While reading On Writing (and Writers): A Miscellany of Advice and Opinions by C.S. Lewis, which is a collection of quotes from his writings, I discovered a passage in which Mr. Lewis discusses writing blatant or latent themes in Christian fiction. It got me to thinking about what themes work best in Christian fiction
Blatant Theme or…
“Blatant” means obvious, so Christian fiction with a blatant theme is one that presents itself without any disguises. Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love is obviously a reworking of the Book of Hosea, set in the American West. The main male character is named Michael Hosea. Christian readers know what to expect.
Latent Theme or…
Latent themes are the ones you have to dig for. Such as the Christian themes in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s death and resurrection mimics Christ’s. The people of Gondor have long expected the return of a king, like the Jewish people awaiting the Messiah.
Both Blatant and Latent Themes
My stories so far fall in this category. On the one hand, my main character and many of her close relatives are Christians. It makes sense for them to discuss problems in light of their faith.
The main character of my YA mystery series is Rae Riley. She’s turning twenty in my next novel, working title A Storm in Summer. She’s still getting to know her father Mal and his family. Tension between Rae and Mal rises when Rae wants to help people in trouble and her father wants her to stay safe. He sees she has a gift for mercy and suggests they both read up on that in their Bibles. This makes sense because they are Christian characters.
But I like working with latent themes much more. In all my Rae Riley mysteries, Rae’s journey to know her father can be seen as a similar journey Christians take to know their Heavenly Father. I don’t have Rae think things like, “Wow. Trusting Dad is as hard as trusting God.” My characters don’t comment on the latent theme. I present it and hope I do it in a way that makes readers think and encourages them to uncover the theme themselves.
That’s something else l like about latent themes. The author gives the readers room to make their own discoveries, rather than spelling out every letter of the theme for them. The reading experience is more meaningful if the author regards readers as partners in the process of unveiling the hidden gems in a story, rather than as students who have to be instructed on the theme.
Preachiness Can Be Found in Secular Fiction Too
I read a YA mystery in the last few years that included in the wrap up a speech from the main character about the case she just solved. She lets readers know exactly how they are supposed to judge the victim and the guilty parties. I wish the author had trusted readers to come to their own conclusions.
What themes works best in Christian fiction in your opinion? Why?