What makes good Christian fiction or music?

I've been wondering about this :)

I like to write fiction, and I'm planning on writing some songs... and most of what I write ends up being related to my faith, not even intentionally, but because it's a big part of who I am.

There are some great Christian writers, like CS Lewis, and some contemporary Christian artists I like, - such as Rich Mullins or Brooke Fraser.

But I've noticed that there are Christian books and music that just doesn't appeal to me, or doesn't seem to be very good quality (I'm not saying this in an elitist way..and I'd much rather listen to Christian music than much of the secular music that I know)

what do you think is important in (particularly) Christian books or music? what can writers/songwriters do to avoid it being kind of 'cheesy', but meaningful?

thanks :)

[quote="Monica4316, post:1, topic:200271"]
what do you think is important in (particularly) Christian books or music? what can writers/songwriters do to avoid it being kind of 'cheesy', but meaningful?

[/quote]

That's quite difficult because what constitutes as good fiction can be fairly relative. For starters, you have to determine your target audience. What's considered good for one group may not necessarily be for another.

If your target audience consists of the Christian purists, then anything that mimics the storyline of old saint biographies would suffice. On the other hand, if your looking to a more secular crowd, you're going to have to be secular. Doing so otherwise puts you at a risk of alienating your audience.

I think it's important for Christian songwriters/singers or writers to be honest about all things Christian, be it issues we are facing or things we don't agree with in the world today. There seems to be a slight tendency by some to sugarcoat. It's okay to be realistic and still get the message across.
But above all, the work must serve to adore God and glorify Him. That's why we are all here. So I would say the most important thing for Christian artists to consider is whether or not they are doing their work for His will, at all times. :)

[quote="Monica4316, post:1, topic:200271"]

But I've noticed that there are Christian books and music that just doesn't appeal to me, or doesn't seem to be very good quality (I'm not saying this in an elitist way..and I'd much rather listen to Christian music than much of the secular music that I know)

what do you think is important in (particularly) Christian books or music? what can writers/songwriters do to avoid it being kind of 'cheesy', but meaningful?

thanks :)

[/quote]

Hi.

I've been working on what's turned out to be a series of novels where the Church plays an important role--as well as other faiths.

In my experience, the most difficult part of writing fiction with a Christian edge is to avoid writing Christian fiction. That is, a novel is meant to entertain. At the same time, a novel should not unnecessarily distort its source material (particularly if the organizations depicted are real, such as the Church itself). A novel such as this should also not go too far against that faith's theology for purposes of drama (The Da Vinci Code was grievously notorious for this to the point of attempting to purport the work as fact).

And finally, the work should not try to proselytize or even evangelize its readers. There are many books people can read to learn about Catholicism or other faiths. A work of fiction should be entertaining and inspire thought about the themes in the story.

No matter what you make, using the work as a mallet to push a belief will leave that work sitting on a shelf--if the work manages to get published at all. God bless.

[quote="Spencerian, post:4, topic:200271"]
And finally, the work should not try to proselytize or even evangelize its readers. There are many books people can read to learn about Catholicism or other faiths. A work of fiction should be entertaining and inspire thought about the themes in the story.

[/quote]

Amen! :thumbsup:

My main advice would be "don't preach." The churched don't need it and the unchurched don't want it. I mean, in a story where someone goes to Mass, it is more realistic for them to do it as a matter of course, not to go on in an interior or exterior monologue about how important it is to go to Mass every Sunday. That (not for the Mass obviously, but for whatever doctrine) is one of the two main things that have completely detached me from (Protestant) Christian fiction. (The other is that you never know if or when the things will start to be anti-Catholic.)

So I guess the other suggestion would be, try to show (naturally) how Catholicism helps the characters in the book or song to make it through whatever they're going through, without specifically denigrating Protestantism if you can help it. Just because we are separated from our brethren, doesn't mean we have an adversarial relationship.

Just my :twocents: I am unfortunately not creative enough to write either a song or a novel. :(

--Jen

[quote="revert_jen, post:5, topic:200271"]
Amen! :thumbsup:

My main advice would be "don't preach." The churched don't need it and the unchurched don't want it. I mean, in a story where someone goes to Mass, it is more realistic for them to do it as a matter of course, not to go on in an interior or exterior monologue about how important it is to go to Mass every Sunday. That (not for the Mass obviously, but for whatever doctrine) is one of the two main things that have completely detached me from (Protestant) Christian fiction. (The other is that you never know if or when the things will start to be anti-Catholic.)

