Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Writing God into Christian Fiction

"Christian Fiction"

Now those are two loaded words.  Before we go any farther, let's take those two words apart, shall we?


1.  believer in Jesus Christ as savior: somebody whose religion is Christianity  

1.  christianity from teachings of Jesus Christ: based on or relating to a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah, and acceptance of his teachings, contained in the Gospels  
2.  relating to Christianity: relating to Christianity, or belonging to or maintained by a Christian organization, especially a church, Christian theology, or a Christian school.


Any form of narrative which deals, in part or in whole, with events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary and invented by its author(s).

And if you combine the two definitions you get this:

Christian Fiction is categorized as any fictitious novel, story, or poem that expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way.

So now that we know what Christian Fiction is, the question I will then be addressing is how to incorporate such values into fiction in a way that displays aspects of God without feeling "preachy".

The first thing a Christian writer must realize when approaching such a subject, is that we humans, in our rather limited understanding of the spiritual realm, are essentially incapable of portraying all of the vast and glorious facets that make up God.  It is quite simply impossible for us.  In understanding this, we must also understand and admit to ourselves that in order to portray any part of our own knowledge of who God is to us personally in a realistic and believable fashion, we must give up any fantasies we have of portraying ALL of  what God is in any way.  This rule applies to  ANY setting, not just fictitious ones.

Why do I say this?  Because it is the truth.  We can't even begin to fathom or comprehend all that God is.  He is far to great and powerful, wise and merciful, gracious, kind, fatherly, stern, awesome and mighty for our puny human minds to handle.  He wants to be near us, but even in our quite time with God each morning, when we hear His still small voice whispering in our ears, He only reveals a small portion of all He really is to us or we would be so overwhelmed with His glory that we wouldn't be able to handle it!

So then.  After we understand this, then we must turn to the act of deciding what aspect of God we want to expound on, whether it be a moral, a proverb, a parable, a psalm, or even just an event from the Bible.  Of course, none of us will ever end up writing the same story or idea the same way.  For example I'd like to take a look at Donita K. Paul's "Dragon Keeper" series vs. my own novel "Song of the Daystar."  (Not a very good comparison, I'm sure, as Mrs. Paul has been writing far longer than I have, but still.)

For this example we are going to start by compare figures/characters that, on the whole, represent God in some form or fashion.

In Mrs. Paul's books, "The God Figure" (as it is often referred to) is called Paladin.  Mrs. Paul's MCs usually end up meeting Paladin in person at some point or another, so he is most definitely a living, breathing, physical part of the books.  He also affects the characters in a more direct way.  Having characters who experience physical contact with the God figure of a story usually stimulates a more "mortal" connection to said figure, including memories of actual physical encounters, direct emotional stimulus, and of course face to face encounters and conversations.  There is also the element of the five senses that can be brought into play.  Mrs. Paul's MC, Kale, meets Paladin on occasion and recalls her encounters with him several times throughout the books and several times she wishes that he could be with her during a crisis so that he could hold her hand and tell her what she needs to do.  She also remembers the love and compassion exuding from his being.  It's very touching, and portrays Jesus in a way that sort of makes me think of a hero... a noble knight who will ride out on horseback (or dragonback :D) to do battle with the enemy in order to protect his people, but who will also step back in some situations and encourage a person to make a decision and learn things on their own.  In essence, Mrs. Paul portrays God as approachable and loving, gracious, but protective of his people and fierce in the face of evil; all wonderful aspects of our all powerful, all amazing Heavenly Father!

In SOTD, the God figure is portrayed a bit differently.  For one thing, there really isn't so much a physical connection between God and my characters as there is a spiritual one that grows more over a period of time.  In my book, my God Figure is called Anahdor, and the story revolves more around believing in what is unseen and how the spiritual can effect the natural.  Of course, a person might not pick up on this connection if they were just reading the book -- unless, of course, I told them about the connection first. :D  My book is also about discovering how God works in a life, and it's about personal and spiritual revelation over the course of the story within and without of the church.  One main focus is the story of the cross (though told slightly different to fit the world in SOTD).  However, a major difference between my book and other books I've read that use the Easter story is the fact that, while the reader and my MC end up witnessing key points of the crucification and what that symbolizes, the event is witnessed in a slightly different manner than I think most readers are used to... (though I guess I could be wrong on that point).  In essence, I am trying to portray God as powerful in the everyday and portray the point that he cares for everyone of us, and has a calling for each of us, even when we think we aren't worth the trouble or the effort.  He loves us all and He can work through even the least of us to help bring other people into His kingdom.

(Well, that's what I hope comes across, anyway.  lol!)

