17 Comments

Does Your Hero’s Faith Determine Your Market?

INTRODUCTION BY DIANE GRAHAM

Every now and again, we come across a really cool-cat, word-slinging, thesaurus-toting, up and coming novelist. When we do we try to bring them into the Collective. Resistance is futile. This week, I’d like to introduce all of you to my friend, Tim Ward. I have a feeling you’re going to see that mug hanging around these parts more often.

Be gentle though, he was very nervous about meeting all of you. I told him we wouldn’t bite. Although, I couldn’t guarantee an anvil or two wouldn’t knock him in the noggin. He looks like he has a thick enough cranium, doesn’t he?

Please, give the man some NAF love. Are you ready to meet Tim? Here we go…

BLOG POST BY TIMOTHY C. WARD

Dear New Authors Fellowship and all your beloved followers,

I don’t deserve this audience, but I’m not going to take it for granted. I’m an unpublished writer who podcasts his thoughts and the sometimes stumbling attempts to ask smarter writers about theirs. I’m a Christian who isn’t sure if I should tell my audience that I’m Christian, but I’m also afraid to tell some of my Christian friends about some of the stuff I write (including my lovely wife). I’m trying to write the book I want to read, while figuring out my audience and without limiting my creative fire. I want to write the next Dune series incorporating the struggles of Christians instead of Muslim Buddhists, but I don’t want it just to be read by Christians. I want to show people the power of life and death as I see it without banging them over the head with my beliefs. Instead, I want to pull their heart out, stuff it with my experience, and watch them snap back where they can decide what happens next.

Can I do this without preaching? That is my life’s goal. I love that you will join me in this pursuit.

In the first draft of my second book, The General’s Shadow, the answer to the title question was yes. In the second, I’m trying to make it “no”. The challenge that I’m facing, is feeling the need to erase and alter every scene and aspect of world building that alludes to Christian-type faith. In the end, I’m wondering if his faith is going to be there at all.

Ideally, I’d like my protagonist to have already been converted, and trying to reach out to a remnant of his people who are walking away from the faith of their fathers.  I’m afraid this motivation determines the market as Christian.

I want a book I would like because of my faith, but also one I can give to someone no matter what their faith is. Is this possible? It will require great writing and a delicate touch for the happy middle. It’s kind of like playing Operation. Hit the side, buzzer goes off, and you lose. So how do I determine my boundaries?

My first boundary is describing my character’s faith. Isn’t it funny, someone can write a story about Islamic Buddhists in the future, (Dune), and have all the religious intrigues of a preordained Messiah, but that isn’t considered preachy. The reason, I think, is because this messiah, Paul, was a man. These people did not believe in the Christian faith or that Messiah, and so it’s okay.

You can stop reading and answer my questions here:  Do you think my main character can believe in a Christian type Messiah, or even an absolute truth in Monotheism, without it turning my book into Christian Science Fiction. Is making this truth a driving force what buzzes on the boundary between Christian and Mainstream?

I want the kind of religious dialogue and politics that drives the Dune series, but I’m afraid doing so from a Christian perspective will narrow my audience to one side.

Do you think the following three foundations for this series can be included without forcing this book into a Christian SF market?

1)      Background: My main character is a Rucien, a people group who have been separated for thousands of years from a sect of humanity that became obsessed with human-machine interfacing. These people, the Osuna, reshaped the original human homeworld into a virtual reality society that rejected religion and replaced it with sensual fulfillment. They enslaved the poor so the rich and powerful could live for hundreds of years in stasis chambers while their minds roamed the “neuronet”.  That in and of itself does not preclude preaching, but what if the Rucien are followers of Ruc, this creation’s Messiah, who was killed for speaking out against the sins of this world. They believe he rose again, etc.

2)      Current: The hero is stranded on a planet where 45,000 of his people were “rescued” by an Esune (branch of Osuna). In the first draft, his speaking out against their following Esune gods and practices was a key point in taking a stand against the bad guy. In this second draft, I’ve cut the scene, but I wonder if he being outspoken against the abandonment of their forefather’s faith makes this a Christian SF.

