Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to Save Christian Fiction by Kathryn Bain


In January, literary agent Chip McGregor stunned Christian writers with his predictions for 2017. You can read his blog post at http://www.macgregorliterary.com/blog/publishing-predictions-will-happen-2017/. Pay particularly close attention to number 10 titled Christian fiction as we know it is going to almost completely go away.” He blames a couple of things on this trend, one of which is readers of the Amish disappearing.
A lot of other problems exist within the Christian fiction realm. When authors of the genre don’t even read the books, how do you expect any reader to?
In order to save Christian fiction, we have to know why people are not purchasing the books. Below are five main reasons consistently given.
Unbelievable Characters. The bad guys are always atheist and the good guys are Christian. In addition, Christian characters are too perfect, always thinking about God and scripture. I don’t know about you, but when I get cut off in traffic, scripture isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind. Characters need to be human and realistic if we’re to get readers to read our books.
No One Has Sex. Okay, let me state that I know you’re not supposed to have sexual content in Christian books. However, a study was done in 2010 by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion “revealed that less than five percent of singles between the ages of 25 and 59 have sex two-to-three times a week, while a quarter of married people do—five times the rate.” [i] You wouldn’t know it from any romance books out there, including Christian fiction. Very few Christian books show married couples enjoying a satisfying sex life.
Weak, Stupid Females.Christian fiction is full of women who cry at the drop of a hat, and who can’t seem to live without a man. Very few Christian heroines have non-traditional careers, especially in romantic suspense. And these female characters refuse to call anyone for help. Would a teacher really leave the safety of police protection to take on a serial killer just to keep her new DEA boyfriend safe? Highly unlikely, yet it occurs all the time in Christian fiction. In my KT Morgan Series, KT is a former Marine. She’s smart and strong physically. Yet, she will get the authorities involved if need be.
Ridiculous Story Lines. Nothing Christian characters do are truly that bad. I can’t tell you the number of books I’ve read where the husband, instead of an affair, just kisses another woman. Instantly, he regrets his actions and the other woman understands completely. When his wife finds out, she’s devastated to the point of walking out on the marriage. Christians have not only cheated, but they’ve stolen and even murdered. Yet, for some reason, Christian authors are afraid to show it.
Where Are The Real Issues? Christian fiction is notorious for skirting around the issues of today. Very seldom will you read about a Christian hooked on pornography or drugs. We need to focus on lost souls who are dealing with real subject matters, including Christians. Instead, we get silly women who are confused about whether they should allow that wonderful hunk of a man into their lives. In my Lincolnville Mystery series, I’ve dealt with stalking, child trafficking, pregnant, unmarried women, and more. Real issues that people deal with every day. 
If we want to prove Mr. McGregor wrong, we have to change the way we write Christian fiction. Story lines and characters have to become more realistic. God has given us this gift of writing, yet we’re failing to reach people. It’s almost like we’re afraid to offend our readers. Instead, we’re losing them.
John 15:13 tells us that Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. And greater is no Christian author than he that can reach a non-believer and bring him to God. That’s the Christian author we should all attain to be.
[1] 6 Reasons why Married People Should have Better Sex Lives, Linda and Charles Bloom, September 26, 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/201509/6-reasons-why-married-people-should-have-better-sex-lives

20 comments:

  1. Great perspective, Kathryn! Thanks so much for this article!

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  2. Well said. This is why I write real people and strong women. Yes, they have sex. If we don't write experiences our audience can relate to and issues they struggle with, why would they read us?

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  3. I love this post but I'm not sure we should be blaming Christian authors (of which I'm an unpublished one so far...) - it's more than Christian publishers aren't interested in publishing anything resembling real life, as indicated above. I hear all of the above complaints from friends and family frequently. But I don't see Christian publishers responding to these. Instead, we have books about 30-'s-something adults who don't even kiss till they declare their love in the final chapter, and Navy SEALS taking bottled water out of their fridges to share with their buddies. I'm not for polluting the Gospel message but Jesus had a lot to say about legalism in all it's many forms in our lives. And it is amazing to me that many Christian authors say they don't read any Christian fiction - or to hear Christians themselves proudly say they'd *only* read Christian non-fiction. How can we get Christian publishers to take more risks?

