Lola, at https://christianediting.co.nz/believable-christian-fiction/ has written an excellent article on how to write a Christian Novel. She highlights, writing about what we know so that we will be authentic, engaging in prayer as the foundation of our writing, refraining from judging other writers, particularly in other genres, and the age old, but still needed advice of showing, rather than telling when we write.
I’ll add my own thoughts after having ghostwritten about a half a dozen Christian novels for clients (the vast majority of what I write is nonfiction).
First, writing any novel is difficult. In my opinion, it is vastly more difficult than writing nonfiction. It’s more difficult to come up with a story than a structure for a nonfiction core message. It’s hard to keep track of characters, what they’ve done and what they’ve said. And where you can get away with a fairly short nonfiction book, a novel has to be a minimum of 50K words to call it a novel.
Here are nine things to remember when you are writing a Christian novel.
- You need to know who your target readers are within the Christian community. Consider the age group, beliefs and doctrines, and their specific interests in Christian literature. This will help you tailor your story to resonate with your intended audience. Do some research on Amazon to find what kinds of books people are buying. What subjects are the most popular. No, you aren’t going to have to completely compromise in order to write “what the people want,” but if you can figure out a way to match what you want to write about with the most popular topics and styles, then you will have a better chance of selling your book. Here’s a great article about how to research this.
- Pray. I echo Lola’s sentiment. Having God’s help in your project is huge. You want him to be glorified and for him to use your book to accomplish his purposes. You want to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Look at the fruit your book produced in the lives off all these souls!”
- Define a central theme: Decide on the main spiritual or moral theme you want to explore in your novel. This could be forgiveness, redemption, faith, love, or any other aspect of Christian theology or ethics. Make sure your theme is central to the plot and characters’ development. I love to see a story that shows the transformative power of redemption or forgiveness.
- Make your characters relatable: Show them facing struggles, doubts, and growth in their journey. Realistic and relatable characters will help readers connect with your story on a deeper level. One good way to do this is to model your characters on someone who you know a lot about. You’ll think of all sorts of relatable and interesting idiosyncrasies that you would not have otherwise.
- Weave biblical truths, Scriptures, and principles into your narrative. This can be done through characters’ dialogue, their actions, or moments of reflection. However, be subtle and avoid preaching directly to the readers, unless that is your explicit goal.
- Decide if your hero or heroin will have a growth arc, or be a flat arc character. Most characters will grow and change, and that is part of what makes them intersecting. But it can be just as interesting to have a flat arc character who doesn’t change, but causes the world to change around them. I think of Jesus as a mostly flat arc character (mostly, though he was “perfected by suffering.”
- Address real-life issues: Use your novel as a platform to address real-life issues that Christians may encounter, such as doubt, suffering, temptation, or the importance of community and fellowship. Use your novel and characters to concretize these struggles and issues. Inspire people and give them hope as the characters employ a realistic way of dealing the same issues the reader may be facing.
- Outline a compelling, well-structured plot with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Include conflict and tension to keep readers engaged and curious about how the story will unfold.
- Consider a plot structure such as the hero’s journey. Great adventure stories have been built on this structure, and it works, because it mimics life. The stages are roughly:
- Ordinary Life
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies
- Approaching the Inmost Cave
- The Ordeal
- The Reward
- The Road Back
- The Resurrection
- Return with the Elixir or Treasure
The world needs more edifying stories. Christian readers love having books they can enjoy, grow from, and not compromise their faith and values in order to read. I pray you add another one to the genre for the glory of God.