3)      Future Books: I see a climax to the series where the Osuna try to enslave the Rucien to use their bodies and DNA for their technology and attempt to become immortal. The Rucien want to be free of this oppression, and believe that God offers them immortality by turning from evil. With this theme in mind, my hero will be faced with his own people being lured away by the temptation of an easy life outside of their faith.

This is my struggle producing a General Market Science Fiction novel: I want to reach the lost, but I don’t want to ignore the true source of power or the reality of spiritual battles so prevalent in my perspective on life.

What about your books? Does your hero’s faith determine your story’s market?

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

17 comments on “Does Your Hero’s Faith Determine Your Market?

  1. I’m in a similar situation. My characters are Christians, but the book is unsuitable for the CBA market because of the sexual content/language (necessary because of the subject matter). I’ve tried to incorporate elements of their faith through imagery, the songs the protagonist writes about her struggle with her faith, and some discussion about the protagonist’s shame about her sexual promiscuity and how it betrays her spiritual convictions.

    I’ve asked readers who don’t claim Christianity as their faith if the book is “preachy” or if it comes across as wierd that the character takes her faith/spiritual convictions seriously; they say no. I’m determined to be published in the general market.

    Take heart. There are Christian writers who write blatantly Christian work who are published in the general market (for example, Marilynne Robinson, whose book Gilead won the Pulitzer, and Bret Lott, who is greatly respected).

    • Hi Laura, thanks for stopping by. I’m always glad to meet another writer on a similar path. I think you’ve got the right idea about incorporating elements of their faith. My sincere hope is to do the same without limiting my market to only Christians. You might want to check out this conversation I started on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Twardwriter/posts/511029152820?notif_t=feed_comment). Michelle Aubrey Black makes a very good point for why the faith of your hero does define your market.

      I look forward to hearing more about your journey to publication.

  2. That’s a question I’m still asking myself. My heroes all generally go through a faith crisis as well as physical/mental crises throughout my books, but I’m still wondering if they’re too preachy for the general market. And I’m wondering what to do about that since I’ve lately felt more of a call, like you, to publish in the general market. I suppose time will tell.

    • Hi Heather, and thanks for stopping by. I’ve written a few stories where the heroes had faith got saved, and in edits, I cut down the Biblespeak to the point where they were just asking God for forgiveness, or turning from their sin. I haven’t had these stories published yet, so I can’t tell you how well I did suiting it for a general market. Ted Dekker is trying to go mainstream, and yet his most recent book, Forbidden, has a lot of Christian allegory. That is a good book to study for subtlety, though I still wonder if certain parts are too obvious.

      If you ever have questions about certain scenes or aspects of your story being too Christian, let me know. I’d be glad to help. I’m no publisher, but I am learning a good deal about subtlety through the books I’m reading, as well as my own efforts.

  3. Welcome, Tim! It is delightful to have you!

    I think we’ve all gone through the mental gymnastics of “Where does my book fit?”

    For me, I’m just trying to have faith that mine fits SOMEWHERE, and eventually I’ll figure out where that where is.

    • Thank you, Avily. I’m glad to be here.

      The thing is, I keep hearing people say I need to know my audience. I also hear people say they just write whatever they want and not care about audience. I want to be the latter, but I don’t want to shut the door on non-Christian readers. Then there’s also the fact of learning to write well w/o preaching, so that non-Christian readers who are seeking anyway might enjoy.

      Yes, I hope your story wraps up nicely in your eyes, and when it does, I’m sure you’ll have that idea of where it fits.

  4. TIM! Great things my Brother. Great and unimaginable things.

    Our name-regardless of spelling is from the Greek Timótheos, meaning “honoring God or honored by God. I like the first one. But the second is just as powerful. Of course you may know this…but what I mean is you are called.

    You know this as well.

