What Is Christian Fiction?

Since Christian fiction is my theme for the month, I should provide a definition for what is Christian fiction. To prepare for this post, I tried to find a very helpful blog post I read awhile back. In the process, I found a variety of definitions for the genre, not all of which I agreed with. So the definition I provide here is based on my own writing process and thinking and the definition used by many professionals in the Christian fiction industry.

Christian Worldview

Many times when I visit a page for a Christian writers group or publisher, they post a list of what they publish or represent. Often this includes they are looking for stories that demonstrate “a Christian worldview.” One publisher I found puts “Evangelical Christian worldview.” Since the Bible is a big book, what does that mean? Below are the basics of that worldview.

  • Theres is a God and He created the universe and all the people in it.
  • Sin is to disobey God, and it cuts us off from Him.
  • Jesus is God’s son and God himself. His choice to take the punishment for our sins gives us a chance to reconcile with God.
  • When we accept the gift of forgiveness, we spend the rest of our lives learning about God and growing closer to him as well as telling other about the gift.
  • When we die, we go to live with Him forever.

Christian fiction publishers will likely expect more from a manuscript, such as no graphic content, but if at some point, it deviates from the above list, it’s not a Christian worldview.

Two Approaches

As I’ve written in the genre, I’ve discovered two approaches to writing Christian fiction. One is deciding at the outset to that you’re going to write about a Christian theme. Author Francine Rivers took the book of Hosea and moved it to the American West in Redeeming Love. Someone else might want to put a modern spin on the story of Paul. Or construct a plot to demonstrate God’s love or mercy in any genre, whether it’s historical, speculative fiction, or thriller.

The second approach is to write a story with Christian characters, or characters who will become Christian, and see how they handle the situation they are in. This is how I write. I’m a character writer first. I build my main characters and then concoct plots that will test them, develop them, and are a ton of fun to write. My teen detective, Rae Riley, is a Christian because I am and it’s easier for me to imagine how she does life. As I write, a Christian theme may emerge. Or I may start with a theme in mind but it has to work naturally with the story. When I wrote “A Rose from the Ashes,” I’d thought the theme was mercy and forgiveness. That’s there, but about 18 months after I wrote it, I realized it was also a spin on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Clean Reads

Clean reads are not Christian fiction, although most Christian fiction would qualify as clean reads. What are clean reads? These are stories without graphic sex or violence and little to no bad language, but they don’t have Christian themes or characters. Most cozy mysteries in the secular market could be called clean reads because readers expect the violence and any sex to take place off stage and not described in nitty gritty detail. Sweet romance stories fall into this category too.

If you read or write Christian fiction, how do you define it?

What Makes Speculative Fiction Unique?

I’ve followed Jennifer Hallmark for years, but this is the first time she’s been a guest blogger on my site. Her first novel, Jessie’s Hope, is women’s fiction, but now she’s taken off down the yellow brick road into the world of speculative fiction. What makes speculative fiction unique? Jennifer tells us below.

Jurassic Park. Star Wars. The Lord of the Rings. A Game of Thrones. The Martian. The Handmaid’s Tale. Books and movies we love or hate.

What is speculative fiction and why the controversy?

Speculative fiction is a genre of books or movies not based on reality. Unlike most romance, general fiction, and historical fiction, speculative books aren’t rooted in our world. Not as we know it.

This world is created in the mind of the author. But it’s still anchored to planet Earth if it’s relatable. This is the draw and beauty of speculative fiction. We might not own a golden droid programmed for etiquette and protocol like C-3PO of Star Wars fame. But we all have at least one friend or relative who doesn’t know when to stop talking. 

Rangers of the North like Strider/Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings don’t live nearby but we know people who will fight for us while struggling at the same time with insecurity.

Dictionary.com mentions the speculative genre as one encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. My first novel, Jessie’s Hope, is the story of one family’s struggles in modern-day rural Alabama. Nothing about it is speculative.

However, I have two publishers looking at my time-shifting YA novel set in 1978. While it’s the most entertaining work I’ve ever penned, it has easily been the hardest. Why?

World-building.

If an author is creating something supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic, they have to maintain a believable world with made-up elements. This could consist of a language, a culture, species, or time elements that differ from the norm. Personally, I find working out the specifics of time-shifting tedious. It’s one thing to write a story, but a different task to have readers buy-in and find your characters and settings both believable and relatable.

