Saturday, November 19, 2016

Six Keys to Writing Spritual Content -- by Christine



1. The Hook: Even a spiritual story needs a good hook to get things started. Your spiritual story needs an intriguing question and a clear goal before you even start to plot.

One of Rachel’s favorite is The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. The author introduces the reader Father Emilio, a man who narrowly misses sainthood. Lying in a hospital bed, this Christian man is sullen, uncommunicative and a suspect in a horrendous crime.

Starting off this fictional novel, the reader wonders how could this be happening to such a devout Christian? This is the hook for readers who are looking for a good spiritual read. We must know how this man came to this place, and will his faith eventually save him.

2. Set the Foundation for Spiritual Resolution:  It’s true, real life is stranger than fiction. Though miracles and sudden moments of salvation happen in real life, in fiction they feel somewhat contrived. These “miraculous moments” may actually hurt the people we hope to encourage. God doesn’t answer every prayer the way we want it. Many of us find our healing only after many, many years. Sometimes not until we step into heaven.

While developing your novel, build solid, believable steps toward a spiritual conclusion that will satisfy those of weaker faith. Build that strong structure in your novel in every chapter. Your story must earn its ending. When the ending comes, then the reader will feel as if it couldn’t possible have worked out any other way.
I found this to be true in my own life, which is shown in my non-fiction memoir Finding Sarah Finding Me. I wrote with brutal honesty about my failure as a Christian after the reunion with my birth-daughter. By the end of the book, readers will see that I had to walk that dark road of despair so that God could actually work in my life and bring me the healing I needed.

3. Deeper themes: We read so much of the same themes over and over in Christian literature, the characters accepting the gospel or asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” Good themes. But there are so many more spiritual themes to dig for.
Remember that your novel will most likely be read by Christians. So, you’ll be preaching largely to the choir. Dig for those themes that speak to the struggles and goals the average Christian is working through Here’s a few questions by Rachel:
  • What does it mean to live in the light of eternity?
  • How does prayer shape us?
  • How do you love your enemy?
  • What does a character look like who has lived out the gospel daily?
And so on. When that rare moment occurs and a Non-Christian reads your book, those themes might just speak more deeply to them. That true-life struggle of what a Christian deals with may help the gospel message to make sense to them.

One of my favorite spiritual themes was in my novel Capturedby Moonlight, where one of the main characters struggled with the fact that God seemed to be removing her from the position she thought was the very work He had called her to. It was a theme that I had worked through, when I had to ask myself if my calling to be a Christian Writer was really God’s will? Or was it simply my agenda?

4. Fairness and Truth: As a Christian, I’m committed to loving others as God loves them. This includes people from other religions. A theologian once said that we need to compare the best of Christianity with the best of other religions.

As an author I have taken great delight in this, especially in my trilogy Twilight of the British Raj. Let’s be fair. If we writers are going to look at the worst of--for eg--Islam, Buddhism, or atheism, we must also look at the worst of Christianity. We also need to look at the good in these other religions. In our novels, I think the worst thing we can do is take a soapbox attitude, shaking our fist in the air and shouting “Our Way is the Only Way, and Everybody Else is Wrong.”
The very people who hope to reach with the truth about Jesus Christ will never hear that message because our “rhetoric” drowns it out. 

Let’s face it: Many atheists have arrived at their worldview based on careful thought, however misguided we may believe them to be. Most Muslims make wonderful citizens and neighbors. And so on. We Christians must admit that many gossips and control freaks fill our churches. Not all, thank the Lord, but we do have them.
I did this in my trilogy. I loved showing the good and the bad in all faiths. I did this because I want my readers, Christian and Non-Christian to simply look at the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ, as the Savior they need.

5. Show the Sacrifice: Both Rachel and I love the example of A Tale of Two Cities. Or think of the heartfelt sacrifices in the story of the Titanic. Sacrifice is the core of Christian life, so it must be in our Christian fiction. An act of utter courage such as Hadassah going willingly to the Roman arena in Voice in the Wind, or something more ordinary like Will laying down his pride to admit the ways he wronged his Amish relatives in Levi’s Will is the kind of sacrifice our stories need.

My favorite sacrifice in my novels is in Shadowed in Silk, where Indian Christian Miriam lays down her life to save others during the historical massacre of Indian people by a British officer. Or Geoff admitting he was a somewhat pious Christian with a slightly judgmental attitude toward Abby.

6. Beauty: We writers can take for granted that the resolution is all our readers want. I love a good plot, but don’t forget to show beauty. Why does the reader want resolution in a novel? Because they have a deep-seated need to feel the beauty of God’s truth. An inner desire to see Him.
Author Davis Bunn shows how a prayer that has been prayed for over two thousand years comes alive when his modern character prays it in Book of Dreams, as if the leaves overhead were chanting the prayer with the character. Stephen Lawhead describes an old saint lit from the inside out with God’s love in Merlin. Little moments like these show the beauty of God’s ways. These moments clarify the spiritual goal throughout your book.
Christine

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