm writing is terribly formulaic. I just need to be extra careful to not veer any closer to the Christian cliches. Do you have any advice for writers struggling with editing?

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    1. I'm guilty of using the demonic force, so don't sweat it. Sometimes, if you try hard enough, you can make a cliche turn out beautifully. =) I wrote one article on how to know when you're finished with editing: http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.com/2015/06/how-to-know-when-to-stop-editing-your.html But I'm not sure if that's what you're struggling with. Anything specific that's giving you problems?

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  2. #1 is probably the biggest problem I have with Christian fiction. It seems like a lot of writers think that, because their work has a good message, they don't need to worry about creating a well-written story. So they stick to the same old formula, and every story comes out the same.

    In regards to #3, I would love to see Christian fiction venture into more genres, but not just for the sake of it being what's "trendy" at the time. I think it'd be interesting to see a well-written dystopia or sci-fi story with Christian themes.

    Anyway, you really hit the nail on the head with this list! It was a great read, and it was nice to know I'm not the only one who's felt this way about Christian fiction. Thanks for writing about it!

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    1. Your comment on #3 is spot on! It's good to branch out, but not because you're trying to get 'in' on a currently popular genre. I'd also love to see more Christian dystopias. It wasn't until I wrote my own dystopian short story that I realized there aren't a whole lot of those out there. =] Hoping to see that change soon.
      Thanks for the encouraging words, Maggie! I was nervous about writing it, so I'm glad to know that it resonated with you.

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  3. You have made some very good points. I am also not an overly big fan of Christian fiction. Your point #6 is something I have recently been giving a lot of thought to. Sometimes it seems as if Christian fiction books are written so people can stay in their own safe little worlds without being challenged in thought. Reading the same basic story over and over. But, it's not really any different than many of the readers I've met. How many people soak up one YA dystopian novel after another, or romance novel, or manga, never experiencing another type of story. There seems to be no genre that escapes this problem, mainly because there will always be readers to buy these books. I think one of the saddest things is the separation of Christian themes and ideals into Christian bookstores where non-Christians do not go in search of reading material. I think it is important for there to be Christian authors who write their worldview into books that will be sold in a regular bookstores, and picked up by non-Christians. There really is no point in writing the Christian message (especially in a cheesy and cliche way) into books that will be sold in stores that find very few non-Christians perusing the aisles.

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    1. The entire time I was reading your comment I was bobbing my head up and down in agreement. Your analysis of how non-challenging books have become is very true. It is sad to see that people get stuck reading only a single genre. They never realize that they're reading practically the same story over and over again. Not only do they not notice, but I doubt that they would even care. I didn't consider how this effects how formulaic stories have become, but it makes perfect sense.
      Thank you for the insightful comment! I appreciate it.

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    2. One of my goals is to have a well-written story that tells the truth using 'our' [I struggle not to say THE] metanarrative. I have always enjoyed fiction, and particularly fantasy for that. A well-written story can tell the truth about who we are and how the world is by sneaking up on us. My favorite stories are still the ones in which I see myself, human nature, and the story of redemption and grace... without the author breathing a single 'Christian' buzzword. That's the kind of story I'd like to read, and it's the kind I would want to write.

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  4. This is the kind of thing Luther would've nailed to the church doors. Well said. The modern mainstream authors of Christian Fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed were Bryan Davis (Dragons in our Midst), L.B. Graham (Beyond the Summerland, etc.), and *some* of Frank Peretti's work. Not that those three are without flaws, but for the most part their work is solid. Again, fantastic article, and I wholeheartedly agree with all your points.

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    1. Lol! Thanks. I have actually never read anything by L.B. Graham. Off to put him on my "to read" list. =) I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Spot on. Before reading this post, I had just been thinking about how badly written modern Christian movies are. This really explains the problems with them, as well as Christian fiction.

    I was also wondering why movies with Christian themes that weren't made by Christians (Amazing Grace, Chariots of Fire) are so much better. I think it's because they don't feel the need to put in preachy scenes, atheistic villains, or other "Christian fiction" stereotypes. As a Christian writer myself, I am familiar with the temptation to make all my stories have an obvious salvation story so that they will show a very clear Christian message. But really, there is so much more to write about. Telling about life after coming to Christ can be just as powerful. And even stories that don't directly mention God or Christianity can still be life-changing in a good way because of their important messages they communicate.

