///principled fiction, that difficult creature

“Have you written a blog post on how your Christian principles affect your writing?”

Well, I hadn’t, but now I have. It’s a broad subject I want to condense a bit, so I’m going to use bullet points to touch on the most important aspects.

  • First of all, I firmly believe in not shoving the Gospel down people’s throats. That’s not how the apostles did it, it’s not how Jesus did it, it’s not how we’re supposed to do it. You’ll notice that while Jesus said ‘I Am,’ he also used parables about planting seeds and oil lamps. In these parables, He never said, ‘As you can clearly see, this seed represents you. It fell right there, but you didn’t listen, no matter how many times I told you—’ He gave them the story, and left them to come up with their own conclusions.

Back when I read (or tried to read) modern Christian fiction with any frequency, I would get so frustrated at the way Christianity was waved in my face. I was already Christian and the author was preaching to the choir, but there was nothing new or inspiring about it. Saying, “I’m going shopping, Lord willing,” doesn’t add anything to the story. It doesn’t make you sound more pious, it just makes you sound overbearing. It’s annoying.

  • I know many Christians (authors and readers) who are extremely conservative in the kind of fiction they read. That is to say, many of them wouldn’t read my novels. Sexual abuse? Indiscretion? Mild language on occasion? Feral dog-men? GOODNESS GRACIOUS, and this woman calls herself a Christian writer.

Yes. Yes, I do. And in these instances, I like to point toward my biggest inspiration and guidebook – the Bible. If you’ll just open up to Judges – oh, what have we here? Well, we have a concubine being abused to death, then cut into various pieces and shipped out. Flip around some more and we have incest, near-homosexual rape, heterosexual rape, murder, S*ng of S*lomon, and yes – even mild language.

The Bible, my friends, is a very adult book. So what makes it ‘okay’ to read? The whole point of it. The point of the novel is God. The Bible is rife with bad examples, but it is not about these bad examples. It’s about God.

  • I do not write anything I wouldn’t read. Sometimes, this means sitting back and looking at something from a different angle, or sending it to a friend so they can give me a second opinion. Sometimes I cut a scene or ditch a good idea, because that niggling voice in the back of my mind whispers, when in doubt, don’t. Frequently, it just means not dwelling on a certain aspect. For instance, Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar. (It happened. Look it up.) But the Bible does not give us a graphic sex scene – it focuses on the consequences of what happened.

My principles affect what I’m willing to show the audience. Uncle Ben gave us some pretty good writing advice when he said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ It can be extremely tricky, and I won’t always get it right – sometimes I might show too much, sometimes I might not show enough. (This is where good friends who will read your writing and hold you accountable come in hand. Looking at you, Arielle and Lauren.)

  • I don’t let the dark aspects of the novel overshadow the lighter ones. I try to keep a balance. Whenever I come away from a novel or a movie or a show or even a song, I have a very distinct flavor in my mouth. Sometimes that flavor is sweet, sometimes it’s salty, but when I write something I don’t want people to come away bitter. I don’t want them to feel as if they need to wash their mouth out with soap, or eat something else to mask the taste. That would destroy the whole point. Again, looking at the Bible, there’s a lot of darkness there, but in the end – it’s about God, and it’s about light.

It can be very, very complicated to write a novel, as a Christian, and have the novel be a good, deep, solid, lasting thing people will remember. You don’t want people to remember the book as ‘oh, yeah, a Christian book.’ You want them to remember it as a good book. Tolkien abhorred allegories, and yet he gave us the Lord of the Rings. Jesus is not found in the Lord of the Rings. And yet that book has encouraged and strengthened more than any amount of Christian fiction that tries to spoon-feed me their idea of Christ.

I imagine it would be much easier to write without Christian principles, but it’s a challenge I’m more than willing to tackle for the sake of my faith.

Here are the novels (written by Christians, although not necessarily ‘Christian fiction’) that have inspired me the most:

Anything by Stephen Lawhead

Most novels by Ted Dekker (exempting ‘Adam’ and ‘The Boneman’s Daughters,’ which I haven’t read).

Anything by J. R. R. Tolkien

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

The Narnia series (okay, anything by) C. S. Lewis

The Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis (YA series that greatly influenced me as a teen)

I hope this post was helpful. If there was anything I didn’t cover or mention, please let me know!

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17 thoughts on “///principled fiction, that difficult creature

  1. I’ve read this post twice and all I can say is a loud, hearty, “AMEN!”

    I don’t remember who said it, but at one point I ran across an article that concluded with, “We don’t need more authors writing Christian Fiction, we need more Christian authors writing fiction.” I’ve quoted that more often than almost any other writing quote and the principles and information contained in this post is why.

