Monday, September 1, 2014

What is Christian Fiction? By Cecily Paterson

Smarter people than me have debated this, and for a much longer time and my intention in this post is not to necessarily open the debate; merely to explain why I chose to write the kind of fiction I write, as a Christian person.

My definition of Christian fiction has been that the work includes an overt Christian message and usually some kind of commitment or recommitment by one of the characters. It also steers clear of any content that’s offensive, sexual or rude. Using this definition, I decided, when I sat down to work out what I was going to do with this ‘I want to write a novel’ urge that kept sticking its annoying head up into my life, that I would not be writing Christian fiction.

I couldn’t do it without being cheesy, I thought to myself. I’d definitely feel like I was being contrived*. Not to mention the fact that my audience for a book like that would be a lot smaller. And small was never what I wanted to do.

So I made a decision. I would write fiction for the broad market of the age group I had chosen (girls, aged 11-14). I would include big themes (suicide, bullying and anxiety feature in Invisible; fashion, popularity and the ‘it group’ feature in Love and Muddy Puddles) but I would steer clear of offensive language and tackle things in what I considered to be an age-appropriate way for the culture I see my junior high school daughter living in.

My characters don’t swear, a kiss is as far as anything ever goes and there’s always a helpful older female mentor, guiding my girls through their lives. There’s also always a ‘hint’ of the possibility of God or a Christian influence on the situation.

My theory was this; far from hiding my Christian faith, I’d aim for the widest possible audience by writing a ‘secular’ book. If a reader liked what they read, they’d go and find out about me on my website, where I am not backward in explaining that I’m a Christian and pointing them to links that will give them more information. I also always answer letters from readers and I’ve had the amazing opportunity already to encourage a few teenagers from different countries to read verses from the bible and to encourage them to find faith.

The age group is tricky though. Lots of girls this age are reading Twilight and its equivalents. (I’ve even talked to 15-year-olds who’ve read 50 Shades of Grey.) For them, my books are completely innocent and non-offensive.

Other girls are in much more sheltered situations and I’ve had three (Christian) mothers tell me that they wouldn’t give my books to their eleven-year-olds.  The first was because her daughter’s dad had suffered from similar bipolar problems as the character’s father in Invisible, and it was all ‘a bit too close to home’ for her. The second mother objected to what she saw as the viciousness of the bullying in the school and said that her home-schooled ten-year-old would be horrified if she read it. Another mother was a bit put off by the fact that my fashionista Coco in Love and Muddy Puddles was a makeup addict and wore mascara and eye shadow at the age of thirteen and she didn’t want to encourage her daughter to do the same thing.

I understand all the criticism, but I also understand that life out there in early high school can be vicious and scary and grownup. Many, many kids go through what my Coco and Jazmine go through and I want to give them hope.

In the end, to avoid the definition debates, I’ve made up my own definition of what I write. I call my books ‘warmhearted fiction for girls’, written by a Christian.

 *Please do not see this blog post as in any way criticising Christian fiction, or saying that it by definition is cheesy or contrived. I’m simply saying I couldn’t do it without a fair helping of mozzarella. Nor is it bad to have a smaller audience. Nor do I criticise mothers for homeschooling their children or guiding their daughters’ choice of fiction. I’ve done both myself. I perfectly understand that we all have lines we draw at various places for our own reasons.


Cecily Paterson is the author of the award-winning memoir Love Tears & Autism and now writes fiction for teenage girls.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Cecily - Thanks for explaining your process and how you decided to write the type of fiction that you do. I'm sure it will touch a lot of girls in that age bracket. Good luck with your next project. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for an interesting post Cecily. I think God calls each of us Christian writers to different things. So it's a good thing that we all choose differently - that way we minister to all His world. I've been a non fiction writer mainly but when I started thinking of writing my first adult novel - I decided that what I would like to do was to write a book for the general public with a hint of the Christian message. I think it would be awesome if someone read my book and felt drawn to the fact that perhaps there is a God after all - and started searching for Him.

    I read Christian non fiction and secular fiction mostly! Hence my writing too seems to follow the same pattern. I'd love my fiction writing to bring people to Him just as I hope my non fiction writing spurs Christians on in a deeper walk with God.

    All the best in your writing - it's great to hear all you've published to date.
    Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love that description of your writing, Cecily--'warm-hearted fiction for girls, written by a Christian'. We are definitely not going to please everyone in this crazy writing journey, so it's much better just to write what God puts on our hearts to write, for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm with Jo, I like how you describe your fiction as 'warm-hearted' :) Personally, I think the definition of Christian Fiction should be broader than one approach but in the end it doesn't really matter what we call our fiction - it's that we honour God in the way we write it and write what He calls us to write - and that will look different for each of us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for sharing your thought process. I've had similar thoughts with my writing. Sometimes I feel like a fraud not writing books with an overtly Christian message, but whenever I try, it reads too much like a sermon and not like a great story.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good for you, Cecily. How utterly boring if we all wrote in exactly the same genre and stuck to a formula.(That being said many of our writers do follow their publisher's requirements in particular lines because of their readers' expectations.) So each of us need to follow what we believe pleases the Lord, and He is a God of variety.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the way God calls each of us to different areas of writing. Your books sound good for young teens,

    ReplyDelete