    Anyway, I'm done ranting, this was a great post, and (needless to say) I agreed with everything you said completely. :P

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    1. I like your thoughts on how you can still have Christian themes in a book without having your book fall into the "Christian fiction" genre. I have often wanted to try this out with my own writing, as I do agree that many books can be life-changing even if they don't directly mention Christianity. It could be a sort of "gateway book" to God. =)
      I'm glad you liked this post. I appreciate the thoughtful comment, as well! It's always cool to connect ideas with other writers.

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    2. LOVE the comment re: non-Christian filmmakers making Christian films sadly do it better in some cases. I totally have noticed this as well!

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    3. I think Christian movies are getting better, but you're right. Most of the time, they're terrible. I did really enjoy "The Song," but parts of it I found a bit cliched (Rose basically slut shaming Shelby because of her tattoos, rather than her husband-stealing actions. I know some great Christian people who have tattoos).
      I think my life goal as a writer/screenwriter is to write a really good Christian story that anyone can relate to, and it doesn't bash you over the head with rhetoric.

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  6. This is actually a big reason I switched away from reading Christian fiction for a while. Recently, however, I've discovered a whole section of Christian authors breaking this mold, especially small press and indie authors. Have you ever heard of Enclave Publishing? It's a medium press that publishes only Christian sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, steampunk, and any other weird genres. Their stuff tends to break the clichés (try a sci-fi with a pregnant cyborg. Yeah, not your typical Christian fiction). Have you ever read Jill Williamson? Some of her early stuff fit some of these clichés, but lately she's been branching out more. She wrote a Christian dystopian that dealt with drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and STDs.

    I'll admit, that as an author, I have been guilty of some of these clichés. Mostly #1 (though once the character comes to faith, things aren't exactly rosy for him. If anything, things get worse) and #2.

    Just a thought, but isn't it okay to sometimes write for a target audience of only Christians? While stories can evangelize, sometimes it is okay to "preach to the choir." The choir happens to be filled with weak, pathetic, messed up people who need to be convicted and straightened out. Not every preacher is expected to be a missionary. Some are called to preach to the flock already in the fold. Same for Christian authors. Some are called to evangelism through their writing, some aren't. Sometimes one series can be written targeting Christians, but another series by the same author might be targeted to a broader audience. That's my opinion anyway, so feel free to disagree. For an interesting discussion on this topic, check out SpeculativeFaith.com, a website that discusses speculative fiction from a Christian perspective with a lot of differing views. This past year, they had a whole series of posts on Should Christian stories always evangelize? It's well worth reading through. http://www.speculativefaith.com/should-christian-stories-evangelize-chapter-1/

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    1. You're totally right: indie Christian authors are doing a brilliant job of thinking outside of the box. Also, Enclave Publishing makes me happy. I have noticed that they seem to be making an effort to produce new, but still well-done, stories. I have yet to try Jill Williamson, though, but she does look like somebody worth reading. Thanks!

      I wouldn't worry too much about falling into the cliche zone. If you're aware that you're in it, then there's no huge danger. =)

      Excellent point you bring up about targeting a Christian audience. In the way that you're using it, I do think sometimes it's okay to "preach to the choir." Christians do need a lot of help, so I can see how it would be good to write books targeting specific problems. If you feel called to do it, and if you're making an effort to write a story rather than a sermon, then I think it's OK. The link you sent me is super interesting! I read chapter 1 and am looking forward to reading the others.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment, Tricia! Keep being awesome.

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  7. Yes, yes, yes! I've felt this way myself many times before.

    My current main project, A Promise Rose, is a romance story between two saved people. It's all about figuring out what love looks like and how on this green earth do you make life work? And it's not as if I'm avoiding talking about God in this story - the whole premise is like Isaac and Rebekah, that they were given a sign by God to pursue each other. It's there. I'm just choosing not to bash my readers over the head with the Gospel message, because that's not the kind of person I want to be. I want to understand people and understand why they're hurting and then help them as a person, instead of throwing a blanket message out there. Yes, it's vitally important. But that's not the only thing that is important. I know from my own experience that I personally can making a greater impact by relating to someone. I've worked with some really messed up people and always had better success at helping them understand that they're not alone, when they could see that I knew what they were going through. For a much less serious example, I had a bigger effect on my boy-crazy cabin of summer-camp girls when they watched me relating to the boys on a much deeper level, interacting with them as people rather than cute hunks, then I would have if I'd tried to tell them how proper girls should behave. What is it they say about writing? Show, not tell? For me, who talks best with her hands and her written words, that is totally the truth.