Questions I ask:

  • Can the reader relate to the personality of my character? Whether I’m creating a robot, lizard creature, or child, I pattern their personality after real people.
  • Can the reader relate to my character’s problems? To their victories? I try to maintain a balance with problems to keep my characters humble and victories so I don’t destroy the arc of external and internal growth I’m striving to create.
  • Does the setting have enough reality to ground the reader in the world I’ve built? I want them to see the Orna trees, my creation of trees that absorb light in the daytime and glow at night. In my mind, the trees are larger versions of the solar lights that line my sidewalk.
  • Does the setting’s laws of nature work for the world? I love how Star Wars set the planet Tatooine orbiting around two suns, making it a desert planet because of their scorching intensity.

Speculative authors and screenwriters combine otherworldly elements with relatable believability and construct books and movies that can boggle the imagination, yet entertain.

My ten favorite speculative books:

  1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  3. Star Wars by George Lucas
  4. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  5. Rooms by James L. Rubart
  6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  7. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  9. The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker
  10. The Wizard of Oz

Yes, I have weird—I mean—eclectic taste in literature but I know what I like. Spot-on world building, courageous yet flawed characters, and a story I can’t put down. We can find this in the unique and entertaining genre of speculative fiction.

What are your favorite speculative novels and movies? 

To learn more about her novel and how to connect with Jennifer, read on!

*****

Years ago, an accident robbed Jessie Smith’s mobility. It also stole her mom and alienated her from her father. When Jessie’s high school sweetheart Matt Jansen proposes, her parents’ absence intensifies her worry that she cannot hold on to those she loves.

With a wedding fast approaching, Jessie’s grandfather Homer Smith, has a goal to find the perfect dress for “his Jessie,” one that would allow her to forget, even if for a moment, the boundaries of her wheelchair. But financial setbacks and unexpected sabotage hinder his plans.

Determined to heal from her past, Jessie initiates a search for her father. Can a sliver of hope lead to everlasting love when additional obstacles–including a spurned woman and unpredictable weather–highjack Jessie’s dream wedding?

*****

Jennifer Hallmark writes Southern fiction with a twist and her website and monthly newsletter focus on her books, love of the South, and favorite fiction.  Jessie’s Hope, her novel published by Firefly Southern Fiction, was a 2019 Selah Award nominee for First Novel. You can subscribe to her newsletter here and visit her on Facebook, Facebook author page, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Three Sources for Names in Speculative Fiction

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know I love names–their history, their meaning, and finding just the right one for a character. In many kinds of fantasy and science fiction stories, authors have the luxury, or the problem, of inventing names. Below are three sources for names in speculative fiction. Just remember The Golden Rule for Creating Names in Fiction: it must be easily pronounceable.

World Myths

Perusing world myths is a great way to find names, especially if you read the ones that are less well-known, like Slavic or Celtic.

GREEK AND ROMAN NAMES
  • Atalanta
  • Meander
  • Dido
  • Alecto
  • Evander
  • Nisus
  • Marsyas
  • Thetis
  • Arion
  • Leander
  • Cadmus
  • Maia
  • Nysa
NORSE NAMES
  • Sif
  • Idun
  • Galar
  • Brokk
  • Alvis
  • Gerd
  • Thiazi
  • Skadi
CELTIC NAMES
  • Balor
  • Bran
  • Branwen
  • Bres
  • Dagda
  • Morrigan
  • Caradoc
  • Finntan
  • Korrigan
  • Mael Duin
  • Nemed
  • Nuada
  • Veleda
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
  • Sadko
  • Morevna
  • Perun
  • Mati Syra
  • Kurent

Field Guides

Because my oldest is the Nature Nut, we have all kinds of field guides laying around our house. By flipping through them, I’ve discovered all sorts of names that would blend right into any speculative fiction story. In a field guide on birds, I found Calidris, Striatus, Thula. Asio, Strix, and Zenaida. Tyto Albo is the name for barn owls. It also sounds like a great name for the hero of an epic. If I change it to Tyta Albo or Alba Tyto, I have a heroine. If a scientific name sounds–well, too scientific, play with it like I did with Tyto Albo, leading me to the next tip, which is …

Play with Familiar Names

I take a name like Olivia and write it backwards, Aivilo. That’s easy to pronounce for any English reader–Ay-vil-o. But some one might notice I used Olivia backwards. So I change it to something like Raivilo or Ailvilor. You can honor friends by naming characters with disguised versions of their names or hold a contest for readers and disguise the winner’s name.

