What is a Christian Novel? by DiAnn Mills

I’m often asked how a Christian novel is different from general market novel, and my response is always the same.

Novels are about strong characters who have a problem to solve. It’s all about character.

But there’s more. A Christian novel is a story in which one or more of the characters solve their problems or strive to achieve a goal from a Christian Worldview. God is a priority: His plan and His purpose for the character. Flaws and weaknesses are important elements of the character’s journey. The faith aspect is not an engine additive. It rises from the writer’s deep-rooted convictions. Good overcomes evil. Period.

Sometimes Christian fiction is called inspirational, but the category is misleading because any religion can refer to a story that embraces core beliefs as inspirational.

A Christian novel can be any genre.

A Christian writer can create novels for the general market or the Christian market.

A Christian Publishing House understands the business is also a ministry. Many contribute to charitable organizations and pray for their writers and employees.

Writers create their stories with the idea of building anxiety and uncertainty of what’s to happen. But a reader values watching a favorite character transform into a stronger person. Especially the character who has shown heroic traits while overcoming a psychological problem. And those mental afflictions can be anything from guilt, shame, anger, regret, loneliness, lack of confidence, and a host of other issues.

The key word here is “heart” because that’s where reconstruction of the soul takes place. When a protagonist slams against a wall, either literally or mentally, the rebuilding of the inner person takes place through actions and reactions. The physical goal is impossible to reach without the character first overcoming the monster within.

Here are 12 of my writing objectives for every novel:

  1. Realistic, unexpected, and unpredictable.
  2. Values and beliefs are shown not told.
  3. Writing goals are to 1) entertain, 2) inspire, and 3) encourage readers.
  4. Internal beliefs are fed by life experiences and often the lies a character believes about life, the world, and themselves.
  5. Well-developed characters who have a rich backstory.
  6. Plots woven with twists and turns, ups and downs.
  7. Each scene filled with stress, tension, and conflict.
  8. Emotion and symbolism for the reader’s evocative experience in every sentence.
  9. The character arc includes a spiritual thread. In the general market, this is often referred to as the moral thread.
  10. Dialogue that’s fresh, exciting, loaded with conflict, and in character.
  11. Narrative rooted in point of view.
  12. Antagonistic setting—everything works against the character.

In a Christian novel, readers may be uncomfortable with what is stated regarding faith. But if written appropriately, the writer shows the Christian character is reacting and responding to life according to their beliefs.

A few distinguishing attributes are:

  1. Avoids cursing
  2. Avoids sex scenes
  3. Avoids violence for violence’s sake

What Christian fiction is not:

  1. A platform intended to evangelize all those who are not Christian.
  2. Preachy, with characters who are unrealistic, unsympathetic, and their actions are predictable.
  3. Filled with words only other Christians might understand.
  4. A narrative of sermons, characters quoting Scripture, or lengthy prayers.

A common theme for all novels:

  1. Show strong characters who are not victims but survivors.
  2. Show strong characters who are tossed into the forbidden, frightening, and unknown. Adversity is the classroom for spiritual/moral growth and positive change.
  3. Show strong characters who reveal the real person through internal and external reflections and behavior.

The next time someone asks why you read a Christian novel, feel assured to say, “It’s all about character.”

How do you describe a Christian novel?

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Retreats: Marketing, Speakers, Nonfiction and Novelist with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion for helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

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