Author Mike Duran posted an essay titled, “The Problem with Message Driven Fiction.” As usual, his post generated a good bit of comments. One of the themes arising in the comments is what makes a story “preachy.” As one commenter put it, no one says they want their story to be preachy. Yet, we find a lot of Christian fiction that is preachy. So it must be a more poplar goal than the commenters were willing to admit.
Therefore, for those authors who do want to write preachy Christian fiction, I thought it would be a great service to list the seven best ways to accomplish that worthy task. After all, without a preacher, how will they hear? So here they are in reverse order.
Ensure you have some perfect Christian characters. All by itself, this does not guarantee preachiness, but without it, you have no one to deliver all those poignant lines of spiritual wisdom. And what is a good Christian story without perfect Christians in them to inspire us to such perfection? Someone needs to be the preacher.
Also ensure you have characters that not only need salvation, but will get it by the end of the story. Preferably in an altar call after hearing a sermon, because they by chance stumbled upon a church and decided for the first time in their life to go in because a street preacher called out a Bible verse and it spoke to him or her. Again, doesn’t ensure preachiness, but without it, the opportunity for preaching gets scarce.
Make sure the characters end up in a church service at some point in the story. What is more natural to preach to the reader than for your character to end up in a service and listen to a sermon that speaks to them? If the church factors into your story, great! Take advantage of that to get a salvation sermon in. If not? I’m sure you can find somewhere to tack that on.
Sprinkle plenty of Bible verses throughout the story. Especially if you have that perfect Christian pastor or friend who can expound on the meaning in those verses, just in case it isn’t clear enough by itself. After all, most Christians don’t go around all day quoting Bible verses, and may not know what they really mean.
Don’t just show, tell. Don’t trust your reader to be smart enough to get what you are attempting to convey in the character’s actions and dialog. Make sure one of the characters or the narrator takes some time to fully explain what the reader should understand from what just happened. So if someone rushes into a burning building and saves an baby from the inferno, don’t forget to tell the reader how that selfless act illustrates how far God’s grace has brought them from the sinner they used to be.
Make sure the plot offers plenty of chances for preaching, either by the perfect Christian or a pastor/evangelist. Remember, plot is to service the message, and that requires getting your characters into situations or discussions where they learn the truth of the Gospel message and other Christian values. Good places to make sure your characters go to are the jail, a bar (but make him/her not like it), the hospital because of some illness or wreck, or a church (see point five above).
And the number one way to ensure your fictional stories are preachy: say every truth you wish to convey at least three times. Every sermon has three point, and the Trinity is three persons. The Bible did it and look how popular it is. The formula is tell, show, and tell.
Do you have other methods to ensure preachiness? Don’t keep them hidden under a bushel, do tell.
This article originally appeared on R. L. Copple’s blog, August, 2011.