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The Inspirational Element–Introduction

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Christian Fiction. Evangelical Fiction. Fiction with a Christian Worldview. Inspirational Fiction. Moral Fiction.

No matter what it’s called, there’s no denying the power of fiction that has a spiritual theme and strong morals and values. Though most of it (Moral Fiction being an exception at times) falls under the umbrella of Christian Fiction, there is a difference between these categories: how much of a spiritual thread/message is included. While there are no official designations, I’ll try to explain my method of labeling the subgenres to clarify what we’ll be discussing in the next couple of weeks.

“Evangelical Fiction” is fiction that is written with a specific, evangelical message to get across to the reader. The most important part of the plot is to get the character to a point of spiritual awakening: i.e., coming to salvation. Without this, the story cannot end properly. Prayers and quoted Scripture are used liberally throughout, there may be a sermon or two written out, and the entire presentation of the gospel will be given at least once—with at least one character coming to salvation in the course of the book. These are books like This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series.

“Fiction with a Christian Worldview” makes up the majority of what we call Christian fiction today. While the spiritual thread of the story is important, it’s not the driving force of the plot. These are books where Christianity is a normal part of the characters’ lives and defines how they live and make decisions.There will be a spiritual lesson to be learned before the story can come to its conclusion, but the story could have been written without the spiritual element (thus, these are mostly popular genres with standard plot structures). A sermon may be referenced—maybe even a line or two put in as dialogue, but not the whole thing. At least one of the main characters is already a Christian when the story opens, and everything that happens in the course of the story is seen through the lens of Christian beliefs and morals. You will still see prayers spoken or thought out—but much shorter—as well as quoted Scripture sprinkled here and there.

“Inspirational Fiction” straddles the fence between Christian Worldview and Moral fiction. The spiritual message in these stories can be overtly Christian, less obvious by just mentioning God, or allegorical. The spiritual lesson to be learned is usually much more subtle—as are the steps leading up to it. While there might be one or two prayers spoken or thought, usually it is more of a reference to the fact that the character prayed. If scriptures are mentioned, they’re usually paraphrased as part of dialogue. And no sermons here! Allegorical stories fall into this category, as well: fantasy or science fiction stories where the Christian life is implied or illustrated by different cultural references and clues—like the Narnia stories. The lessons learned are more “feel good” or just changing a single aspect of someone’s life (forgiving a particular person, learning that honesty-is-the-best-policy, etc., but because of a spiritual belief).

“Moral Fiction” is good, clean fiction with a morality that isn’t necessarily religious/spiritual. These are good people who might or might not go to church, but their personal spirituality doesn’t play a role in the story. Characters in Moral Fiction will have to learn some kind of message about being a good person, being a good citizen, or any Aesop’s Fable–type lesson—but not because of a religious/spiritual belief, but because it’s “right,” or moral. It’s the good thing to do. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan without the spiritual element. Characters may pray—but it happens off page. They may attend church regularly—but again, it happens off page. If a deity is mentioned at all, it is an amorphous “God” that can be construed as Christian or Jewish or really any “supreme being.” Many of Nicholas Sparks’ novels fall into this category. They’re sweet (no sex-scenes, no swearing), yet more worldly in their outlook than the other types I’ve outlined. All genres of fiction can be found in this category, though they’re the hardest to find, as not a lot of publishers put them out. CenterStreet, an imprint of FaithWords, is a “Moral Fiction” line.

Now that the categories have been defined, where do your stories fall?

Over the course of this series, we’ll be looking at the history of Christian fiction, dissecting the structures of stories that include a spiritual thread, as well as determining how much is too much/too little; how to incorporate Scripture, prayers, and other elements; and how to target your novel toward the appropriate publishers. And be looking for some special guest columnists too!

So post all of your questions about this, and we’ll get the ball rolling.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, January 22, 2008 12:12 pm

    Hi Kaye,

    This looks to be a very interesting discussion. I’ve linked you on my blog.

    Where do my stories fall? Well, with KINDRED, my historical WIP, I’d have to say somewhere between Evangelical Fiction and Fiction with a World View. I intended for one of my MCs to have his salvation experience before the end of the book, but the book grew too long and in order to make it remotely publishable I decided to split it… and now that salvation experience doesn’t happen until the sequel. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Obviously not overjoyed; I had wanted to contain that spiritual journey in one book (with a series planned anyway, but…).

    I’ve finished the first draft and am letting it sit this month. I’ll get to the editing of it in Feb.

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  2. Tuesday, January 22, 2008 2:30 pm

    Wow, I didn’t realize there were actually subgenres! Great distinctions. I guess mine would fall between Christian world view and inspirational. I’ve seen tons of world view books lately.

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  3. Tuesday, January 22, 2008 3:12 pm

    I don’t know that you would find these listed anywhere else as “official” subgenres, but these are the four categories I’ve found in my reading experience.

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  4. Tuesday, January 22, 2008 3:50 pm

    I think one of the toughest things to do in Christian Fiction these days is to write a conversion scene. Most of us have read Evangelical Fiction that hit us upside the head with a sermon, a conversion, or pastoral-esque prayers. How do we write a convincing conversion scene in our fiction without sounding preachy? How do we get the spiritual message across without quoting Scripture?

    And how do you know who your audience is? The publisher I’m targeting sells mostly to women believers who want the fiction they read to affirm the faith they already hold.

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  5. Wednesday, January 23, 2008 12:40 am

    Ooo– tough.

    I’d self-categorize as Christian world-view (since that’s me), but as (basically) a fantasy, and not having figured out yet if it’s a “pre-redemption” world…

    It’s at least “moral,” as it has distinct a right and wrong, and the good characters try to do the right thing.

    The editor who’s expressed interest works for a secular press, so sometimes I wonder if that has changed my work since then. It’s never had scripture, but it has had hope-beyond-self and references to prayer.

    Ed. didn’t see that part yet.

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  6. Wednesday, January 23, 2008 2:34 pm

    I think mine falls in as world-view fiction. There is a spiritual theme, but it’s more about how the characters’ faith sets them apart from everyone else.

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  7. Thursday, January 24, 2008 2:05 pm

    I’d say somewhere between inspirational and worldview.

    I’ve never seen it broken down in this manner before but it’s interesting. Many of the debates as to what constitutes Christian fiction could benefit from these distinctions.

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