    For me and my book, the answer is no. For me my hero’s faith is in her elders. Those who came before her…and the sacrifice and love they gave. Logos is God in my world, and they do “believe in him as creator who spoke everything into existence.

    But..there are characters who are angry at him. There are characters that deny him and then there are those who through pain and agony still trust in him as an all-powerful and just creator.

    Point?

    I followed the “rule” of write what you know. I created characters and placed in them the vast array of beliefs and differences that we real folks have and hold on to. They are reflections of us all–placed in a fantasy setting.

    So to, hopefully, answer your question, my hero’s faith does not determine my market. God willing my writing will.

    Be blessed Tim…and welcome aboard!!!

    • Tym, the only guy I know with a cooler name than me. (just kidding, I’m not that conceited 😉 ) Actually, my parents named me Tim because it rhymed with “slim” and they figured I wouldn’t be teased too bad with that nickname. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been called slim, so I guess I’m glad my name wasn’t Matt.

      Anyway. I like how you’ve incorporated your hero’s faith into a system that is close, but not obviously Christian. I think that is definitely one way to go about it. In a podcast interview I did with Rob Treskillard, he blew my mind by saying we don’t have to match everything about Christianity when we use allegory. Just pieces are good enough. That freed me so much from having everything in my stories have to match the Bible.

      I agree. I want to write stories with conflicts that I know, and since most of my conflict has been centered around my faith, or departing from it, that will no doubt find its way into my stories.

      Amen to your second to last line. I pray that your writing will too.

      Thank you, and you as well sir. I’m glad to be aboard.

  5. Sigh….it is frustrating, no? If your book is about any other religion than Christianity it goes in the general market. There is no “religious fiction” section in the book store, it is the “Christian fiction” section. No one complains that writers “sneak in” Buddhist principles or new age stuff or Muslim characters sticking to their beliefs, but Christian books are supposed to be labeled clear as day to avoid being “sneaky.”

    That said, I don’t like preachy books, regardless of the topic. Even some Christian books–actually, quite a few of them–make me feel uncomfortable. I want my relationship with God to be between me and Him, not something that is dictated by some novelist. And I tend to not write about God directly, but rather through allegory and symbolism. But I think sometimes the tiniest tie to Christianity seems to label books and that’s not quite fair.

    And, glad to have you here, Tim! 😀

    • Yes it is, but not surprising. I suppose it beats being shipwrecked or crucified, but frustrating nonetheless. It also harps back to a witnessing tool that I use sometimes where I point out how true Christianity differs from every other religion by being faith based in someone else’s worth, but that’s another topic for another day. The other point is that only Christians would venture into the Christian fiction section anyway.

      I agree with you. Preachy books bother me too. Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by preachy, because an openly Christian book preaches to my soul, and I like that. Winter was a good example, as was Legendary Space Pilgrims. Both lifted my spirit by illustrating biblical truths in new ways. I like that. I just don’t know that that is what I want to do.

      I also agree that I want to use allegory and symbolism to slip my truth in the back door. Finding that tiny tie-in seems like a common pursuit between us. May your editing eye find accurate discernment in that.

      Thank you, Kat. Glad to be here! 🙂

  6. I’m not quite sure of anything you said,forgive me for I am old and feeble minded. I think you should write what you are driven to and let the pieces fall where they may. We are all looking for acceptance but we must first accept ourselves.

    • Oh, Mamma Billie. You are so much like my mom, and I love you for it. She comes and posts on my wall all the time just to show her love even if she has no idea what I’m talking about. I’ll take your comments gladly whenever you have something to share.

      Thank you. I think you hit the nail on the head with writing what I’m driven to write. I’m just trying to match my drive to write for the lost, with the talent in craft not to push them away while incorporating my faith into the background.

      I’m still learning how to accept myself. Powerful words indeed.

  7. Two greatest pieces of advice I got as a writer at Penn State from my InArt3 professor are these: 1) storytelling is an art, not a science. As such it needs constant care, minding, pruning, grooming and feeding. 2) The best books are partnerships between the writers words and the readers imagination. Respect the partnership, and honor your reader.

