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How to Make Your Christian Fiction Stand Out

From Pexels by Suzy Hazelwood

As storytellers, we love to share what we’re passionate about, what concerns us, what plays out in our imaginations, and how they all come together in the real world. Many of us can’t help but include our love for Christ and our desire to bring His truth to the ones who need it the most. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get swallowed up in the typical Christian tropes that deems our words “cheesy, tired, and unrealistic.”

As a Christian fiction and nonfiction writer, I spend a lot of my time trying to bring my faith to life in a way that will both draw and minister to people. Here are my top 5 tips for how you can freshen up your faith-based writing to best cater to your Christian audience.

Put Your Character(s) in Unfamiliar Territory

Sometimes, we need to separate ourselves from what we know in order to come to new conclusions. Take your characters and put them in places that are unlike what you usually find in Christian themed stories. Church is only one example. There’s nothing wrong with church, but church can be a very comfortable way of expressing the power and love of God.

Ministering to people can take many forms and can happen in many places; take a chance and explore that. It could look like seclusion in a bunker underground, or a family boating trip, or in a spaceship. Once you’re in unfamiliar territory, you’ll have the reader’s attention quicker and they might just appreciate the different approach.

Hit Uncomfortable Topics

Nothing attracts attention like controversy. The world is filled with it, now more than ever. But BE CAREFUL! Don’t be afraid of cultural, political, and spiritual topics that make people squirm, but address them in love. It’s never good to bash someone over the head with your opinion, even if it’s backed up with the Bible. But you’re a creative writer! You can work through some of these conflicts creatively disguised for one simple purpose: to make people think.

It’s not your job as the writer to change minds or to force action. Your job is to first explore these topics creatively and provoke thought rather than to immediately turn the reader off with your beliefs screamed in the words of your story.

Minimize Christian Lingo

The Word of God is powerful, but we don’t want to overuse it so much that your story becomes preachy and boring. People don’t read to receive a sermon. They want to feel invited into a world, taken on a journey, and experience emotional connections. Address them like a normal person. You can still express the same truths, just recognize the popular phrases of the Christian culture, and tweak a little. Your work doesn’t have to be void of Jesus, the cross, or faith, but maybe downsize the words and phrases that your readers (assuming most are believers) are already familiar with. Give them something fresh to bite into and they might just go in for a second helping.

Handle Conversion with Care

Of course, we want our fictional friends to be “saved”! But, not everyone who hears the Gospel, will accept it. People reject it or sometimes feel unworthy of receiving it. People who start off as strong Christians fall away and maybe don’t come back. Your writing could explore all these stories even though they can be heartbreaking. If everyone finds God and gets saved in your writing, then it relies on the happy ending and falls into the predictable and not unique category. The key is to still provide hope. Because while we still have breath, we still have hope

Be Authentic

This is important and encapsulates all points. Sometimes, as Christians we tend to impose how we believe Christians should be on our characters. They come across very nice and friendly with few flaws. On the other extreme, sometimes Christian characters are the villain because of his or her legalism. Either case isn’t wrong, but practice humanizing characters, Christian and non-Christian.

Be real. We have ugly sides, we have bad habits, we don’t always treat people well. After all, we’re all sinners! Write how people actually speak. Feel how people actually feel. Vices and all.  Christianity isn’t always pretty, and the more we can portray our stories with that mindset, we can be more authentic with the joy and pain that comes with a life that’s intertwined with Jesus.

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I truly believe that no moment compares to the beauty of the deepest part of your heart reaching out with the extended love of Jesus. I also believe that no adventure is greater than the one you walk hand in hand with The Father. You have the privilege to make that real for someone else.

I assure you, if you keep these tips into consideration when you sit down at the keyboard, you will catch someone’s attention and touch someone’s heart.

Do you have any helpful tips to add? I would love to hear them! Happy Writing!

Leah Jordan Meahl has recently joined the Write2Ignite blogging team. She has a degree in Writing and Theater, and has pursued both passions longer than she can remember. She loves to journey with new adult Christians through her blog at www.meahltime.com. In addition to publishing a few daily devotions and stories, she’s featured in the fiction and nonfiction anthologies of America’s Emerging Writers. She’s beyond thrilled and thankful to be sharing her debut novella The Threshold. In her spare time, you’ll find her with a song on her lips, a cat on her lap, and a cup of coffee in her hand. James 4:8

 

 

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An Inside Look at the Pelican Book Group

I first read about the Pelican Book Group on Kathy Temean’s excellent blog, Writing and Illustrating. I looked them up online and found this description: “Our primary ministry is to publish quality fiction that reflects the salvation and love offered by Jesus Christ. Our titles adhere to mainline Christianity, but are enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians.” I knew I had to find out more for our Write2Ignite readers!

PELICAN’S DISTINTICTVES

CAROL: What distinguishes your publishing house from general publishing companies?
NICOLA:  Pelican Book Group is a ministry before it’s anything else, which is why we publish fiction from a Christian worldview. As editor-in-chief, it is my goal to seek out new life and new civilization…oh wait, that’s something else…it’s my goal to seek out stories that shine a light on the new and everlasting life we can have in Christ, and to publish stories that show readers what civilization is supposed to be, even though we’re flawed and can’t accomplish it without the One who saves us all. Pelican does have a clean/wholesome line that is considered secular in that it doesn’t necessarily have to feature Christian characters or have any of the traditionally Christian elements, but even our clean/wholesome line won’t oppose Christian values or promote a position that would oppose Christ’s teachings.

