The Art of Mirriam Neal

///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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