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    1. You are correct, Laurie. It is the publishers' fault. Unfortunately, it's the authors who are getting punished for it.

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  4. Hello Kathryn! Interesting post. I'm a reader - not a writer - and I read all sorts of Christian and secular fiction. As a Christian and a reader, I personally like to see characters in Christian fiction attempt to lead a godly life. Of course they fail - we all do. And the struggle can make a great story. I also love strong female characters - but not every book because every female I know is not a super assertive, strong personality. Both extremes are annoying to a reader - at least this reader! I like a mix. I find story lines in both Christian and secular fiction to be totally unbelievable at times and it can be annoying. I'm reading a Dani Pettrey book right now that is very, very good. I like the way she writes her characters. Bottom line, I want my Christian fiction to be realistic but heartfelt. If the characters become too much like their secular counterparts with Church on Sunday thrown in - I'll just stick to cozy mysteries. Thanks for your thought provoking post! Blessings!

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    1. Great response. Christian fiction, like all fiction needs to have realism with heart. I think Christian fiction at times has the heart, but forgets the realism.

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  5. Excellent post and some great remedies for all Christian authors to keep in mind.

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  6. Boy, Kathryn, you're brave. :) All joking aside, you touch on the heart of the juxtaposition Christian fiction is facing right now. How real do we get to reach an audience outside of CF and still resonate with CF readers while not crossing the line and turning away those same CF readers. We must admit that the two crowds are very different, and it's a very skilled writer who knows how to stand in the gap and reach both sides of the valley. There is no easy answer.

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    1. You are so right, there is no easy answer, especially if we allow religion to get in the way. Then we risk losing even more readers. Thanks for the great comment.

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  7. This is a great post, Kathryn. Thanks for moving this discussion forward! -Chip

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    1. Thanks, Chip. I just took your thoughts and ran with them. LOL

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  8. Kathryn - thanks for visiting with us at Seriously Write today. You definitely gave us plenty of food for thought!

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  9. Kathryn, here's one more comment from Daphne Woodall. (She doesn't have a gmail account, so she couldn't post it herself.)

    As a reader of Christian fiction I read as a way to be entertained. Some of the topics you’ve listed I could watch on the evening news. To be honest there is enough evil and immorality in the world. I need more positive stories. Stories of hope, redemption and growth as Christians. I certainly have lived long enough to know Christians are merely sinners save by grace. I am one.

    If we want to address hard realism then nonfiction is a good venue from a Christian worldview. There are books in Christian bookstores for those who fight addictions, unfaithfulness or forgiveness etc.
    I believe one issue with less Christian fiction readers has more to do with the older readers who would pluck down $12.00 for a book are dying out and they were raised on books not toys that read to them or Disney movies. The younger generation has grown accustomed to instant gratification via movies, Netflix and TV Series. When I hear of people watching back to back series in a single sitting it tells me they don’t want to pay money for a book and read it when they can watch twelve hours of free entertainment.

    I’ve long felt there should be a bigger push for encouraging reading at a young age to foster adult readers. Have you been to a public library lately? There are fewer and fewer patrons of the library. Some libraries are shutting their doors.

    Yes, Christian Fiction doesn’t have to be squeaky clean but we don’t have to look like the world or we may as well take the word ‘Christian’ out of Christian fiction. I appreciate your viewpoint and see merit with caution.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Daphne. Lots to think about.

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  10. So many good insights and perspectives here! One comment I'll add...Last week I read a story in which a couple meets, decides to have dinner, and on the date immediately start quoting scripture to one another (salvation messages). The story itself was fine...but that conversation (and a few shorter ones that followed) just seemed so unrealistic to me. It felt kind of "weird" Christian and holier than thou. To give this a little context, I've been a believer most of my life, married 30 years to a preacher's kid, etc. But I also live in the real world (or maybe I hang out with the wrong kinds of Christians...LOL).

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    1. I agree with you, Karen. It does seem unreal. Even Christians don't sit around quote scripture like that. Thanks for the comment.

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