    I can also tell you from working in a bookstore that non-Christians by in large will not read books with Christian characters in them (unless they are lion chow) And I don’t mean bible thumping characters, I mean characters that have Christian morals and values. They aren’t attractive to the world any more (if they ever were) Charles Martin who is a Christian who happens to write books, is a prime example of this. Now, his books are not preachy, and they aren’t published by a Christian publisher but they do have themes that uphold judeo-christian values. My non-Christian friends sneer at him as being ‘too sentimental and wishy-washy’ and ‘sappy and out of touch with real life’ (it doesn’t help at all when I tell them that he’s a New York Times Best Seller) Christians on the other hand, adore his work. Now his topics are heavy ones; Redemption, Sacrifice, Quest for Truth, but they just aren’t palatable to the non-Christians I know.

    Mindsets are tough to break.

    I don’t want to discourage any one but from what I’ve seen Christians are far more likely to tolerate messages in books that don’t match their beliefs, than non-Christians.

    So as you put together your tale, know that there are a small percentage of people who are going to want to read it, but know too that if you write well, and respect that small group, you will present Christ in a way that will make them hopefully, hunger for Him.

    Christopher Martin’s books are:

    Wrapped in Rain
    When Crickets Cry
    The Dead Don’t Dance
    Maggie

    Check him out, this is how a writer who happens to be a Christian, writes.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Michelle. Your side of the discussion has great weight in this difficult question. I can’t say much more right now besides that it really makes me think about my audience and future.

  8. My Dearest Tim,

    Just write! God will hold you and guide you.Believe this with all your heart and you will see the fruit of your faith in His time not ours. Welcome to the fold.

  9. Hi Tim. Great to see the response you’ve gotten for this post.

    In response to your question, as far as I am concerned, “no.” I have a similar philosophy as yours, in that I want to make my work available to the unsaved. As I see it, this requires several things be taken into account:

    1) The plot and writing needs to be worldly in a way that makes the story appealing to secular audiences. Too many Christian novels seem to take place in some sterile zone where the only evil encountered by the main characters are central to the plot. This may make for wholesome reading for a Christian audience, but secular readers just aren’t going to relate to it enough.

    2) The writing can’t undermine your integrity as a believer. These first two points are the two ends of a scale, and I think keeping them balanced is a tricky job. Profanity should be mild if it exists at all, and yet something needs to be used to convey the kinds of powerfully emotive dialogue for characters. Explicit sex can’t make it in there, but sex really does happen in the real world, and in contexts far beyond the boundaries of marriage, so we may find ourselves needing to reference sexual behavior in a way that gets the message across without becoming lewd or worse.

    3) There are many different worldviews out there. This isn’t generally a problem with Christian fiction, as a very large percentage deals with this fact in some way. But I find that many secular novels ignore the reality that everyone puts his or her faith in something or someone, whether they realize it or not. And the secular novels that do usually reference Christianity in a negative light and the others positively (you get the crackpot–or even evil–evangelical preacher, compared to the worldly-wise Buddhist, the poor misunderstood Muslim). The fact is that Christians make up the highest percentage of people on the earth, and that percentage is even higher in the United States, so to make the Christians in a novel out to be the wacky minority is something of a disconnect from reality. Also, if we are talking about deep character development, faith should be a huge influence on who the character essentially is.

    When looking at the three points above–particularly one and two–the question becomes, “Am I trying to hide our faith?” Because if it comes to that, I have gone too far in my attempt to appeal to the secular market.

    What it comes down to is this: the Christian genre is there to provide a safe collection of books for Christians to read; books that aren’t going to pose a stumbling block to the faith of a believer. This is all well and good–even necessary, perhaps–but it isn’t what I write. I want to write stories that will be read by a secular audience that will hopefully lead to some reflection on the reader’s part by the time he or she has finished the book.

    That’s my short version, anyway. 😛

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