I have to admit when I first started writing, the reader was the last person on my mind. I didn’t set out to reach unbelievers with the message of Christ. And the truth is, that’s still not my goal. Let me explain.
I started when I was a 22-year-old mom of three. I wrote because I loved to read, and I wrote to prove that a teenage mother could make something out of herself. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I hadn’t ruined my life by having a baby at age 17. None of those early projects ever made it to see the light of day.
About five years into the writing process I attended a few writing workshops and heard the same message, “Relinquish yourself, your desires, your writing to God. It’s not about you.” I did that. Deep in my heart I felt the change. I wanted to write novels God desired for me to write. I released my dreams, and that’s when I heard one true story that would change everything.
While traveling in Europe I met a historian who told me about the 23 American GIs who liberated Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The story amazed me, and I returned home and interviewed many of those men who’d liberated the camp. In my eyes Christian fiction transformed. It wasn’t just about seeing my name in print or proving myself. I could share powerful stories and honor the men and women who lived through amazing experiences. I could also share my own inner transformation as reflected through the experiences of my fictional characters. The “effect” I wanted was to give readers a glimpse of history and of spiritual truth through the pages. And I also hoped that unbelievers would pick up the novel and discover spiritual liberation in their own lives.
I remember clearly during the writing of From Dust and Ashes asking God, “Who am I to write this novel?” Here I was a Montana mom, listening to the stories of veterans and Holocaust survivors and bringing them to life in the pages of a novel. I wasn’t an historian. I wasn’t a multi-published author with a huge following of readers, so why would God choose me?
The answer came as a stirring in my soul. “You were liberated, too. You were once bound by the chains of sin, and Jesus Christ came as your great liberator, opening the gates of darkness, drawing you out, clothing you in righteousness and healing your wounds.”
Yes, it was true. And that spiritual message came to life within the characters. But the message was only effective because it came to life in my heart first. I was excited by one of my first reader letters. A young woman from Switzerland wrote to tell me when my character, Helene, got on her knees and accepted Jesus Christ the reader did too. Yes, this is what it’s all about, I thought.
In the 10 years since my first novel was published things have changed. I don’t think only of myself; I try to consider the reader when I plot my story, when I pour over the characters and when I work with each book to improve my craft. I consider the spiritual transformation in my life and include that as a story thread.
It has paid off. I have more than 20 novels in print, and my readership has grown. Has my desire to write a better book than the last been effective? If happy readers, more contracts, and bigger paychecks are any indication, it has.
Of course any novelist wants that. What makes Christian fiction different?
When the word Christian is used as an adjective, according to Dictionary.com, it means “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings.” So have I been effective in doing that — in writing fiction that “pertains to or is derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings”? I believe so.
With any novelist, what’s on the inside is what comes out. Our beliefs make up our worldview. I like to think of the words I write as flowing from my head to my fingertips . . . and passing through my heart and soul in the process. What I hold deep inside WILL make it on to the page.
These days, I see effective Christian fiction in a different light. I do think of the story, and I consider my reader. I do hope to sell books and sign more contracts. I’m excited when readers draw closer to Jesus, but the chief goal of my writing — and of effective Christian fiction — doesn’t have to do with any of those things. In my opinion, the chief goal of effective Christian fiction should be to accomplish what we’ve all been placed on earth to do. What is that? I love how it’s put in the first few lines of the Westminster Catechism:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
What makes Christian fiction effective? Let me tweak the above words a little. A writer’s chief end in effective Christian fiction is to glorify God.
God can be glorified whether one copy is sold or one million. God can be glorified when I relinquish my own desires and my longings for fame and offer myself up for God’s fame instead. God can be glorified whether a reader is drawn to a relationship with Jesus or whether the reader throws the novel across the room and calls it rubbish.
While it’s my hope that my novels will give light to a spiritual truth or draw unbelievers into a relationship with Him, that is not my goal. That is not what makes Christian fiction effective. I do my best, give my all, hone my skills, and I am a good steward of the story — but I leave the results up to God.
Shouldn’t that be how we all live our lives? To live as God called us to live and offer any glory that comes out of it to Him? This morning, I was reading Romans 1 in my morning quiet time, and these verses made my heart sing:
“From Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and appointed to spread the Good News of God. . . . This Good News is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Through him we have received God’s kindness and the privilege of being apostles who bring people from every nation to the obedience that is associated with faith. This is for the honor of his name.” Romans 1:1, 3, 5.
Christian writers are no more than servants, like Paul, appointed to spread the good news of God. What a privilege! And while there are both struggles and benefits to this calling, if at the end of the day I can hold a novel in my hand and declare, “This is for the honor of his name,” it is effective indeed.
Tricia Goyer is the author of thirty books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2003.
Note From Nikki: More on this past series here.