Where Readers & Writers Connect
As a Christian novelist, I am continually confronted with a single, difficult question: which comes first, the story or Christ? Is it really so hard for the two to coexist?
First of all, let’s take a look at what makes a good story. They say that a story moves forward on its conflict. That’s a fairly good assumption since a book in which everything goes according to plan also goes absolutely nowhere. Conflict brings change. Change brings an assortment of interesting emotions, such as fear, doubt, and anger. These emotions change to bravery, trust, and forgiveness as the characters develop. Without conflict, the protagonist has nothing to strive for. He or she would simply exist in a bubble, isolated from all harm. No, a good story simply cannot exist without conflict in one form or another.
To take it a bit further, who causes the conflict? The antagonist, better known as the villain.
Whether the villain is a dark wizard plotting to overthrow the world, or a pompous cheerleader plotting to steal the main character’s boyfriend, the conflict in the story is created, shaped, and initiated by this ever important character. If conflict is the meat of a story, then the antagonist is the chef who prepares it. A good villain also determines what type of hero/heroine the main character is going to be since the protagonist must adapt to the problems created by the villain.
If you want to look at it from a broader scope, the quality of the villain controls the quality of the entire story. We’ve already been over how conflict moves the story forward. If the story has a weak villain, the conflict will end up being weak as well. A good hero has no reason to exist without a good villain to compete with. With the absence of a good villain, there is also the absence of a decent hero. Without these two key ingredients, the story would not have a point.
The story’s antagonist is the most important figure of the entire story, and I think this is especially relevant in Christian fiction. What is Christianity if not an everlasting battle between good and evil? Christianity itself is driven forward by its conflict. If Satan were not to interfere as he does, Christians would stagnate. Perhaps Veggie Tales can get away with putting on the rose-colored glasses, but we would be doing our readers a great disservice if we were to display the conflict in our world as anything but an all out war between good and evil. Keyword: EVIL. God does not hide the fact that Satan exists from us, so should we tone down the evil in our stories just to keep them from being too dark or scary?
Let’s turn our focus to Christ. There’s no escaping it, Christ must always make his way into Christian literature. After all, his name is in the genre. The question is, how much of Jesus do we reveal? There are some people who will immediately put forth that he should be in every sentence on every page, but this is much harder than it may initially seem. While I agree that the more of him you can fit into your story the better, you must always be careful not to force him into it. Making him an important part of the storyline is one thing, but having your characters throw around random Bible verses just to increase your story’s Christianity is another.
A Christian novel should never explicitly preach to the reader. Instead, it should convey its message through the story itself. If done right, the characters’ actions, words, and, most of all, their reaction to the conflict will bring out your message better than merely stating it ever could. A character’s personal development throughout the story can be a much better (and easier) way to give the novel the Christ-inspired message it requires. If you’re not able to use Christ directly in the story, make sure his spirit is there. You’d be surprised how much he shows himself by having your characters follow his will and not their own sinful desires. In the end, though, your story is your story, and only you can decide how to portray our Lord and Savior in it.
Conflict is essential in any story. Conflict needs a good hero. A good hero requires a good villain.
If you have these, then you already have a good story on your hands. Display your faith by putting it into your characters. However you do it, be sure as a Christian writer to keep Christ at the center. Do that one thing, and you cannot go wrong.
Author of Legends of the Saloli: Approaching Storm, Adam Bolander has a fiery passion for writing and reading and strives to write stories that will be a blessing in other people’s lives. Find out more about Adam at his blog, Force of Fiction.