1. Keanan Brand says:

    You’ve written an excellent and necessary post for Christian writers who want to portray faith realistically in their fiction.

    I’ve been concerned about the prayers and interactions with God in my fantasy fiction. I didn’t want cheesy or easy or the magical cosmic vending machine. 😉 In the end, I modeled the prayers on my own: sometimes yelling in frustration, sometimes questioning, sometimes challenging. The story of Job is also an influence.

    And God doesn’t always answer when or how the characters want. Often He’s silent.

  2. Lisa says:

    Thank you SO much for this. #1 and #2 encapsulate what I often find so irritating about “Christian” fiction. I struggled to understand why I often found myself discouraged rather than uplifted when reading it, until I realized it was because my Christian experience looked nothing like that of the characters in those books. God never spoke to me “in my head” like He so often does in Christian books, and those characters get clear leading from God that I mainly haven’t had. I started thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” So I  am very aware of this when I am writing, to try to avoid that reaction in my readers.

  3. Oooh, great discussion topic and good post!

    Something I’ve enjoyed in my own writing is showing how uniquely each character prays.  One character will be prone to long, worshipful prayers when they have time to think, while another shoots off “bullet prayers” all the time.  One character might typically start with a formal “Dear Father in heaven,” while another simply starts with, “God,” or “Father,” or, “Dear Lord,” or doesn’t preface the prayer with any special beginning, jumping right into what they want to say.  I think probably each believer has a unique way of praying, just like we all speak uniquely. 🙂

    I don’t usually have God answer my characters – that isn’t my usual life experience, nor does it necessarily sit well with my theology.  But very recently I had a character hear that “still, small voice,” because I have experienced that a couple of times in recent years (never before!) and it felt very natural and important to the scene I was writing.  Normally I’d be hesitant to ascribe words to God in a fictional setting where He obviously did not actually speak, but it made sense for this circumstance, and I hope it represents how He might actually speak to my character in real life.

    It really irritates me, like nails on a chalkboard, when characters address God in casual, flippant ways like, “Hey, God, I know you’re probably busy, but – ”  Ugh.  NO sense of reverence, awe, or honor.  God isn’t our coworker or pal.  While we may address Him in familiar, loving ways – He is our Abba, Father! – I personally frown on the way some fiction represents prayer, like a casual chat with a friend rather than a petition to the Lord of the Universe.

    • dmdutcher says:

      A lot of current fundamentalism/evangelicalism was a reaction against the rather impersonal worship of the orthodox churches as much as the leftist ones. I know my mother’s generation attended those churches and found a service focused on liturgy really impersonal, dry, and dead. The awe and reverence it evokes in some people also evoked coldness and distance, and that’s why so many people choose informality.

      R.L.’s “cosmic vending machine” is related to this. It rose up in evangelical culture because so many people used the idea of “no” or “not now” poorly and even inhumanly.  The “no” is a kind of theodicy, and a lot of the frozen chosen used it like a club instead of consoling those who suffered.

      It seems different now, with more people identifying back with those denominations. But informality is a reaction against excessive formality, imo.

  4. Excellent post! It evokes quite a few interesting questions. I liked the categorization as well. Some of these examples have turned me away from Christian fiction, because I can’t relate to them. It could be argued that Christian fiction isn’t automatically prescriptive–that is, readers shouldn’t necessarily be expecting a good example of prayer life from all of the characters, because people are human, and everyone faces different temptations to misuse prayer. However, when the writer sets up a character to be a main character or a “hero,” then along with that there is an implied sense that this person is someone to be aspired to, or at least related to.

    With that being said, I do sometimes show the “bad kinds” of prayer in my stories–if only to contrast between characters. Some people do pray to a “vending machine god” and showing that can be a way of revealing character traits and perhaps even opportunities for growth arcs. Also, I just want to mention to be careful about the “buddy God” comments. While being too casual or loose with the Creator of the Universe is wrong, sometimes people just don’t have elegant words to say–and Jesus Christ was a friend as well as a Savior. I have one or two characters who very much cherish and revere that friendship (while not losing sight of the key importance of salvation).

    In summary, “bad praying” can be used in different contexts to actually show character weaknesses and places they need to grow and change. It can also show how some characters may not be Christian, even though they act like it (I had one character who thought he was Christian, but through his internal prayer life, it became clear he was self-deceived and hadn’t accepted salvation). However, the danger comes when people with poor prayer lives are set up as heroes to follow.

    Question – I’m not sure if this is an issue in Christian fiction, but it would be fun to show a character who had the opposite problem of being too casual. Instead, they are so seemingly worshipful and reverent that they think everything is fine, until they realized that they are using all of those words to avoid voicing personal issues and problems. Just an idea.

  5. Sherwood Smith says:

    Oh, thoughtful post–thank you!

  6. Julie D says:

    Very interesting.

  7. Nena says:

    My problem with prayer in my fiction writing has always been “Is it right to use it, isn’t it somewhat blasphemous?”

    Your post has helped me.

    I have tried to write non Christian fiction, but it feels like trying to keep a fish alive out of water. I always stumbled on the need to have my characters pray all of a sudden. They would find themselves in some situation that required it and then I felt as if I had dropped a clone of them in the story, a Christian clone.

    Because I am a Christian praying is something that I need to do and I came to the conclusion that I can’t write fiction without it.

    Thank you for this. It has helped not only to answer that long burning doubt but also given me pointers on how to do it properly.

What do you think?