    Brava, Mirriam.

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  2. I adore this post! I pretty much always steer clear of Christian fiction and even music because it’s so overbearing, pushy, and it’s just too much fluff, honestly. There’s no substance other than “God is good” which we know and “Jesus loves you” which we also know and “He will help you; just ask” and we’ve heard that too.

    We need to be shown examples of people on our level getting better; you do that. Your characters are very relateable and always teach me something new. I love your novels because it’s clearly Christian, but not in-your-face, contemporary-Christian. I feel like a lot of contemporary Christians like to fit God in a box while singing “He can do anything” and “He is good beyond imagining”.

    Thank you for acknowledging this + avoiding it. Also, you’ve come a long, long way since Pocky. Love the guy forever, but you’ve grown so much. xoxo

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  3. Well put , and I think I agree with you on all points. I try to make my writing real and relatable, but that doesn’t mean needlessly graphic and dark. I don’t push a message I weave a subtle one in. I have a point, but I don’t restate it over and over again as Christian books are known to do. I think I will get my mom to read this, because she is currently panicking about the fact that I’m writing a zombie novel.

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  4. I want to print this post out and hand it out to various authors.
    I am a Christian but on a whole I am not a fan of Christian movies or books. They’re too preachy and unrealistic. They sacrifice story for morals. Tolkien and Lewis didn’t hit you over the head with their beliefs, they simply wrote wonderful stories.
    You do a great job, Mirriam, of presenting Christianity realistically in your writing.

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  5. I can name several books that have terrible things happen to the characters only for the shock value, and that’s when I say “too graphic”, but when it’s there for a reason, to show characters overcoming it, that’s when I think that it’s a good book. And from what I can see from your snippets, you do a great job at the “for a reason” aspect :)

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  6. Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O’Conner as also women who were Christians who wrote fiction. Flannery O’Conner wrote extremely well, extremely violent, extremely misunderstood pieces like “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”* and “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

    Dorothy Sayers wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey stories as well as translated Dante’s works.

    Both women allowed their world view to show through their stories. In the end, their talent for showing truth through fiction earned them a place in the annals great writers.

    And in the end, they both were called before Yahweh and gave an account for what they did with the talents that He gave them.

    I can say, without hyperbole, I believe you too will find your place in that same group as they.

    Like these two women, you also will have to give an account to Yahweh for what you did with the talent that you have. If you write with your breath catching in your throat every now and again because of that weight, you’ll do just fine finding the margin to stand on. And it will be a different margin than the on that O’Conner did. Or Sayers. Because you are neither, you are your own brilliant Mirriam.

    *just a friendly warning, this is a horror story, in case you were curious and wanted to read her I wouldn’t start with this one unless you like horror. It ambushed me.

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  7. I’ll chime in with another of those hearty amens!

    I love what you said about the whole point of the Bible (and of a Christian novel) being God. That all the dark parts should somehow end up pointing to Him. Along those lines, the book of Esther never once mentions God’s name, and yet He is evident throughout the whole story. And like you mentioned, Jesus didn’t shove His message down people’s throats–He wove them into stories. Even His very disciples didn’t always recognize the meaning of those parables. It took some digging, chewing, thinking, pondering, or outright explanations from Jesus. But the truths were there for those whose hearts were ready to hear it.

    As an aside, I think there’s also the issue of age-appropriateness to consider. Yet even with children’s or MG books, it’s still vital to convey truth in a relatable, non-preachy way.

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  8. Ah, I’m totally sending this to everyone I know so I don’t have to explain it anymore! I’ve always been drawn to writing things that are a little darker, a littler rougher, a little grittier, because I have stories I want to tell and ideas I want to put into the world and that’s how I want to do it. Sometimes I get off-focus and have to remind myself of what I’m writing and who I’m writing it for, but I get annoyed with the idea that “Christian fiction” has to be squeaky-clean and preachy in order to be Christian. To be honest I’ve found stronger Christian values in some secular books than I have in “Christian fiction” books.

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  9. Oh, Mirri. YES, YES, YES!!! There are so many people I wish would read this. In fact, I’m bookmarking it so if anyone ever questions the things I read and write, I can point them here.

    You make such amazing points about the Bible. I love how you said the Bible doesn’t give us graphic scenes, but focuses on the consequences afterward. That’s so true, and wonderful advice!

    I can go on and on about how perfect this is, but I’m going to refrain myself and just say THANK YOU. Thank you for being a brave writer. And thank you for encouraging bravery in all of us.

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