Christian Author, or Author who is a Christian? Balancing faith and fiction

As I draw near the publication of Seregn, I’ve been reflecting on how my faith works into my writing. It’s an interesting discussion, and dives into the purpose of story, and what readers look for in a tale. In fact, I’ve been pondering this right from the first draft/editing phase.

When it came to Seregn there was a very fine line that I felt I had to walk, or rather, that I wanted to walk.

Ever since the first draft of Seregn, there’s been a struggle between whether I consider myself to be a ‘Christian author’ writing Christian books with a Christian story, or whether I am an author who is also a Christian, whose faith and worldview obviously influence and infuse my stories, but aren’t necessarily transferred into my books to make them overtly Christian tales.

That might seem like a strange line to walk.

‘Why not Brooke, why not proudly proclaim your faith? Why not write a straight up ‘Christian book’?’

Well, striking that balance mentioned above is an important thing, and I’ll explain why.

If you’re a Christian author writing Christian books, you’re predominantly focussing on a Christian market. Other secular audiences—or audiences of other faiths—might find those books, but they’re less likely to enjoy them or to recommend them or to follow your writing career, because you’re presenting an overt, unmistakeable Christian message.

If that’s a key point in the book’s story, regardless of the genre, those audiences will probably be turned off by it. It will be too ‘in their face’. In doing so, you’re likely failing to engage the very readers you’re trying to reach.

(A caveat here, of course, if you’re writing for a Christian market then, by all means, have it front and centre!

Think of something like The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s such a beautiful classic, it’s still beloved, but if it was written today it would probably be slammed as overt Christian propaganda. I know I’ve heard modern readers direct derision its way for its Christian allegory.

All of this is sad, but it’s certainly understandable: Aslan is a 1-to-1 parallel to Jesus, Edmund is a 1-to-1 parallel to sinners, the stone table is a 1-to-1 parallel to Christ on the cross. Again, it’s a powerful, beautiful story, and it’s also overtly Christian. Non-Christian audiences, even if they enjoyed it as a child, may often find it distasteful as an adult. That is, of course, if they even read in the first place.

So, it’s tricky.

While I want to tell a story audiences of all faiths and beliefs can enjoy, at the same time, I feel compelled that my world be infused with a Christian worldview, that my story bring glory to God.

I feel like I’m walking this line between having a story that is infused with my faith, but not shoving it in people’s faces, and not trying to be deceptive either. I don’t want to trick people into reading my book, or into accepting a Christian perspective. What I do want is to tell a good story, and leave readers with something to feel and questions to ponder.

So, with Seregn, I felt that it was less about trying to present an overt Christian message, and more about trying to present a world that is inherently infused with that faith, but not make it the focus or the key point of the story.

As Seregn evolved and as I edited the draft, I—almost unintentionally—added one or two more obvious Christian ideas. These changes came about largely from a story perspective as I improved the manuscript, but also as a result of my own pondering on the novel. Overall I think it works well, because those moments of more inherent Christian concepts are just one part of a much bigger story, which is focussed more on the character’s struggles.

And this, I think, is where people really connect, because the story isn’t about becoming a Christian (or the fantasy equivalent in their world). The story is about sacrifice. It’s about what it is to love another person. It questions how far you would—or should—go to sacrifice for another, and what happens when you do? It brings up whether there’s a point where sacrifice becomes too much, or not worth it. Or, are there times when you shouldn’t be the hero, because of other considerations? What is it to go against something that you know to be true, and then face the consequences of that? When do people struggling with each other over different concepts of what it is to be good, actually discover one (or more) of them have actually fallen into evil?

These are all questions that come up in Seregn, and they’re not answered easily. Characters live them out, and we see the consequences of various choices they make.

So I think the biggest thing with Seregn for me was crafting a story that Christians could still find accessible, still find enjoyable, still find in some way to be true and faithful, but also not make it so clean and whitewashed and pristine that they very people I was trying to reach with these kind of questions would be turned off by it.

Essentially, I just want to ensure the story I’m trying to tell is the kind of story that people want to hear—especially those who may not come from the same faith as I do.

And as a side note, that also means that the characters aren’t perfect.

Of course, I don’t put excessive, gratuitous swearing, or sex, or violence in my stories just to get secular attention. But yes, Seregn has some deeply violent moments. Why? Because the world is a violent place. Because the characters are pushed to breaking point. There also isn’t outright, overt, strong swearing in Seregn, but there are a couple of times where the main character uses what could be considered a swear word, something like ‘damn’, ‘damn it’, or ‘bloody hell’.

Why? Because my main character is never presented as a Christian. She’s not a foul-mouth, but she’s not perfect either. The man of faith in the novel doesn’t say such things of course, but I don’t comment on that, it’s never brought up. It’s just part of the way he talks, or rather, doesn’t talk. It’s subtle, because that’s all that is required.

And even though he has clean speech, he’s not perfect either. In fact, he makes some pretty gargantuan mistakes.

We aren’t perfect, none of us, and it’s important we remember that in our fiction too.

So these are my thoughts, swirling as Seregn’s publication steps closer and closer. Having professional editors read and enjoy my work is massively helpful, including the structural editor advising that, in his professional opinion, the story can absolutely be marketed to more than just the Christians, as there’s only a small amount of Christian-related content. That in itself gives me hope that I’ve struck a good midpoint.

This is a long post, so I’ll cap it here. I’m sure as I think about this more, more ideas will surface. For now, let me know – how do you consider faith/belief systems and your fiction?

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