How Christian Fiction Works
(according to Nancy's wisdom)
• Show don't tell: faith points are shown through action in the story, not shared like bulleted points in a
sermon. This is the main difference between nonfiction (which tells) and fiction (which shows).
• Big change is essential in main characters. An essential element to Christian fiction (CF) is change.
All the characters–but especially the main character–have to be different at the end of the book than they are
at the beginning. And the reader has to know why. And they will know why because they have been along for
the entire journey of the character: the struggles, the mistakes, and the victories.
• The inspiration in Christian fiction stems from the journey, not necessarily the end result (i.e.
the lessons learned by the character). Faith is a slow process, seen over time. There is rarely an overnight
change (though there can be dramatic moments). The reader is reading the book because they want to be
along for the journey and see it evolve. There's a fine line between sharing a life-lesson through a story line
and using fiction as a platform for the author's own views. The lessons have to be subtle; shown not told. Plot
don't preach. The process is as important as the end product. Think of "Gone with the Wind": the impact of
the story lies in Scarlett's journey as her inner character evolves. The fact that she's a different Scarlett at the
end of the book is important, but what people remember is the process of that change. The same is true with
CF except faith is an integral part of the evolution of the character's character.
In the Bible the stories of Joseph and David and Moses are inspiring for their journey. That’s where the
lesson is, the life-application. We get to see the change and learn from it at the same time these men learn.
We learn from their mistakes and rejoice in their successes. CF has "take-away" value in the reader's lives.
• Can a mature person of faith be a main character? Not generally. Main character(s) have to be at
an equal—or lower—faith level than the reader, or the reader will not identify with them. The main characters
have to be ordinary people the reader can bond with immediately. That’s why it's hard to have a main character
be an icon of faith. By doing so, you've already ostracized your reader and they will think they are going to be
preached to, and/or talked down to. They want someone who’s at least as flawed as they are, if not more so.
That way they can either directly identify with the main character and change with them, or feel a little superior
in that they are ahead of the character in faith development. The characters have to be flawed. Make mistakes.
Struggle. Reader-character bonding is essential or else they'll close the book. If you have a main character
start out "being there” in their faith, the reader will say, "Then what's the point of reading the book?"
• Conflict=action=interest. The best fiction doesn't have a lot of description (non-action) but dialogue
and movement (action). In today's fast-paced visual society, you can't spend two paragraphs describing a
house. You present it by showing the character walking into it, or showing them talking to someone else about
it. That's action. That's not stagnant. Also, times have changed. Readers know what an school looks like, or
a office, or a mall. They don't need the description of these places that was essential a few decades ago.
Therefore, you set the scene as minimally as possible and move on.
Regarding conflict . . . it's like soap opera characters. Once the two star-crossed lovers finally get married,
interest wanes. That's why "they lived happily ever after" comes at the END of the book. Christian readers read
CF to find out how they can live their own lives from start to finish, amid the action and conflict of daily living.
That doesn't (necessarily) mean car chases. Conflict can be inner as well as outer. But even inner conflict
has outer expression, which equals action which equals interest.
• The story lines are IT with fiction. Fiction is hard to approach from an analytical point of view—which
is the essence of nonfiction. Trying to put fiction into the outlined box of nonfiction is kind of like having a poet
and a heart surgeon discuss the heart. You'd get drastically different ways of approaching the same thing—
neither one wrong. Just different. Fiction and nonfiction have vitally different ways of approach "the message".
Although you need to start with an idea of the message you want your book to portray, most of it will evolve
naturally through the story line and characters. Message, plot, and characters are not exclusive of each other
in fiction. They are as interwoven as a braid. You pull them apart and the whole loses its strength.
• "I now believe!" moment vs. gradual revelation/salvation moment. Both kinds of salvation
moments should be used. You can't give the reader the impression that because they didn't have a such-and-
such experience, their salvation "moment" doesn't count, or isn't as good as someone else's. God reaches
us in unique ways. There are those dramatic "I now believe!" moments, but it is important to have some
conversions come gradually, with God making many nudges and attempts to get the characters' attention,
and the characters rejecting Him or saying "not yet". You can show the perfect, Divine moment of decision
and the very imperfect human moments leading to that decision. Both achieve the same ends and can be
shown as equal responses to a forgiving God.
• Keep it clean. Christian publishers will not allow bad language and/or scenes that are too violent or
sexual. Each publishing house is different and you must abide by their particular requests. Just remember
that it takes more talent to suggest these things within the story, than to write them blatantly. Let the readers'
minds fill in the gaps according to their own comfort level.