Thanks for having me back, Seekerville. I’m excited about my topic today.
We want readers to dive into our books, vicariously live a fictional journey with our characters, and thoroughly enjoy the ride. As inspirational writers, we also want to share a spiritual truth. If we get on our soapboxes and start preaching, readers stop reading. It’s a delicate balance.
When I discovered inspirational romance as a reader, I started with Love Inspired and Heartsong. I remember one of the first longer lengths I read. It was coated in Scripture. The heroine thought in Bible verses, quoted Bible verses, dreamed Bible verses. It got on my nerves and then I felt bad that it got on my nerves. Time passed before I picked up another longer length. Thankfully, I realized the book I’d read wasn’t the norm.
If I want to read scripture, I’ll read the Bible, which I do nightly. When I want to read fiction, I want to get lost in the story with a spiritual thread seamlessly woven into the character’s intriguing journey.
There are readers, who aren’t Christians, who read inspirational fiction because they know it’s clean. I’ve met them. Imagine if we beat non-believing readers over the head with our message. If they finish the book, they might not pick up another.
So how do you intertwine your spiritual message without shoving your Bible down the reader’s throat? Here are some tips:
- Don’t preach.
Don’t have one character preach to another. Instead, have one character impart spiritual wisdom gently a bit at a time. Like you would a dear friend who needs Jesus. Think of your reader as a dear friend.
- Don’t let your character preach.
Reader’s aren’t stupid. They’ll catch on that you’re preaching to them through your character. The only time you should let a character preach is if the character is a preacher and the scene is during a church service. Even then, don’t let the preacher monologue and cover the whole sermon. Let your character hear what they need to hear and then go into their thoughts as what they heard sinks into their heart.
Just like in real church. I get caught up on something the preacher said that applies to me or that I’ve never thought of before and I miss part of the sermon because I’m still thinking about it.
- Stay off the soap box.
Don’t have a character get on a soapbox and pretend your conviction is his or hers. This is a hard one. It’s so tempting to let your character spew your views. But even if your reader is a Christian, they may not share the same conviction or opinion you do. And the thing you never, ever want to do is offend your reader.
One exception, you can use an elderly character to state the truth. But keep it short and loving or maybe even crotchety. Elderly people are expected to have a strict view on things. If your reader doesn’t agree, they’ll roll their eyes or laugh at the old codger. But you still squeezed something you believe strongly in there. And you might plant the seed of conviction in a reader.
- Don’t dump your spiritual truth.
The spiritual thread is much like backstory. Sprinkle it lightly here and there. It should weave through the entire book until resolved. Not on two pages. Weave your spiritual truth in as if you were gently witnessing to a non-believing friend while trying not to overwhelm them or turn them away.
I once read a book where six characters were stranded in a perilous situation. It was a page turner. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t wait to see what happened next. There wasn’t really a spiritual thread, but it was a clean, nail-biter read. One character prayed a few times, but not out loud. Once the characters survived their ordeal, the praying character invited them to church. They all went and got converted right then and there.
After what the characters had endured, I can see that happening with one character, maybe two. But not five. If the author had the praying character gently witness to the other characters a bit during their ordeal, it would have made more sense. Or even if some of them had converted one or two at a time during their ordeal. But to have all five become Christians at the end of the book disappointed me. And you guessed it, I haven’t tried that author again.
- Don’t write fifty pages and then suddenly send your character to church.
If your character is a believer or struggling believer, make their faith an integral part of their values and beliefs from chapter one on. You don’t have to have them preach or get on a soap box to do this. Show their values and beliefs in the way they live, behave, react, and think.
- Don’t make all of your Christian characters preachers, Sunday school teachers, song leaders, or church leaders.
Your characters should attend church if their Christians. If they’ve been a Christian for a while, they can be active in the church. Let them help with the fundraiser for needy children or Vacation Bible School. But your fiction should reflect real life. There are lots of pew warmers out there. If all of your fictional characters have important positions in the church, it’s not very realistic.
- Don’t make your Christian character perfect.
