1. Show, don’t tell, is often one of the best rules to remember when thinking about message, theme and characterization. There are times when someone can ‘tell’ in their stories, but generally that should be in an entertaining way, one that makes it feel like that is the natural perspective of a character rather than something the author is trying to force readers to do.

    That involves letting the story illustrate how people actually are on some level, rather than having them directly learn a certain lesson and then have it all tie up in a nice little bow so that the story can have a nice fluffy ending. With my current WIP, for instance…the main char never really forgives his mother, but his life shows the hows and whys of his feelings, as well as the effects. He isn’t even worried about forgiving her, but he is concerned when he sees how his resentments affect his behavior, which spurs him into a decision that starts the whole plot. Still, though, forgiveness isn’t really the theme of the story. Right now, conflict in general comes a lot closer to being the central theme. But, I don’t know. If a story basically shows the anatomy of resentment or some type of situation, people can learn a lot from it, and form their own conclusions, even if the story doesn’t come out and say what those conclusions are.

    And like, I don’t know, just because an author believes in forgiveness or patience or self control or a certain political stance, does that mean that all of their chars (or even the main ones) have to be perfect bastions of their viewpoint?

    In some ways I actually do struggle with message because I’ve always hated being misunderstood and pour a lot of effort into communicating clearly. But communicating well in a story doesn’t have to mean stating things in a blunt, preachy and seemingly inauthentic way. Not everyone is going to understand, no matter what anyone does, but with time authors can learn to communicate clearly by showing and not using preachy telling methods.

  2. Travis Perry says:

    I think there’s another kind of Christian fiction which you didn’t mention. At least one other, maybe two. A basic kind or kinds.

    There’s yes, clean fiction and also fiction with a gospel message. But another type would seem to me to be realistic fiction about Christian characters, which shows them reacting in faith to genuine hardship–note the “genuine” part of the hardship may partially or wholly contradict the clean fiction vibe, because hardship may include someone hurling profanity at the Christian character or the portrayal of crimes like rape. Which pretty much doesn’t qualify as clean, but is worth portraying at times.

    A possible fourth type is “possible” based on what you meant by a “gospel message.” If you meant sharing the good news of salvation so that a person might accept Christ then there are other theological themes that a story could show other than a gospel message. E.g. a story could simply demonstrate the existence of God or the power of God or the nature of spiritual warfare without laying out a gospel message. Though perhaps what you meant by “gospel” was broader–perhaps you meant by “gospel” any story with a specific Christian intent.

    In any case, a problem I see with Christian fiction is the dominance of clean fiction–which is fine in its own context–creating an expectation that Christian = clean. Which it doesn’t necessarily.

    I’m also concerned with clean stories that in theme are either subtly or blatantly in opposition to actual Christian teaching but which pass as Christian because they are clean. Not good.

    I think many new so-called Christian fiction books, better written in style than older “Christian” books that woodenly featured a message of salvation in every plot, actually suffer from lacking any really interesting ideas, be they Christian or otherwise. It’s a stealthy issue of a slick cover, slick production, crisp prose, but no real message at all. A story of plot, characters, but pretty much no theme of any importance at all. Just characters going through some kind of conflict to get to a resolution.

    Our predecessors in fiction, both Christian and non-Christian, did not hesitate to use fiction to comment on the nature of the universe and our species…great stories don’t omit powerful themes.

  3. Stephen Smith says:

    Personally, I like to find Christian authors who write great sci-fi/fantasy books, rather than authors who write great Christian sci-fi/fantasy books. There’s a big difference. Even when there’s little trace of “Christian” in the story, a Christian author will imbue the story with an underlying world view that reflects biblical truth.

  4. Show. Don’t preach.

  5. Julie says:

    Very good points, Rebecca, which I grapple with as I continue to polish my first “Christian” novel and prepare the proposal for Christianbookproposals.com.

What do you think?