Recently, in an attempt to advertise a site that I no longer write for, I joined a couple of Christian writers groups on Facebook. After I quit the site, I was too lazy to unsubscribe from them (and managing Facebook notifications makes me want to punch a wall), so I still see the new posts. I also follow a lot of Christian blogs, usually by people who claim to be fiction writers.
And a lot of what I see is deeply disturbing to me, both as a Christian and a writer.
The majority of posts focus around what a Christian writer should and shouldn’t do. It makes sense, right? Most of Christianity, when understood simply, is about the do’s and don’t’s. Don’t kill people. Do go to church. Don’t have sex. Do be nice. Etc. So when translated to writing, you end up with questions like, “Do I have to be pro-life to be a Christian writer?” “How do I write a Christian magic system vs. a pagan magic system?”
Not bad questions. The problems come in with the answers.
See, Christians all believe slightly different things after they accept the main basics. And the kinds of Christians that generally join Facebook groups with the word “Christian” in the title are the ones who take “be in the world but not of it” to extremes. They take the second part to heart and kind of ignore the first. The make themselves a nice, cozy Christian bubble and never step outside of it. They associate only with Christians unless they’re purposefully evangelizing, they take in only Christian media, every sentence starts with a Bible reference. You know who I’m talking about.
Obviously this is a caricature. But people try for it. It’s human nature to seek out what’s comfortable, and Christians have the added bonus of biblical mandates.
This will never make a good writer.
(There are all kinds of bubbles, not just Christian. There are trigger-warning non-offensive bubbles. There are young adult genre bubbles. There are chip-on-your-shoulder bubbles. Etc. All are harmful to writing.)
To write well, you need to understand. There’s no way around it. You need to understand human nature (and not just that it’s to sin). You need to understand body language. You need to understand bits of physics and biology, especially if you’re planning to do any world building. You need to understand how people (all people) will react to a word, a phrase, an idea, a choice.
Christians, I’ve noticed, at least the ones that use it as an adjective, aren’t big on understanding. They understand that Jesus Christ is Lord and he died and rose again for the sins of the world. What else needs to be understood?
So you end up with ignorant answers to ignorant questions, and the young writers who wanted to understand the difference between Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Narnia and how to write it find themselves on the sharp end of the Christian shtick.
But the problem goes deeper than that. It has its roots in the use of “Christian” as an adjective. It’s not about writing a good book, it’s about writing a good Christian book. The emphasis is suddenly off of quality and onto forced morality, and we end up with things like Facing the Giants and Amish romances. And those are on the better end of what’s considered Christian media.
And since that forced morality has to be teaching something to the young Christian or the non-believer—never stop evangelizing!—it’s dumbed down so that it can be understood by a wider audience. And this—this hurts both Christianity and the publishing industry.
“Christian” is a noun. And there are all kinds of Christians. Because there are all kinds of people. I had a Bible teacher who used to say all the time, “There’s no such thing as a Christian sunset.” As in, things are things. People are the dynamic factor.
C. S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (Is it really a post about Christianity if there’s not a little Lewis in there?) Christians love to quote this, but Christian creators need to take it to heart. I don’t need another book about someone who struggles with faith and comes to see everything clearly in the end. That’s not what this quote is talking about. I need a book about a girl facing a full-on leprechaun war who happens to go to a Christian college and pray before meals. I need more books about hobbits destroying rings of power with fully fleshed out creation stories. I need books that are written in the light of Christianity, not books that try to be a candle flame in the darkness of the world. I don’t need someone who’s read Narnia fifteen times and nothing else and tries to write an allegory, only sending it to fellow Christians to critique. Which brings me to my final point.
Stop being nice.
The hands-down biggest problem I see with young writers (and not just Christians, but it seems to be more prevalent there) is people being nice. A young writer writes a draft of a novel. She’s pretty proud of it, but she wants to make it better. So she sends it to friends and family and asks for feedback. They don’t want to hurt her feelings, after all, she worked hard on this, and Christians are never supposed to let unkind words pass their lips. Some of her beta readers truly don’t see anything wrong with it. Some don’t like it, but assume it’s to each their own. Some see that it’s deeply terrible, and figure she’s got time to get better. All of them say, “Wow! I can’t believe you wrote this!” “This is amazing!” “I love this part!” “How’d you come up with that? It was great!” “Good job!” The young writer hears this, and only this, and decides to self-publish. She either clings to the idea that her writing is amazing and it’s not being read because it’s Christian or it’s not everyone’s cup of tea or some other nonsense, or she gets discouraged and never writes again, despite the fact that she had some potential.
Both of those will ruin a young writer.
And both of those ruin the book industry, one bad self-published book at a time.
Giving an honest critique to a writer is one of the most helpful things you could ever do for him. Even if you know nothing about writing, you are a reader with an opinion. That’s important, too. What parts worked for you? Which didn’t? Which were harder to read than the last book you read? For a full guide on how to critique someone’s writing, click here.
And if you’re a young writer, the best advice I can give you is this: Be a writer. Don’t write Christian books, write books with Christians in them. Don’t write Christian fantasy, write fantasy with echoes of Christian themes. Don’t write Christian romance, write a romance set in a church. Don’t label yourself a Christian writer, be a writer who believes in Christ.
And for the love of all that’s good in this world, get feedback from real writers. Hire an editor. Hire an agent. Hire a professional cover designer. If you’re going to claim to be a writer, do it right. Self-publishing crappy books does nothing but drag down the name of Christians everywhere.