    And in this book, I'm talking about the hard stuff. Sophie's little sister dies in a car accident, when Sophie's at the wheel. Ethan struggles with understanding the purpose for his existence. Sophie has a scarred and damaged past that she have to come to grips with before she can heal. Writing this story -hurts- in places that I didn't know I had. It's messy and rough and hard because life is that way, but at the same time, they're figuring it out and becoming better and more whole and light. They're learning and growing and at the end, it was all worth it. All the doubt, all the pain and hurt and sorrow and heartbreak and tears... All worth it. Because it is, in the end. You do the best you can and you keep trying to do better and at the end, so help me God, it's worth it.

    And one other thing that always, always irritated me about some of the Christian literature that I've read is how fluffy it is, like you said. That's not an accurate picture of how life works. It bothered me that authors would paint that picture because I would have thought that they, of all people, ought to know their Bible stories better than that. The Bible is messy, people, and life is messy. Bad stuff happens. Have you read the Old Testament, and especially the Law books? Oi.

    Anyway, rant over! Good post, Hannah, thank you. It's something I've been thinking about for a couple weeks now and haven't sat down to write out at all, even in my journaling. Great mind think alike, or so they say... :)

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    1. That speculative faith website looks great, Tricia.

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    2. It sounds like you're writing something to be proud of, Annie. The fact that you knew going into it that you wanted to handle the story with understanding (and without the use of bible-bashing) is huge.
      I like when you wrote: "You do the best you can and you keep trying to do better and at the end, so help me God, it's worth it." This applies to both characters and their writers. Stretching your writing and your characters to grow also stretches yourself. It sounds like what you're writing is impacting your life as well, which is super cool. I love hearing about other people's projects. Cheering you on from the sidelines!

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  8. Great post Hannah. I think I've managed to avoid some of those things. so far, while I'm sure I've terribly on others. Something to work on in my revisions.

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    1. Thanks Anna! It must be relieving to know that you've dodged a lot of the common mistakes. And the ones that you did, well, that's what editing is for. After writing this post, I realized that my own book needs a bit of a clean up, too. =)

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  9. I admit that I don't read much Christian fiction, though the problems you list can often be found in other areas of the fiction arena. In a nutshell, writing is hard and not many get it right :D Excellent and very informative article, Hannah - well done indeed!

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    1. YES. It's even hard to write a bad book. =) Glad you enjoyed the post, Ramona!

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  10. SO TRUE. I want to read more Christian fiction, but it's difficult when a lot of the time I pick up Christian books they end up being really mediocre.

    I loved Against The Tide by Elizabeth Camden - I think it actually broke the mold. More books like that, please!

    My goal as a writer is to write non-religious YA but from a Christian worldview and with Christian morals. At least that's my plan for now :)

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    1. I haven't read Against the Tide. It looks like fun, though. Thanks for mentioning it!
      Your goal sounds like a good one. I've often wanted to try something like that. Cheering you on!

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  11. "Christian" genre stuff overall (think: music!) has these same kind of cliche ideas you describe, Hannah, which I think is why doesn't spread as quickly. Like Stefanie said above, sometimes I think it's really important use Christian morals to approach non-religious stories. In music, OneRepublic is a really good group that is trying to do that. My personal favorite Christian authors are C.S. Lewis, one of the all-time greats, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm Catholic, so I like Tolkien a bit better, but Lewis really applies overall too! Thanks for pointing this out!

    Also, come check out my blog at https://mappingsoulswithwords.wordpress.com. You inspired me to start branding myself as an author, so THANK YOU!

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    1. Good point with the Christian music. I rarely listen to it for the same reason that I am so wary of Christian fiction. And I agree: we need more bands like OneRepublic. =) Also, happy to hear that you're a fellow fan of Lewis and Tolkien! They're amazing. =)

      I'm so excited to hear about your blog, Katherine! You're doing an epic job and I'm so impressed with your goal to post every day. Keep up the amazing work! I'm cheering you on.

