Good Writing and Christian Fiction

The weekend just gone, I suddenly felt a dire need for a piece of fiction. Something light and diverting, with maybe just a bit of sap. It'd been a stressful couple of weeks, where I was wrestling with many things in my heart, and I got to the place where I wanted nothing better than to be distracted by a good story I could be certain would end with a "happily ever after".

The last time I was up the coast with my family, I bought a massive stack of Christian dramas/romances from a second hand store for next to nothing, which I was pretty pleased about (I left the Amish ones on the shelf). So I went through my shelf to see which I would devour in my free time, and selected a western written by a lady who will remain unnamed for the sake of this post.

Almost from the beginning, I recognized how terrible the writing was. I took a great interest in learning English and grammar during my school years, and though I'm far from a professional, even I could recognize how poor the quality was. The sentence and paragraph structures were so bad that they pulled me out of the story every five minutes as I tried to wrap my brain around what the author was trying to say. The writing wandered aimlessly, following every, single, rabbit trail for about ten miles longer than necessary. It was infuriating.

Add to that, the romance was contrived, and I had to listen to the soulful, deep inner feelings of each character described again, and again, and again, in amongst being peppered by repeated facts from secondary characters. By the time the couple shared a kiss that meant nothing after knowing each other a grand total of two days, a sentence that completely switched tenses was the last straw, and I put the book down with disgust. Admittedly, I checked the front page to see if it had been a self-pub job, but it wasn't (shock horror, some publisher paid for this??). Giving the book a quick look up on GoodReads, I found that it had a 4.5 star rating and had plenty of rave reviews. Oy vey. God help the Christian drama and/or romance industry. A moment of silence for the death of cultured literature (#bringbackAusten).

Frustrated that I still did not get my satisfaction met, I turned to another book on my shelf. This one a book by Janette Oke. I've read a fair bit of her writing, and I knew it would be quality, but when at midnight I put down the finished book, I had never been more impressed.

The story followed a young woman who, having completed Bible college, was called into the ministry to become a deacon of a church plant in a small western town. You shared in her trials of coming into a community that did not welcome her, the hardships of refurbishing the church building almost single-handedly, reaching out to people with little return, and her deep sense of loneliness; the desire to live out her calling with a man who shared her passion for ministry. I was immensely satisfied by the book, and even more so, felt deeply touched, encouraged and inspired from having read it. I sensed God's comforting presence through reading this story.

The difference between the two books was immense, some of them being key advantages which I believe a lot of authors miss. Here are a few observations:

1. Good writing.
No doubt about it, this experience has taught me there is such a thing as good writing, and bad writing can seriously detract enjoyment from reading. Comparing these two books has really shown me how much of an improvement good writing can do for a story.

2. "Christian".
Where the first book equated Christian as half-hearted prayers of "God have mercy" punctuating the story every couple of pages, Janette Oke's book threw into stark contrast how Christianity permeates life in every way. Though prayer did play a part, the life of faith was best illustrated in the way the main character sacrificed or went through hard situations as a direct result of her faith. Her actions spoke louder than trite words.

3. Romance.
For the love of all that's worth reading, if you're going to write a romance, make sure you have characters that will uphold the weight of the love story. 2D characters that talk about their "feelings" all the time carry about as much weight as a feather. Take things slowly. You have the whole book to tell this tale of love! Don't have them kiss the second day. Build a good foundation for the romance to grow upon. Take the reader on a journey, don't just throw them a book.

4. Show, don't tell.
Yes, yes, I know. This is what everyone says, but it doesn't make it any less true! In the first book, if I had to hear another reference to how good a shot the bad guy was, or just how good the sidekick was at tracking, I was going to tear my hair out. Give your reader the credit for being able to remember important facts that you took the time to illustrate well. You don't have to tell them. And tell them. And tell them!

5. Research.

The knowledge that Janette Oke's book had been written with historical accuracy added to the book's authenticity and inspirational effect. Women in the 1900's actually did become deacons of churches in remote areas of the west in order to spread the Gospel. The prologue gave great insight into the hardships these women faced, and how they overcame them. It gave the story a greater depth that the first book failed to plumb.

These are just a couple of things I noticed and felt compelled to write about. Good writing is important, and we shouldn't waste our time writing - or investing in - poor quality books. There are many truly inspirational stories out there that effect people's lives. Let us support that side of the industry.

... end rant.

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