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My Favorite Things in Faith-Based Fiction

Audrey is an editorial intern for a US-based literary agency and loves sharing insight from literary agents and seasoned writers.

my-favorite-things-in-faith-based-fiction

The Christian Fiction Market

The Christian fiction market is a little odd. Let me explain through some questions Christian writers may ask themselves during the writing process:

Can your characters use curse words or sleep around before they have their religious transformation? (Isn't that like real life anyway?) And if you say yes, and you write about a prostitute who drops F-bombs every other word, then how many Christian readers are going to pick up your book, giving your character the benefit of the doubt and maintaining hope that they will clean up their act? How many others will set your book down and tell others not to read it because the language is offensive to them?

The whole market is full of conundrums like these. It seems most publishers used to err on the side of squeaky-cleanliness, favoring wholesome stories with near-perfect characters who don't mess up, and bad guys who say shoot and darn. But nowadays this is not always the case. There is now a wide array of works that are accepted and more readers are willing to give books a try that are not so idealistic.

I said all that to say: as the market changes and I've dabbled in a bit of it all, I have come up with some of my favorite elements from Christian Romance and other faith-based fiction.

Admittedly, I have not read any Christian or faith-based fiction submissions for the agency I intern for, but I have read a lot of the genre. I can't speak for everyone in the industry, but I can say these are the things I enjoy, and just maybe, they are things we need to see more of. This article covers the following aspects of contemporary faith-based fiction that I believe need amplification:

  1. Edgy, Sexy Male Leads
  2. A Not-So-Ideal World
  3. Struggles
  4. Deeper Conclusions
my-favorite-things-in-faith-based-fiction

1. Edgy, Sexy Male Leads

He doesn't have to be a dweeb like in Christian Mingle or Old Fashioned. He can have a personality. He should be attractive. There is a difference between being sexy and being sensual, which may turn off readers. Don't be afraid of making your male lead attractive or having the pursuit of his wife include a little steam. (After all, have you read Song of Solomon?)

If sex is a gift from God, and attraction is also, why should we imagine it's anything less than beautiful and worthy of celebration, especially in its rightful place, within the confines of marriage.

He also doesn't have to wear a sweater, rescue puppies, bake cookies, or cry when upset. I'd like to see more edgy male characters. Maybe he's hot-headed and temperamental, or he often goes out in his truck to blow off some steam, or he struggles with grumpiness and fighting with his enemies. All of those things offer an opportunity for redemption and growth, and they also can add endearing edginess if done correctly.

One of my favorite examples of edginess is Michael from Redeeming Love. He has righteous indignation that surfaces inside him that even makes him want to punch people at times. And yes, one time, he even does take out four or five saloon workers with his bare hands. He struggles with anger a lot throughout the text. Yet, in the end, he surrenders, and allows God's will to be done; this is a great theme in Christian fiction anyway.

my-favorite-things-in-faith-based-fiction

2. A Not-So-Ideal World

It seems sometimes that Christian or other faith-based stories have too many ends tied up.

The barren woman always gets children. The cancer patient usually gets healed. The business they were going to lose gets redeemed through an anonymous donor right at the exact time, bringing the worried proprietors to their knees in gratitude.

While I understand the allure of such inspiring stories and usually rejoice with the characters, these situations rarely mirror life, and I would like to see more stories reflecting the imperfection of life, the lack of ideal that surrounds us daily. Sometimes in life, we are left wondering why? I think fiction should, at times, reflect this great question that peppers our existence.

The couple can't have kids, but they foster and adopt. The cancer patient passes away, but a commentary about relief from suffering gives hope to real-life families of sick individuals. The business is lost, but the owners find hope and purpose with a new idea.

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Some ways I've seen this done recently in film are in the Kendrick Brothers' films. While I find that their films are way too tell-heavy, and not show-heavy where it counts, I also think they are inspiring and there is a reason people adore them. They're clean-cut and straightforward and, at times, very inspiring.

A few examples I can think of are the following: In Courageous when the boy's dad ends up going to jail for drugs, and more insignificantly in War Room when the double dutch team doesn't get first place. The latter was surprisingly refreshing, considering I was cringing as the moment was building, thinking to myself, "And now they win first. . . because when you come to Christ, everything is suddenly perfect (insert eye roll)." To my shock, I was completely wrong.

I'd like to see some loose ends and lingering questions in Christian fiction. I think, oddly, this may give hope to people who are suffering.

my-favorite-things-in-faith-based-fiction

3. Struggles

This one is related to my first on the list, but it goes for all characters.

Christians struggle with staying on the straight-and-narrow. There is no reason why your characters can't too.

I identify with characters that battle within themselves between right and wrong, sex or no sex, drugs or no drugs, drink or no drinks, past demons calling to them, temptations at every turn.

And guess what? They don't always have to make the right decision. There is no reason they can't mess up just like you and I do. There is a lot of learning to be had in a big, sloppy mess-up. Redemption and forgiveness inspire more than the story of someone's perfect life.

I think this is the draw of the classic Pilgrim's Progress as well as many of the more modern Christian westerns. Characters are faced with moral dilemmas, and sometimes they fail. They have consequences; they bring them on themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a sweet Amish romance as much as the next woman of faith, but whether you're writing about life on the prairie or in the inner city, I want some grit involved. I want to know the characters' struggles up close.

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4. Deeper Conclusions

Going beyond just the basic faith-based plot (struggling person becomes a Christian and then experiences something good), I would like to see more allegories and metaphors in Christian writing for larger Christian themes.

These could be Biblical themes or deeper questions that I want to ponder.

An example from Redeeming Love comes to mind, when Sarah approaches Michael naked and he removes his own robe to clothe her. This is a metaphor of Christ (perfect, like Michael is good) clothing us (worldly people, not good, like Sarah) with righteousness (his own clothes) when we come to him freely. Francine Rivers's faith-based fiction works are full of allegories and metaphors like this––things that give us full-body chills as we realize the eternal implications.

Other examples may be a question left rhetorically by the circumstances. Is it okay to be mad at God? Do we sometimes have to forgive ourselves even after receiving his forgiveness? Can we still struggle with the same things until our departure from this earth? Themes of heaven, hell, and eternity are especially good for drawing a deeper connection.

In other words, I want the story, however simple, to reflect much larger, more eternal things.

Ending Thoughts

This sums up my favorite things from faith-based fiction. Agree? Disagree? Want to talk? Leave me a comment below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Audrey Lancho

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