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  12. While I agree about Christian books being preachy, my writing mentor is a well-known writer of preachy Christain romance. (She's currently writing exclusively Amish, which is one of my biggest complaints about Christian fiction) I wasn't a fan of her writing, mainly because I found it superficial. Her characters spent a good two thirds of the book talking about God. However, in getting to know her, I found that she spoke about God as much as her characters. I now read her earlier books (still hate the Amish genre) when I miss her just to hear her voice.

    I also don't see anything wrong with writing "fluff." I would say the majority of readers are looking for an escape. Why do you think so many romance books are published every month? If you're wanting to write a book to make people think, fine. But don't look down on people that are writing to entertain. My mother reads exclusively Christian romance. She wants something fun and relaxing at the end of the day. Christain romance doesn't have sex scenes or swearing. And if the preachiness gets to be too much she just skips those areas.

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    1. Your writing mentor sounds like a lovely person! I'm not a fan of Amish either. However, if a person feels called to write characters that are constantly talking of God, then that's okay. I just don't think people should use it as a lame/lazy way to get across a message. But if that's how the writer him/herself usually talks, then I see how it would make sense for that to translate into the books. That sounds like what she does, which is very neat. Good for her!

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  13. Very true. I remember about ten years ago, I bought a YA Christian "romance-fantasy" type novel, and it was flipping atrocious. It was trying to be both edgy and also "The Screwtape Letters," but it came off as really annoying, dumbed down and insulting. I chucked it as soon as I finished it. It also tried using scare tactics to keep teenagers from having sex, which sometimes works, but overall, it's insulting to the ideals of purity.

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  14. May I suggest Eric Wilson for your reading pleasure?

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! Off to go check out some of his books.

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  15. Hi Hannah,

    Found your article from the FB NaNoWriMo page. Spot on article, but you're missing a bigger overarching problem,... why have a Christian genre at all? A genre can't adopt a faith, neither can music or video games, or any of the other insanely cultic divisions Bible bookstore owners use to divide the entire nation in order to move their brands of Jesus junk. (And if you think it's anything more than just a racket, go visit the Christian Bookseller Association conference,... the money they spend on promotional materials in their books alone could pay for food for half of Africa.) There's no such thing as a Christian CD, or a Christian DVD. Plastic and paper can't convert. I understand the idea of being not of this world, but that didn’t stop Daniel from working in Babylon (The actual Babylon, not the one in every reggae song!) or Joseph from working in Egypt. Just be a human being with your own convictions, and write. Isn’t that more than enough? It certainly will make your writing infinitely more authentic than heavily censured propaganda.

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  16. You bring up a lot of great points.

    While I do believe that most Christian fiction can be limiting to an extent, there are other subgenres (like fantasy; but I tend to read a ton of fantasy anyway). I'd like to see more contemporary fiction written from a Christian perspective that isn't necessarily autobiographical.

    Also, on point #2, Erin Healy's "The Baker's Wife" is a good example of a Christian suspense novel with a self-righteous antagonist. But I agree that I'd like to see a greater variety from the stereotypical "bad guy."

    Thanks for the post!

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  17. I couldn't agree more with what you've written, especially the last part in terms of remembering to pray. For me that really is everything right there. I write what I feel led to by the Holy Spirit and I don't worry if it lines up with the mainstream "Christian" fiction theme of the day, which is far to "nicey-nice" for my tastes. I too believe that people can handle the whole truth and if we're not trying to reach out to the lost then what are we writing for? Entertainment for the choir? No thanks. Great post! I hope you'll check out my outside the box Christian Fiction sometime, and at the same time I will be checking out some of the names listed in the comments/post as I've quite given up trying to read Christian Fiction and I often don't read secular because it never satisfies my spirit to do so, hence I write the reality of what I want to read and wish others wrote and so hopefully you've helped me find a few gems I haven't discovered before. Thanks, Guy Stanton III - Author of Speculative Christian Fiction with an Edge.

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    1. Thanks for the great comment, Guy! I hope the comment section helps you find some good Christian fiction. It's difficult to find, but it's definitely out there. We just have to dig deep and keep writing books to help add to the more realistic side of Christian fiction.

