Crafting Spiritually Rich Novels
Guest Post by Clash of the Titles’ Marketing Representative, Jennifer Slattery
January is all about new beginnings which is why I love Clash of the Titles’ previous theme, Best Conversion Scenes. I’m touched by the heart-felt emotions Senior Editor, April Gardner, shared in her opening article on January fifth. While reading George Bryan Polivka’s The Legend of Firefish, she “became” hero Packer Throme. His struggles became her struggles; his fears, her fears and his comfort, her comfort, pointing her back to the all-powerful, all-loving Creator God.
“With my tears of repentance came the Spirit’s comfort. In that moment, God’s presence was as palpable to me as the book in my trembling hands. Like a heated blanket draped gently over my shoulders, God encompassed me and instilled in me a calm assurance of love and provision I cannot begin to describe. “
That is the experience we want to give our readers. Last week, Assistant Editor Michelle Massaro shared our passion for Christian fiction with you. Today I’ll talk about ways to create authentic, rich, soul-impacting novels.
Many Christian novels I’ve read are nothing more than “clean entertainment.” If Christianity is mentioned, it’s in passing. Perhaps the heroine will go to a church picnic, or will offer a quick prayer before dinner. Not that that’s bad. Clean, fun entertainment is always good, but why not take good to better by diving deeper into your characters’ lives.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are numerous novels where Christianity is forced by dropping a long sermon in the center of a rather plastic scene. Neither version has the capacity to touch the heart. To truly impact the reader, the character’s spiritual journey must be core to who they are. (Which is true to life, because whether we’ll admit it or not, every thought and action flows from our heart, and our heart is affected by our relationship, or lack thereof, with Christ.)
Clash competitor Tracy Kraus did a wonderful job of pulling the reader in on an emotional level, creating the angst necessary for conversion, followed by the freeing moment of surrender. They tapped into the humanity we all share, then zeroed in on a single promise.
Let me give you a brief example. Here is a paragraph pulled from Tracy Kruas’ My Mother the Man Eater, a story about a forty something cougar searching for fulfillment.
He grinned, realizing his own zealousness was showing. “Okay, fine. I am. Because it’s the biggest decision of your life. Look at the changes in your own daughters. Do you want to be on the outside looking in?”
This paragraph reveals a universal need: the need for authentic community. It also points at the promise provided in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”
This in turn speaks to the mature Christian as well as the believer, reminding us of our need to be fragrant aromas of Christ so that those who see our good works and genuine love for others will be drawn to Him. Although you’d need to read the entire book to fully appreciate this paragraph, it provides a great example none the less. In one concise, heart-warming paragraph, the author has touched on profound theology, like a patient gardener scattering tiny seeds. Not too many, not too few. Just enough to draw the reader to the next page, then the next book, and the next, until one day, the seedlings blossom all together into a thriving faith. Like a meadow filled with flowers filled with innumerable seeds, each book is but one part of the readers overall faith journey. We don’t have to bring them to final transformation. All we need to do is love on them, through our characters, and help them take that next step.
Because if you dump a bunch of seeds on your reader all at once, all they’ll get is a headache. Each seed must be intentionally placed, in the context of a story, watered through emotionally engaging conflict and action, until the reader is brought to a soul-fulfilling resolution.
A couple weeks ago, Jeff Gerke, author of Plot Versus Character, gave excellent advice on how to weave authentic spiritual elements seamlessly into your stories. (You can read his entire series on the Barn Door Book Loft. ) When crafting your characters, don’t stop with personality traits and back story. Take time to develop their spiritual gifts and passions. Then, determine your character arc and wrap the external plot around that.
“When it comes to preparing a character to take the starring role in a novel,” Gerke says, “we have to come up with a wonderful inner journey for her. This transformational character arc is the “plot” of the character, and it forms the basis for the plot we create for the story.”
Next, use the deepest parts of your character to create the plot.
Jeff explains, “In Plot Versus Character, I wrap the external plot around the main character’s inner journey.“
This prevents forced or choppy spirituality by making the character’s spiritual journey central to the entire novel while ensuring a page-turning, relevant plot.
Buy Jeff’s book, start crafting authentic and dynamic characters, then come back next week when Clash of the Titles’ Senior Editor, April Gardner, shares how to craft a great story!
Jennifer Slattery is a novelist, columnist and freelance writer living in the Midwest with her husband of fifteen years and their thirteen year old daughter. She functions as the marketing representative for Clash of the Titles. Find out more about her and her writing at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud.