Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Difference Between "Preachy" vs. Christian & Clean vs. Real

*ATTN. teens & young adults: Stick around for the end of this post for a chance to enter a virtual book club!

Many people seem to believe that if a Christian fiction book deals with tough subjects, the spiritual element has been watered down; on the other hand, others read Christian fiction and then complain that the book was far too preachy for their taste.
➙ So where should CBA authors draw the line between being "too preachy" and watering down the spiritual element? 

Many Christian fiction authors hardly mention God in their stories in fear that they will come across as preachy. However, we have to remember that our books are in the Christian fiction genre for a reason. It's okay to incorporate a spiritual theme. It's okay to mention a scripture or two. Just do it in a way that is natural to the flow of your story.

There are several CBA authors who have accomplished incorporating a strong spiritual element into their stories, and yet I didn't feel as if I were being preached to at all. (Karen Kingsbury and Francine Rivers, just to name a couple.)
How can you tell if your book is becoming too preachy? 
  • The story is only about your protagonist's salvation or learning a certain lesson.
  • Your chapters are filled with scriptures and sermons.
  • You're trying to get a point across rather than allowing a story to unfold.
However, if the protagonist's journey comes naturally without any of your interference, then it should be considered Christian rather than preachy. 
Fiction should be allowed to present all kinds of real life stories, and a person's journey to find redemption and healing is one of those stories. It happens in real life. So in my opinion, it is completely fine for your protagonist to find Christ in your book--however, you should not have anything to do with his/her journey. It should be completely natural, and the character's salvation should not be entirely what the story is about.
➙ What is the difference between writing "clean" versus writing "real"?

As mentioned, it is possible for a book to be Christian rather than preachy; similarly, it is also possible for a book to be both real and clean.
When one picks up a Christian fiction book, they shouldn't have to fear that the story may contain negative content. However, this does not mean that the story may not incorporate real issues that real people deal with in their every day life--it simply means that this content will be presented in a way that strengthens the person's faith rather than weakens it.

Many CBA authors avoid writing realistically. In effort to write clean stories, they may construct flawless Christian characters who are living their too-perfect, unrealistic lives.
But these are not the kind of stories that will minister. Instead, they might cause a reader to feel bad that they aren't as "good" of a Christian. Instead, the readers might stop reading Christian fiction altogether and pick up a secular book that they can actually relate with.

The kind of stories that really minister to people are the ones that present real issues in a way that pulls people to Christ rather than towards the world. People need to learn how to face their every day challenges and temptations. They need to see how one choice might cause severe consequences. Just because a Christian author writes realistically does not mean that the book shouldn't be considered "clean". 
So how is it possible to write both real and clean?
  • Create characters that your readers can relate with: imperfect people who struggle with sin and temptation, just like every human. People who are in need of a Savior who can heal their scars, make them new, and offer redemption.
  • Offer Biblical solutions to the struggles your characters may face.
  • Present real issues in a way that pulls people towards Christ rather than sin. Have your characters learn from their mistakes. 
  • "Tell" rather than "show". This may come as a surprise to you since writers are often told to show--but when there are certain "real" scenes that need to take place, it is often best to tell
    what happens instead. For example: He cursed rather than showing the actual word he said. Or telling an incident that happens--such as rape--without going into much detail. Or you can infer that it happens by ending the scene right before it takes place, although the readers are aware that it happens. (The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers accomplished this very well.)

Think of the Bible, for instance. If it were to become a full-length film, there is no doubt that it would be rated R. The characters are full of sin. It deals with issues that the world still faces today (adultery, rape, violence, just to name a few). And yet, it is still (obviously) the most popular and impactful Christian book in the world today.

Teens especially need clean, realistic stories. They're going to learn about certain issues one way or another--through music, television, school, friends, online, etc. We might as well present these to them first through the Christian perspective rather than through the world's. That way, they can learn about the negative impact and consequences before they may face the temptation for themselves.