Writers, what sources do you use for names in speculative fiction? Readers, what are the best names you’ve read in speculative fiction?

Lessons Learned in Writing Speculative Fiction

I’m always excited to introduce a new author to my readers, so it’s a pleasure to welcome new novelist Dana Li as a guest blogger. Her first novel, The Vermillion Riddle, released in March, gave her a graduate course in the craft of writing, and she’s here today to share lessons learned in writing speculative fiction.

Fantasy and science fiction were the first genres to really hook me on stories. When I felt the itch to start writing my own, I naturally wanted to tell the fantastical, epic kind of tales that captivated me. Turns out, it takes more than a burst of enthusiasm or inspiration to finish writing a novel, let alone one where I’m building an entire world. My writing endeavors began in fanfiction, and honestly, I think that’s a great place to start – I was playing in someone else’s sandbox, with an already defined world and characters. Leveling up to writing original speculative fiction was hard: I needed to build the world from scratch, and introduce characters that would win readers over. I published my first fantasy novel, The Vermilion Riddle, this year, and it’s been a long but worthwhile journey. These are just some of the lessons I learned along the way!

Create the characters that inspire you. 

Even if you’re writing in a different world with different rules and reality, you want readers to connect with your characters. As a reader, the fantasy and sci-fi stories I loved most were largely due to the memorable characters. They’re relatable, yet brushed with strokes of heroism. In a fantasy, we get to send characters on epic adventures and have them face seemingly insurmountable trials. Take advantage of this! It’s an opportunity to tell stories with a lot of heart, showcasing qualities like courage, loyalty, and nobility. The stakes are high – let the characters rise to meet the challenges. These are the moments that stay with readers for a long time.

Commit to extra world-building. 

For The Vermilion Riddle, I created a calendar, map, and thought through the political and religious system. Not all of it was critical to the plot, but having it at my fingertips to reference in a passing remark or description enriched the story. It makes readers feel like there really is an entire world hovering in the background, and there’s more history, geography, and lore to explore beyond the confines of this particular story. Just don’t hit readers with a deluge of information. They shouldn’t need to read a primer on your magical system as a prerequisite to understanding your novel. Let them uncover bits and pieces of how things work as the story progresses.

Don’t sacrifice the plot for the sake of being preachy. 

Most speculative fiction has a point, or a moral behind the story. As a Christian, telling a good story is not the same as preaching a sermon. We’re not writing a theological treatise; we’re seeking to tell good, thought-provoking stories as Christians, and our worldview will display itself in how we portray good and evil, the nature of humanity, and more. We also don’t want to gloss over the reality that we’re plagued by sin and a broken world, and not all stories wrap up with a bow and happily ever after. Good stories will face the darkness and acknowledge our brokenness, but reject nihilism. Our stories may not talk about Christ and the cross explicitly, but let’s show that good prevails against evil, life has dignity and value, and our hope is not in vain.

Thank you so much for all the wonderful advice! Learn more about her debut novel and how to connect with Dana below.

*****

“To enter Faerie’s blessed demesne

four secrets must be found:

the land unbound by time and space

opens only to the one who knows

the Light, the Song, and Mortal Gate.”

In the sheltered town of Carmel, women do not have a future outside of a good marriage. That future is threatened when Leah Edwards’ father gambles away the family’s livelihood and estate. She and her sisters must hurry to find husbands. Then August Fox, a Guardian from Cariath, comes to town and purchases a supposedly haunted manor. Charged to keep the peace between mortals and Faerie, the Guardians are the stuff of legend. After he stuns her with a marriage proposal, Leah reluctantly journeys to Cariath, discovering there is more to August and the legends than she guessed.

Nimrod and his Oath-breakers betrayed the Guardians, seeking to solve an ancient riddle that would unlock the Faerie realm. Not all his followers share his desire for conquest. Benedict Fox, his second-in-command, has different motives. But as he continues fulfilling Nimrod’s plan, Benedict hurtles towards a choice between saving his family and settling a personal vendetta.

For Leah, August, and their allies, it is a race against time to solve the ancient riddle before the Oath-breakers, and reunite the Guardians to save the mortal realm. The war is never really over, and this time, the battle lines cut through blood ties and brotherhood.

