By Jeanne Marie Leach

What makes your fiction ‘Christian’? The obvious answer is that there are Christian elements in the book, but just how much religion needs to be involved?

This will vary from one publisher to another, but all agree that one or more of the characters must either be a Christian or be in a state of questioning their religious beliefs.

How much is too much preaching in Christian novels? The faith message needs to be woven into the entire story through the character’s actions and dialogue. If the writer’s message is one of hope, then it’s not a good idea to hit people over the head with it, but rather show hope through a strong character of faith, who never gives up hope in the face of danger.

It is best to not use actual sermons in a Christian fiction book. Often, authors will have a character go to church and hear a sermon that changes the person’s heart and/or mind. This can have several negative effects. It could be a turn-off for the reader, who feels if they wanted to be “preached at” they would go to church. People tend to simply skim over these sermons because they slow down the story for the reader. This means the message is simply never read. Reading actual sermons is boring.

There are times when a character the reader has come to love will give a mini-sermon to another character, and that too can be a turn-off just as it often is in real life, so make it short.

Just as in real life, people often learn more about Christianity by our actions. After all, every one of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Paul said “that which I say I don’t do, I do.” The world is watching us. A sermon has its place. But especially today when God is being kicked out of public life, people don’t care what we SAY, but they will watch everything we DO. This is why preachiness in fiction doesn’t work. They are reading fiction to be entertained, but if they learn a biblical life lesson through how the characters act in the midst of turmoil and sin, they will better understand the precepts of the Bible, the living, breathing Word of God by which we live our lives.

Remember, Jesus used parables to get his point across. He also quoted Scripture, but usually only a verse at a time. We too can use this technique to reach others for the kingdom. So if you find your story has spots that hit you “in your face” with the Christian message, think of ways to gently communicate this throughout the story in a more meaningful way.

Another area of the faith message that trips up a lot of new writers is quoting Scripture in fiction. If a character is speaking a Biblical quote, it should be done in the manner of how a real person would say it when talking naturally.

“It says in John 3:16,” Margie said, “‘for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.’”

If the person is paraphrasing it, then there is no need for the scripture reference.

“You know how much God loved you?” Margie asked John. “He sent his only Son to die a horrible death on the cross. That’s how much!”

A couple things to note regarding fiction:

  • Always use only one version of the Bible in a fiction book, since endnotes and footnotes are frowned upon in fiction, and parentheses (New King James Version) after each individual reference cannot be used. To have the character quote which version they use each time they speak, wouldn’t flow well either.
  • The version and copyright info needs to be at the beginning of the book on the copyright page.

Lastly, don’t throw in an element of faith at the end of the book so that it will count toward being called Christian. I frequently see this in beginning writers’ books. Remember that the faith message must be woven into the story. You can’t just all of a sudden have someone become a Christian when they had never heard of it or considered it before. It’s too unbelievable.

The characters’ actions and reactions must have a direct correlation with what they think and feel and believe about God. This will create more believable characters, as well as a more complete story.