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  18. If you want some glorious fun, try Guy Stanton III's novels. His first series is his best. It's epic fantasy, science fiction, action/adventure, romances with glorious spirit-filled characters who love the Lord like we all wish we could and think we do. The early ones need editing, but he's getting a lot better. The stories are so good, you forget about that really soon. His latest "Fallen Ambitions" is about a pop superstar specifically bred to be a temtation to the men and a bad example to the women, kept in sexual slavery or worse, gets gloriously reborn. But her old handlers are trying to kill her. They send an assassin to kill her, and he does???? It's a wonderful read. You finish praising the Lord.

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    1. What an interesting premise! Thanks for letting me know!

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  19. BTW: this is the genre: epic fantasy-science fiction-action/adventure-romance of The Warrior Kind, his first series. Book 1 is free.

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  20. Love this post! I don't read much Christian fiction, or any, really (with an obvious Narnia-shaped exception). I so agree with point #4. For me, it was epitomised in this book, I can't remember what it was called, about Sammy, 14ish, who thought church/SU were boring and uncool and was desperate for a boyfriend. She started changing herself (wearing make-up -- shock horror!) and not going to youth group etc and she had this massive crush on Luce, gorgeous next door neighbour, and plotted to seduce him. At the end she sees Luce drunk and BAM no longer likes him. She becomes a Christian and goes back to youth group, where she meets an attractive Christian boy who tells her about a bigger cooler youth group he goes to ... AND THAT'S HOW IT ENDS. "Follow Jesus, kids, and you'll get a boyfriend and lots of cool friends!"

    ~runs repeatedly into wall~

    Christian fiction preaching that Christianity makes everything bad go away is not only wrong, it's dangerous.

    Thanks for a great post, Hannah!

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    1. Perfect example for point #4, Emily! When that kind of stuff takes place in books, it makes Christianity out to seem like it runs on some weird material reward system. =] Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  21. The difficulty is finding Christian authors with the call and the commitment to allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit guide and anoint his or her writing to produce compelling fiction which shows Truth. That is difficult because the world will tell you that such a thing won't sell. You have to be sure of the Lord's Call on your life and what he wants you to do.

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  22. I feel like there should be more diversity, it seems like it's always the cookie cutter main character, never anything fresh or exiting.

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  23. What a wonderful post! I have to admit, I do like the Christian fiction genre, but that's mostly because I love Historical Romances and it's hard to find quality ones in main-stream. But I also agree with what you've said, and how too many authors keep their stories so clean that it's hard to get invested or root for the characters. My favorite author is MaryLu Tyndall, and the reason I like her is because she's one of the few who's willing to deal with difficult issues, and write about flawed characters. I mean, one of her most popular series is about Christian Pirates, and she's not shy of making them out to be what they are. And she's got a couple more fantasy/sci-fi tales as well, which is really refreshing. I just wish more authors, and publishing companies, would be willing to break the mold and dig deeper to find some good stories.

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    1. Christian pirates? That sounds fun! I'm going to have to look up this author. Thank you for telling me about her!

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  24. I so appreciate this post and the discussions it has stirred up. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels the same and not the only one who would love to see a shift! And I'm super excited to check out the pirate book--thank for hosting this discussion, Hannah!

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    1. Glad you're enjoying the discussion, Darlene! Thanks for the sweet comment.

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  25. I think I'll try this. Thanks for your tips! :) When I write it is usually Christian fantasy and hidden tightly so that it can relate to a wider audience. I pray before and after I write and try to have my characters face problems with their faith that I face so that I have a better sense of what they are going through because I also had that struggle.

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    1. It's so cool to hear that prayer is a huge part of your writing process. You are clearly working hard to bring glory to God through your stories. Keep up the amazing work!

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  26. While I haven't read a lot of Christian literature other than the Screwtape letters, there are 2 series I've found that I really like. The first one is the Dragonkeeper Chronicles by Donita K Paul and is definitely for younger people, but still carries a lot of Christianity in it. And is set in a fantasy world with dragons. It's pretty awesome. I liked the series a lot, but there's another series that I did like better than that one- The Fairy Tale Novels by Regina Doman. They're very small scale, so I don't think very many libraries have them, but I love them. They are modern retellings of fairy tales with a very Christian point of view- actually, most of the characters are Catholic. It does deal with deeper issues on several points and while the first book isn't quite as well written as the rest (in my opinion only), it still has a great story and interesting characters. I'd recommend reading either of those 2 series. Thanks for the post- I really enjoyed it!