So I guess the other suggestion would be, try to show (naturally) how Catholicism helps the characters in the book or song to make it through whatever they're going through, without specifically denigrating Protestantism if you can help it. Just because we are separated from our brethren, doesn't mean we have an adversarial relationship.

Just my :twocents: I am unfortunately not creative enough to write either a song or a novel. :(

--Jen

[/quote]

Just to add on Jen's good insight:

As Catholic teaching upholds that our separated Christian brothers (and a few non-Christian ones as well) share in some of the truth of God, a good writer will use that as an advantage in plot and character, while using differences that could be also strong plot points:

Say, a Protestant preacher tries to exorcise but fails, but realizes his Catholic priest friend can do so. Both together help the affected person. Same could be done with a Catholic priest that can't get through to some people in danger because of his collar. A Protestant minister might be the needed motivator there. Perhaps a plot point may occur where someone must be rescued from a very unholy area where baptized people are slain on entering, but a Buddhist in their group is able to survive and make the rescue.

I agree, Jen. Protestant Christian fiction really goes overboard, either in their theological mischaracterizations or outright proselytizing. I'm surprised many of these works manage to get published.

As a working writer and editor, the important thing is to make sure your characters show, by their actions, a true Christian behavior. No, they don't have to be goody two-shoes but they always need to try to do their best and really make an effort. Actions speak louder than words. And the occasional mention of God does not hurt, but overdoing it can. A simple line like, "God help me." during a crisis is all you need.

In music, the formula is even more simple: real sincerity and songs about love - real love.

God bless,
Ed

I suggest that you order an excellent book called Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle. (Yes, the author who wrote A Wrinkle in Time and the other books in the trilogy.)

Basically, in this book, which is non-fiction, BTW, Ms. L'Engle argues that there is no such thing as "Christian art." (Art is writing, music, visual, dance, drama, etc.)

Christians will either create good art or bad art. THAT is the issue, whether the art is "good" or "bad."

It sounds like you have already noticed this, as you say that you don't think that all Christian art has good quality just because it's "Christian" art. I agree. I've read "Christian" romance novels that are so poorly-written that a middle school English teacher would fail them for the grammar alone. I've heard "Christian" music that is just awful--poorly rhymed and phrased with monotonous melodies.

It seems that some Christians think that any art that they create for the Glory of God is "good." Well, I think that any art has some merit, and certainly God will find a place for it on His giant refrigerator in the sky. But I think we have to be very careful not to say, "God gave me this song" or "God gave me this story," because that means that no one can criticize it or offer suggestions for improvement because it would be criticizing God!

Anyway, try Ms. L'Engle's very thought-provoking and challenging book.

According to Penelope J. Stokes, Ph. D. in "The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel", most Christian fiction is more properly called "Evangelical fiction" meaning it reflects an Evangelical Christian viewpoint... which is why most Christian publishers are Protestant and rarely (if ever) carry books from a Catholic or Orthodox viewpoint.

However, there are many authors who manage to convey their faith through their characters without clobbering the reader with mini-sermons along the way. My favorite example will always be Mary Higgins Clark. Almost every one of her books clearly shows that the author is a Catholic and a devout one at that. Almost all her characters attend Mass (at least once) in her books and they all lead what could be termed as "good Catholic" lives... no cohabitating, no premarital sex, etc. Now would her books be considered "Catholic fiction"? Not by a long shot... she writes romantic suspense. It's just romantic suspense that happens to Catholic characters. Another example is Aimee and David Thurlo's "Sister Agatha" mysteries. Again, the main character is Catholic without ambiguity or apology (she's an extern nun in a cloistered convent!) who finds herself solving mysteries without compromising her beliefs or morals. Again, NOT Catholic fiction, mystery fiction involving a devout Catholic "detective". (Sorry, I'm not bringing up "Christian romance" because I have yet to find Christian romance that doesn't make me feel like I swallowed a pound of sugar with a maple syrup chaser... that "about to hurl" feeling, you know?....)

Anyway, Ray Bradbury once said, "Find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!" So if your hero/heroine is a good Christian/Catholic, all you have to do is find out what he or she wants... and follow them!

Yes, there is Christian and Catholic fiction. Just because the book trade, or an individual writer, decides to call it something else does not make it true. As I wrote earlier, the character's behavior needs to reflect Christian behavior.

Writing is a skill that I think can be taught to anybody, but the learning curve involved means a new writer has to put in the time to practice.

God bless,
Ed

thanks everyone!! :) :thumbsup:

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