By Norma Gail
“You connect with your audience when they identify with your pain.” Notes I took at a workshop a few years ago resonate with every word I write. The message stayed with me because of its truth. As Christian fiction authors, we don’t just sell entertainment, we sell hope, connecting with our readers when we touch a tender point in their heart.
My friend Zoe, a non-Christian, read my most recent manuscript. She has a way with a red pen, but what struck me were her comments, page after page of scathing criticism: your character has everything, she doesn’t live in the real world, her life is perfect, she complains over nothing. The Christian readers didn’t respond that way or I might think there was something seriously wrong with my character.
In my manuscript, the character’s family died. Her life was fraught with fear and persecution. She had a nice home, good friends, and a loving husband, but everything went wrong. Zoe zeroed in on the good and missed the bad.
As I plowed through Zoe’s voluminous tirade I discovered the problem at last. In the midst of a struggle the character recalls her mother quoting scripture before she died. Zoe’s comment: “I don’t believe the Bible says that. Those are words are too modern to be in the Bible. You must be wrong.”
A story about someone who triumphed over trials and espoused an attitude maligned in today’s society rubbed her the wrong way. A scripture voicing a worldview that was foreign to her with and a hope she didn’t believe existed must be wrong. Her basic comments were that the Bible is old; it has no meaning in today’s world. I rejoiced. Anger is better than just marking punctuation and grammar. Zoe’s criticism gave me an opportunity to reply.
As Christian authors, we have the privilege of using the ugliness in life to paint a picture of hope. The characters on our pages can rage at injustice, question life, and be angry with God, only to discover that Jesus is big enough to handle it all. The book has accomplished its mission by making Zoe wonder about God.
Christian fiction communicates the truth of love, hope, and everlasting life. Most people consider a novel as something innocuous, but a Christian novel contains truth capable speaking to someone who would never read the Bible. Zoe got angry because somewhere I touched on a source of pain in her life. Someday she might be willing to listen to the answer and discover that hope exists.
Don’t hesitate to pour pain into your character’s lives. Pain might be the one thing that brings your reader to Jesus.
Norma Gail’s debut contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, released in 2014 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She has led weekly women’s Bible studies for 20 years. Her devotionals and poetry have appeared at ChristianDevotions.us, the StitchesthruTime blog, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, FaithWriters, Romance Writers of America, and the New Mexico Christian Novelists. She and her husband of 39 years have two adult children. More of her writing can be found on her website at www.normagail.org.