*****

Dana Li

Dana Li is a software product manager by day, and a novelist by night. She holds an MS in management science and engineering from Stanford University and a BS in computer science from USC, but she’s always been better at writing stories than code. Her writing misadventures began with a dozen now-deleted Star Wars fanfiction tales. She loves good fantasy/sci-fi, classy cuisines, and roller coasters (but not all at once). Dana currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and The Vermilion Riddle is her first novel. 

You can follow Dana on Instagram and Facebook, or learn more about her work at www.penandfire.com

Could We? Should We? Part 2

“Could We? Should We? Part 2” is the second half of the guest blog written by author/editor Michelle L. Levigne. To read the first part, click here. She discusses at greater length and depth about Christians writing speculative fiction in her book To Eternity (and beyond).

St. Augustine:

[No help is to be despised, even though it come from a profane source.]

But whether the fact is as Varro has related, or is not so, still we ought not to give up music because of the superstition of the heathen, if we can derive anything from it that is of use for the understanding of Holy Scriptures; … For we ought not to refuse to learn letters because they say that Mercury discovered them; nor because they have dedicated temples to Justice and Virtue, and prefer to worship in the form of stones things that ought to have their place in the heart, ought we on that account to forsake justice and virtue. Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found it belongs to his Master;[1]

[Whatever has been rightly said by the heathen we must appropriate to our uses.]

Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves were not making a good use of; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in the spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life — we must take and turn to Christian use.[2]

[1] St. Augustine. On Christian DoctrineGreat Books of the Western World. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief. (Encyclopedia Brittanica, Inc. Chicago 1952) pp. 646.
[2] Ibid. pp. 655.

Essentially, Christians are commanded to plunder the “treasures” of the non-believers and turn them to God’s service and glorification. Countless times, the Israelites were commanded to plunder their conquered enemies and keep what they took. And there were always instructions for what and how much went to the Tabernacle and the priesthood.

Yet, there were also occasions when the Israelites were ordered to destroy all the possessions of the enemy, and not keep even one small coin of the spoil. This can be extended to modern times to apply to Satan’s tools of drugs, pornography, profanity, and anything that is not profitable for God’s service. These things are perversions, warping away from the true intent of their basic drives. Such twisted things only distract from the truth and must be totally wiped out.

Just because some science fiction/fantasy seems to promote occultism or immorality does not mean all the rest is bad. Certain cults use the cross as part of their symbolism, and others use the Bible, with their own twisted interpretations. Does that mean Christians should stop wearing the cross and reading the Bible? Of course not. It must all be redeemed and used for the good of society and the furtherance of the Gospel. People must be trained to want the good over the evil, to tell the difference between the two opposing forces, and to find the side of light to be more attractive than the side of darkness. 

Science fiction/fantasy is stepping in and filling the needs in people’s lives that the church and other institutions are not filling, or if they are, not meeting the need adequately. Such as the need for wonder, and fostering the imagination, and hope in desperate, dark circumstances. Don’t condemn the genre for doing this — condemn the ones who are not doing their jobs. Christians should study and get involved in science fiction/fantasy and all the sub-genres associated with it, so that the uses and abuses can be understood, and either redeemed, turned to their proper uses, or guarded against.

There will always be those who say something is wrong for Christians because they don’t feel comfortable with it. God works differently with everyone. All His people are individuals. A story will have a desired effect on one group of people, a sermon will have the same effect on a different group of people, and a song will be designed to have the same effect on yet another group of people. God uses many tools. He used Balaam’s donkey, so who has the wisdom and authority to dictate His choices in either tools or methods?

Thank you, Michelle! Wonderful insight into writing speculative fiction as a Christian. To connect with Michelle, check out her bio and social media links below.


Michelle L. Levigne

On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a bunch of useless degrees in theater, English, film/communication, and writing. Even worse, she has over 100 books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, suspense, women’s fiction, and sub-genres of romance. 

Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living (MichelleLevigne@gmail.com for info/rates), but only enough to give her time to write. Want to learn about upcoming books, book launch parties, inside information, and cover reveals? Go to Michelle’s website or blog to sign up. You can also find her at www.YeOldeDragonBooks.comwww.MtZionRidgePress.comFacebook, and Instagram.

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