Friday, January 19, 2018

Walking the Tightrope with a Spiritual Arc by Carol Ashby

Carol Ashby
As Christian writers, our goal is often to inspire people in their faith. But, how do we stay true to what we’re called to write while still meeting the challenge of what may or may not sell in today’s market? Author Carol Ashby shares some thoughts. ~ Dawn


Walking the 
Tightrope with 
a Spiritual Arc

I love a deep dive into a story where people start with conflicting world views and maybe as enemies, then grow to understand and even love each other when God has His way in their lives. Nothing satisfies like the roller coaster of hope, despair, and new hope as a character struggles with faith, forgiveness, and love that goes far beyond romance.

But many writer’s blogs and books on the craft tell us novels shouldn’t probe how a person moves from skepticism to belief. Such stories can turn off readers and hurt sales. That’s a risk most traditional publishers won’t take, especially with a debut author. It’s better to treat issues of faith more as background than as the real meat of the story.

But what if that’s the kind of stories you feel God calling you to write? How does an author find the right balance between writing stories where the spiritual arc of a main character is at the core of the plot and writing novels that enough readers will buy to sell the thousands of copies in the first six months that traditional publishers need?

The answer is…I don’t know. I’ve chosen to self-publish to avoid that problem. But my goal isn’t having thousands of readers waiting for my next novel to appear. It’s obeying God’s call and doing my very best for Him. I’m willing to dedicate uncounted hours to learning the writer’s craft so a publisher would reject my manuscript based on platform and not literary quality. I’ll gladly edit to refine and tighten a manuscript until I can’t find anything that must be changed.

Why? I want each novel to have the ring of truth. Characters should be flesh-and-blood people who wrestle with living the faith when their heart’s desire might be pulling them away from it. Who of us hasn’t experienced that? And what we’ve learned in our own struggles can help our characters become “real.”

For characters who don’t start as believers, that means dragging them through trials that lead to questions and arguments like I’ve shared with friends as they try to decide what to do with Jesus in their own lives. Making that choice can be fairly easy or dreadfully difficult in real life. How can we make the spiritual arc in our stories reflect that in a way that feels real?

Readers don’t want novels to read like sermons. Spiritual discussions can’t simply be tacked onto the story. They should flow naturally from the action so they feel real instead of contrived.

That can be a tightrope walk, and we shouldn’t do it alone. When writing scenes with deep spiritual content, I call on my prayer partners. Then they review what I’ve written, asking “Does this feel like real people having real conversations and making believable decisions?”

When the answer comes back “yes,” I give thanks and dream of how those words might serve God’s purpose in a reader’s heart.

If your story has a strong spiritual arc, how do you find the right balance?





When Rome has taken everything, what’s left for a man to give?

Betrayed by a ruthless son who’ll do anything for power and wealth, Publius Drusus faces death with an unanswered prayer―that his treasured daughter, Claudia, and honorable son, Titus, will someday share his faith. But who will lead them to the truth once he’s gone?

Claudia’s oldest brother Lucius arranged their father’s execution to inherit everything, and now he’s forcing her to marry a cruel Roman power broker. If only she could get to Titus―a thousand miles away in Thracia. Then the man who secretly told her father about Jesus arranges for his son Philip to sneak her out of Rome and take her to the brother she can trust.

A childhood accident scarred Philip’s face. A woman’s rejection scarred his heart. Claudia’s gratitude grows into love, but what can Philip do when the first woman who returns his love hates the God he loves even more?

Titus and Claudia hunger for revenge on their brother and the Christians they blame for their father’s deadly conversion. When Titus buys Miriam, a secret Christian, to serve his sister, he starts them all down a path of conflicting loyalties and dangerous decisions. His father’s final letter commands the forgiveness Titus refuses to give. What will it take to free him from the hatred poisoning his own heart?




