Thursday, March 18, 2010

Are You a Writer or a Preacher?

"The simple story can bring you a new awareness that can eventually be the key to turning your life and heart around... It may change your life!"
~ Sandy Muller

How can your Christian fiction change someone's life without coming across as "too preachy"? Many writers struggle with this question, including me. It's hard to relay a message to your readers that has to do with Christ without turning what you're writing into a sermon. But this is very important, especially in Christian fiction for YA.

Here's another question to ponder. Are you being to subtle with your message? If you're in the Christian fiction market, there should at least be one lesson to be learned from your story. It irritates me when I read fiction that is supposedly Christian but the book only mentions God a couple of times. If you're writing for teenagers, this is definitely something to think about. These years are probably the most influential period. Us teenagers have a lot of pressure, temptation, and choices to make during this time of our lives. Anything we read eventually becomes part of us and helps guide us to life after high school. There needs to be more life-changing books for teenagers. But it all comes back to the same question... how can I avoid being preachy - especially since most teenagers rebel against religion and consider it annoying?

Here are a few tips that I have discovered through research and thinking about this question.

1) Don't write sermons, especially long ones.
They come across as boring, and obviously preachy. If you need to include a sermon, show a couple of sentence that the preacher says in the story.
2) Avoid shoving religion down your reader's throat.
...unless, of course, you want the reader to immediately drop the book and possibly burn it. Think about it: why do teenagers ignore instruction and seem to get irritated with authority figures? Your Christian fiction can lead people to Christ or lead them away from Christ. Be real, not religious.
3) Don't create perfect little Christian characters.
Once again, this annoys people. Reach teenagers where they are in their life, don't create "religious" role models that just gets on your readers nerves since they can't relate to them. Give your characters flaws. Make them also rebel against religion. Shove some hard situations in their lives - have them make wrong decisions and mistakes, but let them learn from them and experience consequences.
4) Avoid adding too many scriptures.
Of course adding a few Bible scriptures every now and then in your story is a great way to "feed" the reader - but it's also a great way for the reader to stop reading. Make them feel like they're reading a story, not the Bible. If you really feel like you need to add a scripture, include it through dialogue, not narration.
5) Write a story, not a sermon.
If your characters are flawless, your plot is dull, and your chapters are full of scriptures and beautiful times your protagonist experiences with the Lord - you aren't writing a story that will reach where people are in their lives. You're writing a sermon, which is obviously a red flag that you are being too preachy. Weave the message through your story, don't come right out and preach it.

What ways do you avoid coming across as too preachy - or perhaps too subtle? Please share!

"You can present truth through fiction. People love a good story, and if they can come away from it with a stronger sense of spiritually, the writer has done a good job."
~ Teresa Gayle


  1. Great post, Tessa, and I think all of your tips are excellent. For me, I let the first draft take me where it wants as far as how 'Christian' or 'preachy' it gets. And then during the editing, I'll add more or less, depending on my story.

    My first book was definitely more like a sermon. And my second (that I'm still writing) is Christian/Inspirational, but I think the religious elements are subtly, naturally added to the story. Mostly :)

  2. Excellent post! These are great tips, Tessa - thanks. :-)

  3. Great thoughts. I'm totally going to copy you and write on this subject over on my blog soon :-)

    Another thing to consider is the audience we're writing for. If the story is meant for people who are already Christians, it will probably be more a message of encouragement. Sometimes as Christians we just need clean and entertaining stories, like with movies and music.

  4. I definitely think we writers are "preachers" but need to do it without being "preachy." Love your points!

  5. AMEN :) lol..
    When I post post's (especially deep ones) I try not to be 2 preachy.. Cause i know we are all different and have different views and thats ok because thats how God made us :)

    Thanks for following my blog.. I'm just now getting around to comment on my new followers blogs :)

  6. I have been surprised by the attention my novel received from Christian friends and readers. I never set out to write a piece that would appeal to a particular group. I wrote more about the spirituality of people in a more individual way. It kind of reminds me of the film "What Dreams May Come" in which there is a depiction of heaven and (I think) hell but neither are explicitly portrayed from a Christian stand point. More recently, the film adaptation of "The Lovely Bones" has portrayed a depiction of heaven as well and again it's not necessarily from a definitive Christian stand point.

    For me, the spirituality of a person can be subtle but very strong. And perhaps that is the best way to approach writing.

  7. Wow that was definitly good advice! I agree completely with you, I am so glad you took the iniative to write about this certain subject!!!Thanks!!!

  8. I don't remember how I made it here to your blog, but I'm so glad I did. I love to write too, so I'm always smitted with posts where other writers share their inspirations, methods, all that fun stuff. This advice is incredible to remember. I love when you said "be real, not religious." I think that applies to every facet of life for a Christian, and it's a particularly great reminder for art. I so enjoyed this post!

  9. Thanks for the tips. Really great thoughts

  10. Ack, such a careful balance we have to do. I shied away from inspirational and wrote Super Romances because I was terrified I couldn't do this, terrified that my writing would be wrong "theologically" and I'd steer someone wrong.

    And as I write my first inspirational, I am STILL terrified.

    Oh, well. Guess I should take Paul's advice and pray instead of worry! :-)

  11. It's all about balance! Great post:)



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