“Write what you know!” the experts insist—except in the case of, well, everything, because fiction is inherently composed of lives you’ve never lived. Restricting yourself to personal experiences is impossible, because that will prevent you from showcasing the diversity of humanity. Yet, what if you offend a reader for misunderstanding the challenges she faces?
Jesus didn’t shut His eyes to the suffering around Him. From hypocrisy to idolatry and worse, He confronted sin head-on with God’s love—sometimes in everyday conversation, but more often He couched His teachings in parables. Christian storytellers need to practice the same wisdom and extend the same grace. My newest release, Inside the Ten-Foot Line, provides one example of how to gently reach hurting readers. Although the novel features a lot of volleyball action (it’s sports-centric), a dash of romance (it’s YA), and humor (because I’m the author), it touches on a struggle many teens face.
As a Christian storyteller, trauma scares me. I want to touch readers and leave them with more hope than they carried in. My concern makes me hyperconscious of how they might respond to unsettling content, and I’m tempted to cushion gore and grit.
In the past, Christian publishers shied away from the topic of mental illness. And when a book did broach it, sometimes the advice dismissed the condition as unreal, perpetrated myths, or failed to provide the needed support and encouragement. Thankfully, Christian publishers have become more open to addressing gritty issues, and several releases over the last couple decades have touched on mental illness—including Sara Ella’s Coral, the center of our 2022 summer book study.
I have a confession to make that may shock anyone who beta read my first novel, which sported a gruff, pipe-smoking wizard, a quest involving a mythical object of doom, and the line “All we have to decide is what to do with the time we’re given.” Despite these uncanny resemblances, no, I’m not Tolkien. I do, however, harbor deep respect and admiration for him, and I hope my own stories will evoke the same emotions as The Hobbit and The Children of Hurin.
For the first six years of my writing life, I didn’t know how to find the exact spot where a story sinks into a bottomless pit of darkness. Nobody around me could agree on which kinds of content deserved an R rating, and I wasn’t sure what my own stance should be. Half of the Christian community claimed that any book containing foul language or violence overexposed audiences to sin. To younger me, this made sense. But the other half of the Christian community cheered over gruesome battles and roguish characters, and they defended those inclusions with the shield and sword of realism. To older me, this seemed like a more progressive approach.
You can’t avoid running into mythology, not when it plays a role in so many beloved stories—a few of which are probably on your favorites list. But does your faith give you a reason to feel guilty for enjoying or creating that kind of entertainment? Can writers who believe in the one true God justify the depiction of multiple deities, magical creatures, and mystical rituals? Or will those elements mock Him?
Abortion. Homosexuality. Feminism. Race. Border politics. These topics dominate the news, and fiction needs to accurately portray our world, but how do we write with caution and avoid inflaming or alienating readers? (Hint: Not with blunt statements like the opening of this article.) God’s Word reveals answers and helps us form clear stances on controversial issues. Unfortunately, when we try to share our beliefs in our stories, we can come across as condescending (at best) or openly hostile.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the interaction between two lovers became graphic? Or been absorbed in an adventure story and suddenly had to skim unnecessarily steamy scenes? I have, and I hate it. Not only does the sensuality rip me out of the story and make me roll my eyes, it taints the characters (and prevents me from recommending an otherwise great novel).
Few events showcase the power of redemption as beautifully as the repentance of a hardened villain. But few events undercut the nature of redemption as starkly as a villain who forsakes evil without self-reproach or fallout. Unfortunately, today’s media culture slants toward the latter. At Lorehaven, I’ve pointed out how various Marvel TV shows misrepresent redemption. But those aren’t the only offenders. Pixar’s Toy Story 4, as popular as it may be, never deals with Gabby Gabby’s manipulative tactics. And in the recent Star Wars trilogy, Kylo Ren chooses the light side during the climax without acknowledging the magnitude of his crimes.