I recently read a story by a well-known author who is highly acclaimed in the Christian market. And, unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. The writing was clean, some (not all) of the characters were well-rounded and interesting, and there were some moments of good tension, but I felt like it had a lot of unmet potential. Some of the characters could’ve used a much deeper arc, and there was a lot of setup that didn’t really go anywhere.
The plot was decent, but it felt more like the characters traipsing from here to there and having obstacles fizzle out before they really got going, rather than a struggle to complete the objective.
In thinking about it and discussing it, I came to the conclusion that the reason this author is (and other authors are) acclaimed in the CBA is because they’re safe. On my personal blog a couple weeks ago, I talked about magic systems in Christian fiction and how a lot of Christians have a hard time with that.
This author and most in the Christian market are very uncontroversial. The higher power is an overt reference to God. The magic is a gift from that entity. The ultimate goal is sharing knowledge of that entity with the land. It’s very safe and very predictable and very straightforward.
But does that mean it has to be boring?
I think a lot of times, Christian fiction misses the mark because it’s so concerned with being uncontroversial that it doesn’t explore deeper themes. Characters are flat because they’re flawless and can’t struggle with ungodly issues. Storylines are bland because they’re so concerned with putting God in control that nothing truly bad can ever happen. Conflicts are resolved because in the family of God, everyone just gets along.
Everything works out beautifully, but it’s not a very satisfying reader experience. But the CBA has made it clear by continuing to publish these bland stories that this is what they want. And CBA readers want to feel safe, too, so they rave about how good these books are, even when they’re not.
And sometimes, there’s a layer of hypocrisy, because the Christians who jump on board with the critical acclaim of a boring book because it’s “Christian” are secretly preferring Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, but they can’t admit that and be a respectable Christian reader.
So is it even possible to be both safe and interesting? Can you write a good story without crossing any ambiguous lines?
But I think the bigger issue is the notion that it has to be safe. And this is probably why I haven’t had much luck in the CBA market. I think safety is boring. I want to read about real struggles. I want failure to be an option. I want to relate to the dark emotions that real people, even people who are striving for godliness, struggle with.
No, you don’t have to step out of the realm of “safe” to achieve “interesting.” But I think the CBA is, in a way, lazy, and they’d rather have a clean, safe, reliable product, even if it’s boring, than risk being unsafe.