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    1. I agree, the Screwtape Letters are amazing. I've never read any of the other stories you mentioned, but they look like fun. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  27. After reading this I kept thinking on it, even though I haven't read any Christian fiction (at least that was marketed as such or that I noticed). There are two groups of antagonists that I think have a huge potential, that touch upon the 'warped Christian' you mentioned. One is the 'Christians-in-name' or 'census-Christian', who are raised Christian, go to church and check the box on the census, but only do that out of habit, not because they really believe. Most of the time they haven't even thought about it and think: "I'm Christian because I go to church" and that's it, no matter what you do if you go to church you're a good Christian.
    The second group are the 'selective Christians', people who (mis)use their Christianity and the Bible to push certain points they feel strongly about ("Eating chocolate cookies is wrong, look, nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of chocolate cookies so obviously they are not meant to be eaten!"), but totally disregard Christian values on other points.
    Both groups are kind of similar, but I think they're differnt enough to warrant a seperate mention.
    I hope I have added something to think about for writers and others of course.


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  28. I really, really enjoyed this post! Part of the reason I began writing eight years ago was because I'd gotten bored with the Christian books I was reading- I wanted to read books with kids and teens who were naughty, got either a) kidnapped or b) in huge trouble, had to solve the problem and then were sorry to their parents because, surprise, their parents were smart! I really couldn't stand the books about the perfect kids, in fact I remember going to my Mom one time and handing her the one she'd been reading us and telling her, "Mom, I don't like this book because I'm not perfect and those kids are faking it."

    How's that for real? ;) Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it and am "pinning it" on for other writers! :)

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  29. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who noticed this! People have asked me why I don't want to write "Christian Fiction" and its mostly because a great deal of those people are content reading books that fall into the aforementioned categories. I am not. (If you want an example of good Christian fiction to read and haven't already I recommend Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy. Good values, most of the problems missed)

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  30. For one of the exciting new authors, we just gave David G. Johnson the speculative fiction "Redemptive Fiction Books of the Year, 2015" for his Chadash Chronicles. We gave Guy Stanton III the spirit-filled fiction BOTY award for "Fallen Ambitions".

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  31. Firstly, I loved your article! I completely agree with everything said. I've read a couple very cringe worthy books that fall under those listings, which is partly why I've moved away from them lately. Honestly, as bad as this sounds, secular books are often much more enjoyable and realistic.

    Another thing I've noticed with some "Christian" fantasy is the fact that it isn't. It's a poorly developed fantasy, and the author slapped in a beneficent deity and a bible-like book of placations, and BAM! it's "Christin." It's like they don't want to bother with writing a book that will hold up to the world's standards so they add a drop of Christin as an after thought to squeeze into the nitch market where people will read it just because it's not not-Christin. Particularly guilty of this is the Starlighter series by Brian Davis.

    On another note, I actually have a question. I've been working on a fantasy series for a while now and I'm not sure how I should treat faith and God in this context. I made my own world populated by fictional but realistic human cultures. Even if I never mention a God figure, my peoples will invent explanations for life. If i have a God figure, it seems to me I have to have some kind of explanation for good and evil and salvation. However, I cannot think of a way to do that without seeming allegorically cliché and cheap. I don't want to rip off real life, that's why I made a new world to begin with, but I can't think of any other way to include religion without it feeling lazy and slapped on. If I leave it out of the story though, it's either unrealistically religion-less, or sacrilegiously secular in world view. My best idea is not to mention God directly but hint at him and weave in the principles and morals of his kingdom, but that doesn't seem quite right either. Help? Does anyone have any ideas how to balance this between sacrilege and cliche?

    If you're interested in good Christian fantasy I would recommend Prophet, Judge, and King by R. J. Larson

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    1. Great question! First off, I wouldn't worry about being sacrilegious. The fact that you are trying to honor God means that that is probably a line you aren't going to cross. I think your idea of weaving in Christian principles and morals is a good idea. Because you are building a new world, you wouldn't be able directly mention Jesus anyway. I agree that trying to go super allegorical isn't generally a good idea. So letting your Christian principles shine through sounds good, and perhaps sometimes having a character pray and ask for guidance from God. You don't have to completely build up an entirely new religion, just briefly touch on the fact that your character believes in a God and that not all do....Or not all believe in just one God. Using that and good morals and people will be able to connect the dots. Best of luck!