Now, if we were to compare either of those ideas about God to the God figure in Wayne Thomas Batson's trilogy, "The Door Within", we would note that the High King in Mr. Batson's books also made a great sacrifice for his people, much like the story of the Jesus' crucification.  In Mr. Batson's books, we don't actually see the High King except once or twice when his presence is revealed and becomes almost overwhelmingly powerful (similar to different places in my book), but we do have characters that have interacted with the High King before he sacrificed himself for his people... so we also have that physical connection and memorable element of Mrs. Paul's books.

And then we have books that depict God as an animal:  Aslan in Narnia, Ruyah in Tebron, Albino in SOTS....

I guess the important thing to remember when trying to write God into Christian fiction is to first look at your outlook on God.  I know that sounds all sinister and impersonal, but it really is something to think about.  Analyze what you know of God and what He has shown you in your spiritual walk with Him.  Is there one point that shows up in your story more than others?  What is that point?  What does it represent to you, and then what does it represent to your characters?

As far as my writing goes, I've found that I can't leave God out of the book entirely... He seeps in, even when I'm not expecting it.  And anything I write that doesn't somehow, in some small way expound on one of his many amazing facets doesn't last very long... the story sort of falls apart in the middle and I loose interest.  It is very true.  

However, the spiritual elements of my successful stories are sometimes so subtle that I have to go in and analyze what these aspects are, how they relate to each other, and how they relate to my characters just so I can keep track of them.  Doing this also helps me get a better grasp on where my story is going and how certain events tie in with other events at a later date.  And never forget that it's always interesting to explore a different aspect of God than you have explored before... Take Nickolas from "The God Hater" for example... The whole point of "The God Hater" was (in my opinion) to explore what it must have been like for God to literally give up a part of himself to be killed in sacrifice for the people he created and loved.

So don't be afraid to ask yourself questions, and then ask God a few as well.  Pray about it.  Analyze what you know already and what you are learning in your daily walk of life.  If you do that and apply it to your writing, then you may discover that writing God into Christian fiction in a personal and graceful manner isn't nearly as hard as you might have thought.


Terri said...

Nichole - I hadn't realized we had so much in common.
I LOVED this post! I grew up w/ Narnia being my all time favorite story.
I hadn't realized Christian fiction had expanded so much - I've been out & away from the church for quite a few years. LONG story.
Anyway... I'm a preacher's granddaughter & a hospital chaplain's daughter. :) I was homeschooled for awhile too.
Thanks so much for standing up for your beliefs & posting what you did.
It was awesome!

Gillian said...

Great post, Nichole! Lots of stuff to think about. Trying to write God into fantasy can be like trying to write Him into a box - He is so much greater than we can comprehend that we can't hope to encompass all of His attributes. It just isn't possible! It's a difficult balance - trying to portray a few of God's attributes without denying any of the others, but it is what makes Christian fantasy unique!

Star-Dreamer said...

Terri -- I'm so glad you liked it. I know what you mean. As far as the church goes... well, it's a very rocky road to tread. Believe me when I say that may family has had some very difficult encounters with churches in the past, so I probably know where you're comin' from. My grandfather is a retired pastor and my dad used to be a youth pastor. :) I loved Narnia while growing up too... it was actually the book that introduced me to the fantasy genre. But I've only just discovered that Christian fiction has really come a long way... I used to think that christian fiction basically equaled western romance, but I've found that that's not the case anymore, and there are a lot of pretty good fantasy and science fiction books out there with Christian themes, which is exciting for me, all things considered. :D I'm really glad you enjoyed reading this post. Thanks. :D Your words are encouraging.

Star-Dreamer said...

Gillian - I know what you mean! It is indeed what makes christian fantasy so unique. My mom told me once that she thinks the reason that I took up writing fantasy is because I don't like to think inside of the box... I think she might be right, and I think the same applies to many writers of today, including Christian writers. Because another truth to consider is the fact that many things can be learned through looking at a subject in a different light or in a different situation... and not just different, but maybe a situation that would normally be impossible or improbable. The thing I've found most unique about Christian fantasy and fantasy in general is the fact that fantasy usually uses elements that are unrealistic to this world and makes those elements seem real in the book to drive home a valid point; a valid point that could even be applied at one point or another to this world and this life. And that aspect of the fantasy and science fiction genre is, I think, what draws so many writers towards it. :D

Gillian Adams said...

Yes, that is definitely what drew me to it! :)

Galadriel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Star-Dreamer said...

Galadriel Said: I tried posting this before, but I guess it didn't upload.
My current WiP has more in common with Batson's portrayal--the 'God-figure' only shows up in person twice. Interestingly, I recognized that I do have a much stronger protrayal of the Holy Spirit than any other person of the Trinity...in a roundabout manner...

(Sorry about that Galadriel... I pushed the wrong button. :( I reposted your comment... but I'm sorry.)