(Side note: Being the youngest in my family, as well as the youngest of 13 cousins, I had the advantage of witnessing the consequences of certain actions before I was faced with them myself as a teenager. This is what a YA Christian fiction novel should accomplish--introducing an issue in a way that makes the young reader want to avoid going down that path. The world will make the sin look appealing; Christian fiction, on the other hand, should present these temptations in a way that influences the young reader to steer clear of it.)

Also, teenagers especially need to feel as if someone "gets" them. They don't like to feel alone. So when we incorporate struggles that teens face into our stories, they can then face their own situations by witnessing how the character dealt with theirs. (Which would then show them that the solution they are searching for can ultimately be find through Christ only.)

So don't be afraid of tackling tough subjects in your writing. You will probably accomplish more on a spiritual level when you write realistically rather than when you only write clean.


Speaking of clean YA books . . . 
Would you like to:
  • discover new, clean YA/New Adult books?
  • discuss these books with other young readers?
  • participate in a monthly giveaway?
  • support authors and promote clean books?
  • possibly win some prizes?
If so, head over to my new website, ReadingClean to join a 100% free virtual book club! You can find everything you need to know about this club on its about page. I hope to see you there! =)
post signature


  1. I completely agree with you. Sometimes authors lay it on a bit thick and make their Christian characters too perfect. There was a series that my friend was letting me borrow that did just that. I couldn't stand to read it because the girl was just too perfect. I mean she cried and begged forgiveness for days because she cut her hair without asking.
    When it is incorporated naturally, and the character has flaws, it becomes beautiful.
    I think my favorite Francine Rivers series was Mark of the Lion. It was set in ancient Rome and so it dealt with some..... unsavory things, but she did the tell not show and it worked out fine.
    Your new website sounds great! I'll go check it out!

    1. I've never read Mark of the Lion, but I am definitely wanting to read more of Francine Rivers novels. The only two I've read of hers so far are Redeeming Love & Atonement Child. She's a genius at writing "real" yet clean, impactful fiction. =)

    2. She definitely is. I haven't read Redeeming Love or Atonement Child yet, but I would certainly like to!

    3. You both need to read the Last Sin Eater! It's my favorite Francine Rivers book by far!

  2. I just read a book called the Basket of Flowers. It was much like you described Jacqueline. The girl was perfect, and yet she didn't get prideful, she went through some super tough things and she cried for forgiveness even though all she did was sometimes cry and ask why once or twice. The only reason I kept reading was 1) It was for school and 2) To see if she would become human anytime during the book. I also felt it was very preachy, and the author even in the note told what the message was, like we wouldn't get it two pages in.
    I think people learn a lot more through stories that show the character growing through a painful, and realistic process.

    Loved the post Tessa Emily. :)

    1. Exactly. Readers need to see growth in characters--if they're already perfect from the beginning, what else do they have to learn in the story? And how will they change by the ending?

      Thanks, Brooke!

    2. I don't recall what the books were called. It was a series of like 12 or so books. They were hardcover with a pink cover, I remember that. I only kept reading them because my friend kept assuring me that they were really good. I gave up after book 4 I think. I definitely think readers learn through character growth. They don't have to be awful people in the beginning, just real. They can be good and still have flaws. Melody Carlson does a good job with this. A lot of her main characters have made a lot of mistakes, some that most people would consider "big ones", and yet they are still good people and it shows. And some of her characters just have normal flaws. They lie sometimes, or don't always obey, but through the book you see them struggle and overcome that. That is what makes a book have impact, is the characters struggle.

    3. My favorite book series that is not preachy but clean is The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Louis

    4. I LOVE Narnia. It's my favorite fantasy/allegories ever.

  3. I an working on a story over on my blog that to some extent is supposed to be a analogy of the life of Christ.

  4. Why did you not make readingclean a blogspot site that would have made more sense to me cause you already have a blogger account.

  5. Hey Tessa, is it fine if i invite my 13 year old cousin to join readingclean he loves books more than i do and i realy love my books

  6. Can i invite my girlfriend to join


Thanks for stopping by my blog!