I belong to a book club that meets monthly to discuss selected fiction and non-fiction books. The members are terrific Christian gals who are voracious readers. We often pick Christian non-fiction books to read and discuss, but seldom Christian fiction. Why? I haven’t taken a poll, but I’ve kept my ears open for answers. Here are the two biggies I’ve discovered.
First and foremost we want a captivating story. We want to be swept off our feet and fall in love with what’s happening on the pages. Do we always find this in the secular books we choose? No. We’ve ended up with some doozies and have fondly prioritized our fiction goofs by “the books we hate most.” So why not give Christian fiction a chance? Most of us would raise our hands to answer, “Because they’re soooo predictable.” Ouch. The sad truth is, predictability ruins a good story.
Secondly, we adore a good theme. We love it when the whole story is a subtle, well-written presentation of a whop-‘em-upside-the-head truth. (And, yes, we rip the book to shreds if the theme doesn’t present Truth with a capital T.) We’ve read a few Christian novels that accomplished this, and, believe me, we danced in the aisles—er, living room—when this happened. So, again, why reject Christian fiction? Because it’s preachy. Nothing subtle, no way! The Truth is right out there, under glaring spotlights—and in case you missed it, the author presents it a second time around for good measure. C’mon, admit it—what fun is that for the reader?
Writing a good Christian novel presents a terrific challenge—one that secular authors don’t have to face. As Christians we know God is sovereign, and that “all things work together for good to those who love God.” Halleluiah and praise the Lord for that! But, um, it does make the outcome of our protag’s story-problem a bit predictable, yes? And as Christians we pray a lot, we take our problems to God, we read our Bibles, we belong to churches whose pastors preach the Truth, we share the gospel with the lost. But if our protag lives this God-centered life (or is fighting it), these Christian elements can come across as, well, preachy.
So what are we Christian authors to do?
There are a lot of answers, actually. Your audience will make a difference—maybe your readers want all those Christian elements. Certainly genre makes a difference—a mystery or suspense novel handles the challenge one way, a romance, another. How you craft your characters makes a difference. And of course there are many crafty things (as in skills) one can learn to do to avoid predictability and preachiness. You might say my book club is fussy, and I wonder how well read the members are in the CBA market. But the point remains—predictability and preachiness are inherent problems that need to be addressed in Christian fiction. I’ve come up with some answers for my writing. How about you?