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  32. I am also working on a fantasy, in a world built that has the religious, the true believers, workers of evil, and the whole nine yards. It took some work to develop a spirituality which shared truth but was different enough to work in this created world. For me, you can't do this without a savior/messiah and God's spirit, as well as a Creator. But it's a rich environment in which to develop characters and events. World-building is great fun. I feel you have to make it real and true before you can begin writing your tale. But that's just me.

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  33. I was waiting for one of the "typical" Christian plot to be all of the Amish stories lol. This is a great post and gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to write in the future. Thanks!

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  34. hmmm... I must not be reading the same Christian fiction you're reading. :) I actually think there are a wide variety of subgenres available and I don't remember the last book I read where the "bad guy" was an atheist or a demon. I also think that more and more Chrisfic authors are moving away from the forumlaic and preachy and tackling real issues honestly and without sermons. There are also quite a few authors lately who have been writing books that, while classified as Christian fiction, really have only hints of spirituality, making them ideal to pass on to mainstream readers.

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    1. I like the sound of these books you are describing, Carrie. What particular titles/authors would your recommend?

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  35. I was just texting with someone about this the other day, and she wanted to know why I don't really care for Christian fiction. I touched on similar points to your 3, 4, and 5, and then a bit more...

    1. The vast majority of Christian fiction seems to be romances, and I'm not a fan of romance in general. There are so many intricate aspects to other relationships and I wish more authors would carefully delve into them instead of cheaply settling with the romance theme...

    2. And the romance usually is cheap. One day, these two supposed complete opposites meet and - bam! - the next week, they're madly in love and starting their new life together. Gag me.

    3. The characters are too perfect. Christian authors, I think, are afraid to make their characters have "real" flaws because Christian readers will be quick to declare a book too "unchristian" in its themes. I cannot stand reading about a main character who's greatest flaw is that he/she "loves too much."

    4. To add on to my last point, many authors would benefit from learning about the MBTI and writing their characters with actual personalities in mind. Too many characters are perfectly extroverted and yet perfectly introverted at the same time... spontaneous one second, but somehow an awesome planner, too. Fiery and rebellious, but also calm and submissive. I just want them to make up their minds already... they can't have every best attribute of every personality!

    5. Add to this the fact that Christian (fiction or non-fiction) is such a small genre in the grand scheme of things, and I think publishing houses have simply become less picky with what they publish. Christian readers are desperate for something to read without "crap" in it that apparently we've all lost our discernment for good writing and the more subtle stuff that's woven into stories... I think a lot of Christian fiction is based on terribly unbiblical theology.

    --- I just discovered your site from a Google search, so I will check it out some more. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's annoyed with shallow "Christian" media! I would love to read some really well-written fiction that is focused on non-romantic relationships, but also doesn't contain a "bad guy" as part of the plot - one that focuses more on situations and how the characters deal with that and interact. Do you have any recommendations?

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    1. YES. Great point about many Christian novels being based around romance. That gets old very quickly. =)

      As for good, non-romantic Christian fiction: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis is great. The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton is also brilliant, though a very veiled and slightly confusing allegory. I love the Chronicles of Prydain, but it's for tweens and has a bad guy. And, not to be self-promotional, but you might like my Skies of Dripping Gold, as it is a character and situation-driven plot. =) It's a short story, though. There are very few Christian novels that I can fully recommend. I wish I had more for you. I hope this helps!

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  36. Check out Reality Calling: radiqx.com We specialize in reviews of speculative fiction, very little romance

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  37. You should read Ted Dekker. He is a Christian author who keeps my attention in every book, and has extremely interesting views on really tough subjects. He's a little dark, but he's all about finding our own darkness before seeing the light, so his books kind of follows that theory. Hes great!

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    1. I've read several of Ted Dekker's novels. He's very good! I did enjoy the way he handled darkness. I ended up taking a break from him because I felt like some of his novels had an unnecessary amount of sexualization, but I'll give him another shot. I remember thinking that he was very talented. Thanks for the reminder! He somehow managed to slip my mind.

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  38. I don't read Christian fiction myself, but my aunt--who's a devout Christian--does. And she's told me that while she loves reading Karen Kingsbury novels, she does feel that everything comes out a bit too neat in them. Everyone finds faith, and it's always a given that as long as you have faith in God everything will be all right. In short, Kingsbury doesn't seem able to acknowledge that your life won't be a spontaneous cycle of song just because you have faith, and while her novels are fun to read, they have an unfortunate tendency to bases their image of the Christian life more on how we'd like to think it is that how it really is.

