Monday 4 September 2017

Exploring Genre - Supernatural Fiction (Cross over post with ACW)

By Ian Acheson
This year, the cross posts between Christian Writers Downunder and Australasian Christian Writers are focusing on genre. So far, we’ve had posts on meeting genre expectations, in Space Opera and Superheroes, Portal Fantasy and Secondary World Fantasy, Poetry, Free Verse and Verse Novels , Regency and Historical Romance and Rural and Medical Romance 

Today I’m looking at the Supernatural Fiction sub-genre and will also reference Speculative Fiction together and Paranormal Fiction.

Supernatural fiction. What is it you ask? Let’s look at a few definitions.

It is often included in the “speculative” catchall that features in many places, whether it is award programs (eg, ACFW) to certain publishers that focus entirely on novels that “explore the boundaries of the imagination” to borrow from Marcher Lord Press now rebranded Enclave Publishing. We even have a publisher down under in New Zealand that specialises in such fiction: Grace Bridges’ Splashdown Books.

It’s pleasing to know that the world’s largest Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, has it’s own supernatural fiction category. It is the home of some of the biggest authors of the genre: Ted Dekker, Jim Rubart and Erin Healy to name just three, all of whom happen to be particular favorities of mine.

Back to the definition. In its most basic form it is simply that the story contains elements that are outside the laws of the physical world. The story typically involves a power that goes beyond natural forces and is attributed to a god or deity. The ghost story is the archetypal supernatural story. However, some commentators would treat a ghost story as “paranormal fiction.” There’s a big overlap in all these genres and sub-genres of weirdness. Angels and demons fit in the supernatural while vampires, werewolves, zombies are probably classified as paranormal. Paranormal would also include extraterrestrial life (think ET, Independence Day), UFOs, etc.

In the past decade or so we’ve seen an explosion in secular artforms showcasing all this weirdness. Whether it’s the Twilight novels and movies to The Walking Dead graphic novels and TV series plus the many spin-offs where other worlds are portrayed that typically collide with our physical world in the shape of creatures including vampires, fairies, werewolves, zombies and such like.

Increasingly we’re finding Christian authors are exploring some of these boundaries with an uptake in horror novels and even the undead. I don’t read such novels but having spoken to readers who do, they have indicated these stories explore how God triumphs over Satan in his various evil guises.

Supernatural Faith

Our faith is a supernatural one. We believe in God who exists outside of our physical world. The Bible is a supernatural book and we’re participants in a spiritual war whether we like it or not. There is another world that exists all around us. In fact, it continually intersects with what we experience with our five senses. It is in the intersection where supernatural fiction typically resides.

I think we’d all be familiar with Frank Peretti’s Darkness duo of novels (“This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness”) that had such an influence over our generation of Christian readers. Certainly there were other novels before Peretti that portrayed supernatural themes but these two are famous for their demonstration of a parallel world of angels and demons being influenced and influencing what occurs in the physical world.

When I chat with readers who are passionate about such novels, I find three recurring themes.

1. An interest in the unfamiliar

This is perhaps a key difference to romance novels where certain underlying central themes can be familiar to the reader. Spiritual warfare, a particular personal area of interest, is often not something we hear or read much about. It’s rarely a topic of discussion around the dinner table, catch up with friends nor is it often preached about in some churches.

2. Triumph over evil

Most supernatural novels will feature a strong theme of good versus evil. This can take many forms whether it’s the direct influence of a demon on a human, or villains allowing their fleshly desires to guide their actions. In evil being defeated, the reader is able to witness an expression of God’s incredible love for His creation.

3. Strengthens their faith

This third element can be applied to any genre where we see faithfulness, forgiveness, grace or any number of God’s attributes on display. We close the book with hope in our heart having been reminded of God’s awesomeness.

Writing Christian fiction that’s not preachy is especially challenging. One of the advantages I believe speculative fiction has over other genres is that it is ‘easier’ to introduce a Christian theme by using an otherworldly character, for example, an angel or demon, or a human with a special supernatural gift, or a story that is set on a completely different world/realm/time continuum.

Realm Makers Conference 

Just as the secular world has its Comic Con gigs a group of Christian authors created Realm Makers a few years ago and now host an annual conference. It was recently held in Reno in late July and I understand over 200 people attended to listen to the likes of Dekker, Rubart, Mary Weber and David Farland to name just a few. I’m hoping to get to it next year.

Recent examples of Supernatural Fiction

I’m always looking for good supernatural and speculation fiction. Craig Parshall’s new Trevor Black Series is a good one that combines the grittiness of crime drama with supernatural suspense.

I’m a big fan of the Harbinger novella series. It’s now finished having produced 20 novellas written by 5 authors: Bill Myers, Peretti, Angie Hunt, Alton Gansky and Jeff Gerke. Clever story, form of creation and distribution. We’ll see more of this multi-author style of story in the years to come.

If you haven’t sampled any supernatural fiction recently or ever may I encourage you to put a toe in the water. Perhaps start with one of the Darkness novels, which I mentioned above, or one of Jim Rubart’s. Jim’s latest, The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, is superb and was my favourite novel of 2016. You won’t be disappointed and who knows, you may become a convert.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. Hi Ian. Loved your post. I like how you've explained why it's right up a Christian's alley. "There is another world that exists all around us. In fact, it continually intersects with what we experience with our five senses. It is in the intersection where supernatural fiction typically resides." This is so true. You've sure got me interested! :) Thanks for a very interesting and comprehensive post!

    1. Thanks, Anusha. Now that I've got you interested you should try it out. As I mentioned Jim's work is a good place to start or those Peretti classics.

  2. Thanks for the post, Ian Acheson 😊 great overview & interesting the blurred lines between supernatural, faith and paranormal. I enjoyed Angelguard & Dekker's Circle books. Must read Rubart. I also enjoyed Mike Duran's Ghostbox which is paranormal noir and has a rather upbeat angel.

    1. And thank you, Jenny, for asking me to write this post. I'm sure one can find more definitive definitions of the various sub-genres but I quite like how the lines are blurred.

  3. Very helpful summary. Some of my favourite novels are in this category - CS Lewis (Narnia, Screwtape Letters ...) and Randy Alcorn - Safely Home. I know of 3 of our members who are writing amazing work in this category. Just has to get published - soon please.

    1. Hi Christine - it's fascinating that some of the biggest selling Christian novels are speculative: Peretti's Darkness duo, Dekker's various novels and the Left Behind series of novels would probably fall into this category ... Narnia are probably more fantasy with supernatural overtures (another blurring) not unlike Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

      There's definitely a reading appetite for them as we also see in the secular market.

      Thanks for commenting.