Carol Ashby has been a professional writer for most of her life, but her articles and books were about lasers and compound semiconductors (the electronics that make cell phones, laser pointers, and LED displays work). She still writes about light, but her Light in the Empire series tells stories of difficult friendships and life-changing decisions in dangerous times, where forgiveness and love open hearts to discover their own faith in Christ. Her fascination with the Roman Empire was born during her first middle-school Latin class. A research career in New Mexico inspires her to get every historical detail right so she can spin stories that make her readers feel like they’re living under the Caesars themselves.

To connect with Carol and learn more about her books, please visit:

Blog: The Beauty of Truth (https://carol-ashby.com)
History website: Life in the Roman Empire: Historical Fact and Fiction (https://carolashby.com)




16 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. James, "wow" sums it up for me when I watch a real person take a step toward Jesus. Isn't it funny how our characters become so real to us that we feel their emotional struggles as if they were alive?

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  2. Finding that balance is tough! When writing the first book in my historical romance series, my goal was to present a subtle message. But as the story started to flow, the message was not so subtle. Still, it worked. Like you've shared, I also think the key is to not "preach," but to have the characters change through dialogue and experiences so readers can relate and hopefully grow with them.

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    1. Dawn, it always makes me smile when God pulls a story in a direction I wasn't planning.

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  3. Hi Carol - you picked a tough subject! I really don’t like preachy books and tend to avoid them BUT I also find it sad that so many recent releases barely have a Christian message. I think you have found the right balance - the message needs to feel like a natural occurrence in the character’s lives and not a sermon. And I love it when the author is able to write characters with different journeys - not simply the same two characters with different names in each book. Thanks for addressing a tough and sometimes unpopular topic. Blessings!

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    1. I love writing in the perfect era for totally opposite spiritual perspectives at the beginning. It was also the time when changing your perspective on Jesus could get you killed. That makes it easier in some ways to write the arc than if it were a time when most of the people were nominally Christian.

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  4. Writing an arc rom skepticism to belief is tough, and you do an awesome job.

    I've generally chickened out, writing a shorter arc that brings someone who's fallen away back to faith.

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    1. I wouldn't call that chickening out, Andrew. That's much closer to the experience most of us have, and that can be so encouraging!

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  5. I tend to write lighter hearted stories, but Ibe yet to have a book that didn't have moments of spiritual growth or awareness for one of the characters, even if it was a secondary character. Like you, I want it to seem natural.

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    1. God is with us in our light-hearted moments, too. I bet you'll find just the right way to make it natural!

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  6. Great post! You expressed my feelings precisely—only much more eloquently. When I wrote my latest novel, I did what you did. I self-published what I felt God had directed me to write. I do what I can to market my book but leave the sales results to God.
    So glad to hear from like-minded authors!

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  7. So true about leaving the sales to God, Dee Dee! I pray that He will lead people who need the message to find the books. I pray for each reader as I see the sales come in at Amazon. I pray that He will use what I've written to strengthen and encourage each reader in her or his faith. In God's eternal economy, it's much better to sell 100 that serve Him than 100,000 that only serve me.

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  8. I actively seek out books with solid Christian themes woven in the plots (both to edit and to read). I want to be encouraged in my faith! There is enough godless trauma and tragedy in the world...I want to see God's hand working in people's lives and His love transforming hearts and replacing fear with trust. I'm going to buy this book. :-)

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    1. Lora, I love those kinds of stories, too, both in real life and in novels. It feels so good to write them as well, but I do keep Kleenex handy for the tough scenes! I hope you'll enjoy reading The Legacy as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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  9. Carol, as an author I have struggled with some of the same things you address in this great blog post. I was recently encouraged by a very long thread on Avid Readers of Christian Fiction (FB) where readers poured out how much they want to see real characters dealing with real issues, and finding restoration and healing in Christ. They gave many story ideas that have hardly been touched. Many authors shared they have to go indie to publish a book like that. Like you said, we each have to do what we're been called to do. That may mean writing a feel-good, light-hearted romance one year and a deep spiritual journey another, or finding publishers open to deeper character journeys. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. So true, Denise, and that deep spiritual journey can involve characters who see the humor and joy in life even while living the challenge of finding the right spiritual path. I love writing characters like that.

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