    Or so my aunt says.

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  39. I couldn't agree with you more on every single fiery point you made! My family and friends have heard me rant time and time again about how much embarrassingly lame christian fiction there is out there. Because of our terrible reputation, I don't want my books on the Christian shelf. I want my books on the YA shelf, where people who need them will pick them up.
    As for well-done Christian fantasy, the best Christian series I've ever read is the Tales of Goldstone Wood and let me tell you, it's amaaazing! It's like an adult version of the Chronicles. It's beautiful and slightly haunting like the fairy tales of old, and accented with subtle analogies. It's a series that truly brought me closer to God.

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    1. Really late response (so sorry), but: I'm so glad you enjoyed this post! I've never read Tales of Goldstone Wood, but from your description it sounds like quite the read. I'll have to check it out. Thank you!

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  40. You made incredibly good points! I'm from Brazil and reading is a habit few people have here (though the statistics are changing, thankfully), and fewer Christian people read here. Simply because we almost don't have Christian fiction at all! So, Christian leaders have the wrong mindset, as if the books you're "allowed" to read as a Christian are books like those by John Piper and all those "how-to-be-a-good-christian" type of book. I love to write and I've been making researches on Christian fiction; books you could enjoy in its fullness because you can relate to the characters. Your article helped me so much, and encouraged me to focus more on the book I've been wanting to read but haven't found yet! Blessings, Camilla.

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  41. Heather, you were part of the impetus to start my new vetted Christian bookstore. So far, all it has in it are redemptive and spirit-filled Christian fiction. But we have plans to expand to Christian Religious fiction also. We do not advertise or support advertising in the bookstore. We are supported solely by affiliate links when you like a book and buy it. http://radiqx.com/vetted-christian-bookstore/

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    1. This is so cool, David! I'll be sure to check out your website whenever I need a good Christian novel. Thank you so much for starting it up. It is a great idea. Thank you for sharing the link!

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  42. Greeting from the Flipside is a very enjoyable book that is christian and romance, but it isn't preachy. Sure has prayer in it, but it's just more than the romance to me even though it's a main theme, but isn't done the way you would think. I say read it then judge it on how well done it was, but to me it was pretty flawless and it is pretty funny at times. I definitely want more modern christian books for fiction. As much as I love romance, there does need to be more variety in christian books. Why not have a romance that ends and not begins to show sometimes the guy or girl someone is woth isn't right for them and they see it. They at least did that in the movie God's Not Dead, but why not make that the theme of a book. Or family issues or friendship issues or beginnings or even about a news anchor covering a disaster and reporting the good in humanity and relating that to God taking care of us after we go through bad things, but not super preachy from the reporter's perspective. And I agree life isn't always pretty so real struggle is good. It's real and raw and that's what makes it such a good subject in writing.

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  43. Greeting from the Flipside is a very enjoyable book that is christian and romance, but it isn't preachy. Sure has prayer in it, but it's just more than the romance to me even though it's a main theme, but isn't done the way you would think. I say read it then judge it on how well done it was, but to me it was pretty flawless and it is pretty funny at times. I definitely want more modern christian books for fiction. As much as I love romance, there does need to be more variety in christian books. Why not have a romance that ends and not begins to show sometimes the guy or girl someone is woth isn't right for them and they see it. They at least did that in the movie God's Not Dead, but why not make that the theme of a book. Or family issues or friendship issues or beginnings or even about a news anchor covering a disaster and reporting the good in humanity and relating that to God taking care of us after we go through bad things, but not super preachy from the reporter's perspective. And I agree life isn't always pretty so real struggle is good. It's real and raw and that's what makes it such a good subject in writing.

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  44. Thank you so much! Really helpful and encouraging; I felt as though I was the only one that is continually frustrated with Christian fiction. I absolutely agree with you, and I think that we all need to engage others (non Believers included) and show them through a story the messages the Lord wants us to preach. I haven't found much good Christian fantasy (besides Lewis and Tolkien of course), so thanks for all the recommendations!
    All the best,
    Mikayla
    P.S. When are you planning on publishing your novel? I am thoroughly interested :)

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    1. Also if you haven't read them already, I would recommend the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, one of my few favorite Christian authors.

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