christ did not die to save your novel
Does this sound sacrilegious?? Because yes that sounds sacrilegious. But let's actively (not just academically) take our faith seriously for a sec & put our faith + our art in such blunt terms. Oh. No. Okay. Jesus' atonement + the work of the Holy Spirit within me does not make me a miraculously better writer, & the inclusion of a character's relationship with God in my novel is not infallibly assured to be golden.
Christ's work of redemption? Real.
Your character + faith? Fiction.
Before we move on, I suggest a healthy awareness of the fundamental difference between a VERY REAL THING & a thing you totally made up in your head possibly during nano + should not be taken seriously because we are fallen sleep-deprived humans.
jenny. dontchu ask me to tear my faith out of my art.
FACT NUMBER ONE: humans are awesome & can entertain philosophies that they don't believe as if they actually believed them. Being good at this trick makes you a) better able to process opposing views & b) better at writing. Guess who has gone through the juvenile stages of writing in which basically every character was a cookie-cutter Christian? Yeah... Not a great move for stellar writing.
FACT NUMBER TWO: no you don't have to divorce your faith from your writing! Your faith is what gives your soul life + substance, it's what roots it + makes it grow. You don't want to deny this kind of aid to your art, right?
the blindside bible smack
Let's briefly outline the plot of a novel I may have written // may have read // may be aware exists in Christian fiction today.
- INTRODUCE MC - everything seems normal, character isn't perfect but usually not too bad
- SUDDEN DIRE DRAMA - our pretty vanilla character is now in peril (life-threatening is standard)
- UNEXPECTED VERBIAGE OF HELP FROM GOD - universally thin on theology, substance is nonexistent, uncomfortably reminiscent of certain Galileans in a certain fishing boat in a certain storm
- SECONDARY CAUSE SAVES THE DAY - danger &/or life-threatening peril is removed
- MC BRUSHES SELF OFF - continues through the plot with no recognition that perhaps God heard that pitiable prayer
(following is optional)
- MC + OTHER CHARACTERS indulge in an existential discussion which has no bearing on the plot, in which the mc quotes copious amounts of scripture which we had no reason to believe the mc knew or relied on - other characters are usually moved // impressed by these arguments
- MC + OTHER CHARACTERS PROCEED THROUGH PLOT - including more dire peril, life-threatening situations, extreme exertion, & surprisingly no reference to faith again
- THE END - God usually goes unmentioned
...Not only is this yucky, it's embarrassing; because you know you've read this or done it. Yep. Me too. But you can see from this angle how damaging it is. It turns God into exactly the sort of person irreverent folk choose to view him: a cosmic sugar-daddy to whom we owe no constant obligation, & who is just there when life starts to spiral out of our control.
deus ex machina...without the deus
How do we avoid these embarrassing fox-hole prayers by which we mean well but which actually poison our entire novel? Do not be alarmed, neither let your manuscripts be troubled - the answer is not that hard.
you'll need to adopt two concepts which seem mutually exclusive at first, but which work perfectly together
FAITH BEFORE CRISIS || Let it be established before your character is in danger of his life that his faith is of universal importance to him, defining all he does - not a crutch he grabs when he starts falling. God is not an outside handhold that we reach for when we stumble, but the life which lights us from within, focusing our vision, training our minds, governing our actions. When God is recognized as such both in reality & in our fiction, both our lives & our art avoid the fox-hole stigma. In short, let God being in everything, & nothing will seem sudden or crutch-like.
THE SPEAKING SILENCE || Once your character's...character...is established for the reader + the rest of the cast, there is relatively little need to reiterate the character's stance. This seems to directly contradict what I said above, but it does not. A city on a hill does not move; when a man has taken his position, he gains more credibility by his immutability than by dashing headlong after every sign of trouble like a dog trying to catch fireflies. Other characters know exactly where the mc stands on any given issue: arguments are unnecessary.
silence is more intimidating than discussion. discussion can be fought, words can be wrangled, strawmen can be set up & knocked down. but you can't grip silence. fools are windbags, but a wise man holds his ground. a comfortably determined silence will give your character more weight than a hundred petty arguments.
if christian fiction has lost its credibility, wherewith shall it be made creditable again?
Unfortunately, it is currently basically useless, & ought to be thrown out, trodden underfoot by men. My advice is to remember that faith in fiction is not a crutch, it's a backbone; it is not a glass of water, it is the lifeblood. However your plots unfold, avoid the unexpected deus ex machina prayers, the convenient moral discussions, & the subliminal message that God is only there because we feel like we have to mention him (as Christians), & then he is brushed aside as soon as we perceive we can stand on our own. These are lies which do no one (including the novel) any good.
know where you stand + stay therestrength + honour ;D