No one is perfect, except Jesus. Let your characters have flaws. Let them struggle with something. Let them make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Make them learn from those mistakes. If your publisher allows it, let them fall, and then lean on God to get back up.
- Don’t make them holier than thou.
Christians are just sinners saved by grace. No better than anyone else. The only difference—we have eternal life and convictions. The only time your character should be holier than thou is if they’re supposed to be unlikeable. Even then, consider knocking them off their high horse by the end of the book.
- Don’t allow your character to remain unchanged.
In Christian fiction, your character should grow spiritually as they grow as a person. If they’re a Christian at the beginning of the book, they should be closer to God by the end. If the character is a non-believer, let them at least be curious or seeking the truth by the end of the book if you don’t convert them. Show their growth through dialogue and thoughts. Even the bad guy can ponder on what makes the good guy so happy.
- Don't rescue your character with a miracle.
Trust me on this one. I once read a book where the character had a real, life-changing health problem. Just as I got used to the character’s new situation and thought he could handle it, the author threw in a completely impossible surgery that fixed everything. I haven’t read that author since.
- Don’t coddle them
Christians live in this fallen world just like non-believers do. Evil touches our lives. When we become Christians, life doesn’t automatically become rosy. We still have problems and challenges. But we have peace. Let your characters deal with real-life problems. And show their faith by how they handle their problems by leaning on God.
- Don’t overdo it with the Bible verses.
I sort of covered this one in the intro. I use Bible verses sparingly – one or two per book. And usually as a thought—when my characters are wrestling with something. One time, I went through five scriptures of the Roman’s road as a preacher led a man to Jesus. But it fit that book and the characters.
Depending on the publisher, you could go a bit heavier. I’m reluctant because of that long ago read. I have my characters read the Bible. I’ve even had characters read the Bible together and discuss the meaning of the scriptures they read. But I’d caution on writing a Bible-quoting character who speaks only in scripture. Unless he’s a street preacher maybe.
- Don’t make every come to Jesus moment happen during a sermon or at the altar call.
Let your character accept Jesus as their savior silently in Sunday school class. In their car on the way home. Kneeling by the side of their bed. In life, people wrestle with Jesus, unwilling to give in, and often hit their knees wherever they happen to be when they finally surrender. To make an impact on readers, our fiction needs to reflect life.
- Don’t get doctrinal.
I like to call denominations – flavor. What flavor Christian are you? Every denomination has different beliefs. Readers are diverse. They don’t all believe like you do or attend the same kind of church that you do. Stick with universal truths. We all need Jesus.
As Christian writers, our first goal has to be entertaining readers. If readers aren’t entertained, you’ll never get your message across. Since we want to impact lives, we must strive to present the gospel without getting in the reader’s face. Without cluing the reader in on what we’re doing. Handled delicately and realistically, the spiritual thread in your book will reflect real life and maybe touch a reader’s heart and soul.
I hope these tips help you write that book. I’m giving away a copy of Winning Over the Cowboy (Winner announced in the Weekend Edition) and I’ll be here all day. Pop in and let’s talk.
Share with us when you discovered Christian fiction and why you love it.
The Rancher Stakes His Claim
When she inherits half a dude ranch after losing her best friend, Landry Malone is determined to see Eden's legacy flourish. That is if her friend's broad-shouldered cowboy brother will give her the chance. Chase Donovan isn't happy that his sister left their family business to an outsider—and he's determined to test Landry's mettle, hoping she'll give up her claim. Soon Chase is impressed by Landry's ability to rise to every challenge he puts in her way—and worried that his attraction to the perky spitfire seems to know no end. Finally working together to ensure the ranch's future, will their business partnership be the foundation for something more?
Shannon hopes to entertain Christian women and plant seeds in the non-believer’s heart as her characters struggle with real-life issues. Their journeys, from ordinary lives to extraordinary romance through Christ-centered relationships, demonstrate that love doesn’t conquer all—Jesus does. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her family, flea marketing, and doing craft projects.