EDITORIAL ADVICE

CAROL: As a Christian writing my first young adult novel, I have often struggled with how to write a book that is God-honoring and still appeals to contemporary young adult readers who prefer edgy novels and vampires. How do you write a non-preachy book that glorifies the Lord and appeals to today’s teens?

NICOLA: The Christian YA market is tough for the very reason you’ve mentioned. I think the best thing always is to write the story that’s itching to come out of you. If you do that, you won’t have to worry about being preachy, because the Christian element will be an integral part of your plot or your characterization. Don’t write a story with “preaching” in mind. Don’t put unnatural dialogue into your characters’ mouths because you’re trying to make a point (no author intrusion!) Don’t bend Christianity or flake out on it simply to try to make your story appealing to a secular audience. One problem with many Christian stories today is that the Christianity is compromised under the guise of “being real.” One can be both real and Christian. After all, Christ was! He is the standard, not trends in publishing. If you write interesting characters who overcome obstacles, who are scared to death but rise to the occasion, who are tempted but either don’t fall or if they do, pay the consequence and then find redemption, then your story will be appealing.

Speaking to the problem I mentioned, what I see is that authors are writing to the lowest common denominator in order to grasp popularity, and they aren’t showing our young adults that life should be lived to the highest standard, not the lowest thrill. If your book illustrates that choosing well, doing good, being faithful is actually the best way to have an awesome, hopeful and fun life, then God will do the rest to put that book into the hands of teens who need it.

FIVE TIPS TO KEEP YOU ON TRACK

CAROL: Many of the writers who come to the Write2Ignite conference are either new writers or are breaking into the children’s and young adult market for the first time. What are your suggestions for “newbies?”

NICOLA: Here are my top five:

1) Hone your craft and don’t rush the process. The ease with which one can self-publish seems to be making people impatient, and because of that,  a lot of books are being published before they are ready–or even good. You want to tell a great story, and that means you have to learn how to write. Learn the rules (from grammar rules to the rules/formula of your genre.) If you don’t know terminology, that’s an indication that you still have something to learn. For example: If you hear the term show don’t tell and you have no clue what that means or how to accomplish it, then take the time to learn. 

2) Follow the rules/formula for your genre. They are there because that’s what readers expect. Follow those rules. Get so good at them that including them becomes automatic. Once you know your genre and can write it well, then you can bend the rules with your own unique twist. . . and don’t think because you aren’t writing romance that there isn’t a formula. Every genre has its own. Can you imagine an action-adventure without a chase scene, or a [mystery] without a sleuth?

3) Listen to feedback. If editors, crit partners, agents, etc. keep telling you the same or similar things about character development, plot flaws, believability, etc., listen to them. Then, figure out how to fix the issues. 

4) Get crit partners who will tell you the truth. If your manuscript is terrible, you need to know it. A terrible manuscript isn’t the end of the world; it’s a starting point, but if your CP’s will only stroke your ego, then you will never improve. 

5) Don’t just polish the first three or four chapters of your manuscript. I see this very often where a book is great until chapter four. That’s because the first three chapters get revised each time they are submitted to an agent, publisher or contest, while the rest of the book just sits waiting for the magic  request-for-full. You will be highly disappointed if you keep getting requests for your complete manuscript followed by subsequent rejections because the quality of your book fell apart sixty pages in. It’s disappointing for editors, too.

CAROL: It appears that most of your publications are e-pubs of one sort or another. Was that because you see readers moving in that direction? How do you decide if you will publish the book in print?

NICOLA: All titles are released in some electronic format. Many readers like the convenience of being able to read a book on multiple devices without having to haul around paper–or having the luxury of owning a paperback to read when at home, but the e-version on their phone/tablet/laptop when away from home. Some novellas and all full-length novels are considered for paperback and/or hardback editions. Most full-length novels go to print, although not necessarily at the same time as they are released in e-format. The decision is based on prayer and whether we feel the market exists for print. 

CAROL:  A publisher who prays about these decisions–that’s amazing!!

NICOLA: Thanks for reaching out!

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You will find links to several Pelican Imprints below. Please read the guidelines for each imprint before submitting.

Watershed  Make a Splash!

“All stories must be Christian fiction between 25,000 and 65,000 words. All stories must be written for a target audience of ages 14 to 19, but with an appeal that will transcend the teenager.”

Prism CW  “Clean & Wholesome secular fiction that reflects hope to a troubled world. Prism CW is our clean and wholesome fiction imprint. For this imprint we acquire all fiction sub-genres from romance to sci-fi/fantasy and everything in between. PCW titles feature strong heroes and heroines who have a strong moral compass. While these titles do not have a Christian element, PCW titles feature characters who understand right from wrong and ultimately understand the right choice even if they come to that conclusion by living through not-so-great decisions.”

Prism Lux  “Christian fiction that reflects the the Light of Christ. “Prism Lux is our Christian fiction imprint. For this imprint, we acquire all Christian fiction sub-genres from romance to sci-fi/fantasy and everything in between. Lux titles feature strong heroes and heroines who are Christian throughout the story or who come to a knowledge of Christ before “the end.” These stories contain a strong Christian message that adheres to mainline Christianity (e.g. The Trinity as one God, three Persons; Through the grace of Christ’s Pascal sacrifce, all can receive salvation . . .)”

Nicola Martinez is editor-in-chief at Pelican Book Group, where she is privileged to work with many talented authors and staff.