By Vikki Kestell
Producing great Christian fiction is, as Gollum said, “Tricksy.”
We members of ACFW desire to present the Gospel through our work. Along every genre and setting, bringing to bear all our tools and skills, whether we employ drama or humor, fantasy or realism, we strive to lift up Jesus and make him known. And yet, crafting effective, gripping Christian fiction can be elusive.
At the most admired end of the spectrum of Christian authors are the Bodie Thoenes and Francine Rivers of our times. They write what I’ve heard called “redemptive fiction,” books that are meaty, deeply moving reads populated by living, breathing people, folks who bleed like we bleed, whose struggles are as authentic as our struggles, and whose spiritual journeys speak into our own journeys.
When I finish such a read, my life is enriched, my heart is lifted, my soul is enlarged. I am also cut to my core. I am convicted and challenged to draw nearer to God, to come up higher.
So how do I hone my skills? How do I grow into a writer of effective Christian fiction? I believe it is essential to focus on three areas.
First, my characters must be three-dimensional, that is, well-formed and multifaceted. For goodness sake, don’t make them perfect. Perfection is distasteful and unbelievable. If my characters come across as make-believe, won’t my God come across as make-believe?
(Be brave. Identify your own worst failings and gift your characters with those flaws. The upside? You can write them with authenticity.)
When I can see my cast of characters in my mind’s eye, when I catch myself conversing with them while I’m on the treadmill or driving my car, when I care what happens to them and suffer along with them, I am close to my goal.
Second, a book’s spiritual content is believable when its characters live it. My main characters will reveal their spiritual growth through dialogue with others and through their inner conflicts, ramblings, prayers, and musings.
Continual repetition of a character’s inner struggle is anathema. Yes, I want to know the main character’s backstory, but the more it is repeated, the less I care. I want to see into the transformation God is working, and that means making my characters’ progress visible and tangible.
And let’s talk romance for a moment. Yes, romance may figure into the book’s plot, but if romance is the main theme, doesn’t that relegate God to a back burner? Is that where he belongs in a real romance, a real marriage? I prefer to make the character’s road to salvation, wholeness, and fruitfulness the main focus of my story.
Third (and most important), a book’s spiritual impact can only flow from my own walk with God. Put another way, I can’t fake redemptive fiction; it is a product of my personal relationship with the Lord.
Ask yourself these questions: Do I spend daily quality time in the word? In prayer? Do I pray over my writing? Do I ask the Holy Spirit to help me, guide me, direct me? Do I ask for the creative power of Almighty God, the creator, to flow from his very being into me and out into a passage anointed by his grace to bring a lost soul to tears, to repentance, to deliverance, to salvation?
I liken the writing process to a ride along the sharp, slicing edge of a knife: Are my words alive and active? Do they pierce the darkness and divide soul and spirit–or are they dull, lifeless, blunt? Do they present a living, effective Jesus or a Jesus who is distant and irrelevant?
Don’t be afraid to cry out to God for your readers’ sake. He is an awesome God, the God of the impossible! Present him to your readers in all his glory and majesty. And I would say this: Never be afraid of the miraculous. Meditate on God’s limitless power and write it.
This. This is redemptive fiction.
Vikki Kestell, author of Faith-Filled Fiction™ —
One often-repeated sentiment of Vikki’s readers is, “I’m right there, in the book, experiencing what her characters experience.” In 2013 she left a 20+ year career to pursue writing full time. “Writing is the best job ever,” she admits, “and the most demanding.”
Enjoy an example of Vikki’s redemptive fiction in A Rose Blooms Twice, free on most eBook platforms, or her latest release, Tabitha, Girls from the Mountain, Book 1. Feel free to connect with Vikki on Facebook or through her website.