When Carol Baldwin asked if I’d be willing to write about Christian themes in YA in anticipation of the upcoming Master Class on Writing for Young Adults, I agreed heartily because this is something I think about a lot. What is Christian teen fiction? Is it a story populated with teens who are already saints? Or sinners who change? At the heart of all fiction is change. You are no longer the person you were at the beginning of the story and in Christian fiction, that change has to reflect a turning toward God or choosing to walk more closely with Him. It might be as simple as a character choosing to walk away from sin at the end, the first step towards transformation. Or it could be a gradual shift from thinking as the world does to thinking how God does. It doesn’t have to be teeming with characters who are going to church or Bible study. But the consequences have to have a Biblical basis. It is a case for moral fiction.
An example from BOUND
For example, in my book, BOUND, the narrator, Rebecca, is ambivalent about religion. She’s been baptized but she’s not practicing the faith. It reflects her upbringing with a devout Christian mother and a father who believes only in himself, not any higher power. There is a reason that we sing “Faith of our Fathers” because faith flows from the father, the head of the family, even if the mother is more faith-filled. None of this is stated explicitly in my story, but Rebecca’s shift in her views of her intellectually disabled sister’s pregnancy, goes from the worldly (get rid of the baby) to Godly (must defend innocent life). But at what cost?
I began writing this book at the start of my own conversion twelve years ago and it was clear to me that the greatest evil in this world is abortion because it denies God as the Author of all life. When we do not value life, it is easy to snuff it out. So I purposely chose characters that our society does not value—the disabled, the infirm, the sick—and made a case for life is worth living. However, while this story poured out of me like no other, it is only upon finishing the first draft that I realized how many other Christian themes are imbedded—that of forgiveness, sacrifice, honoring and developing the gifts God has bestowed. The central dramatic question is: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gen 4:9). Do we as Christians follow Jesus and enter human suffering as He did—He lowered Himself to our humanity and saved us—or do we stand above the suffering and issue platitudes? Fiction is a powerful way to explore what it means to be human and how costly it is to love.
Blurring of Good and Evil
Too often, in modern fiction, the line between good and evil is blurred and for the young man or woman, this can be confusing. Many books are celebrating sin in the name of love. But look deeper and it’s a counterfeit. Books celebrating premarital sex as a rite of passage and of discovering oneself do not speak about its harm, the very real damage to both the psyche and body and soul. Homosexual love can look and smell like the real thing but by its very nature, is sterile—it can bear no fruit. It is also a disordering of friendship. These truths must be shared with our young readers to show a better path. This doesn’t mean the characters cannot fall. Let them fall but let them face the true consequences of their fall. Let them repent. Let them be awash in grace because where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20). This should give our young readers hope in Christ.
Our Characters Must Change
We are all sinners and thus, our fiction must portray the sinner. There might be celebration of sin in the beginning, but as our characters change and their intellects are illuminated by truth, show them taking the first steps rejecting the lie for the truth.
I hope I’ve given you a starting point for thinking about how to write Christian-themed literature. Leave a comment and let’s discuss!
Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, 1961
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner, Basic Books, 1978