I’ve talked about Christian fiction in passing on this site, and maybe I’ve even written a post about what it is (I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to find out), but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look at the definition of this genre again. Particularly since I’ve discovered there is still some confusion about what it is.
The best definition of Christian fiction I’ve ever seen was provided by Francine Rivers: If you pull out the Christian thread from the plot and the story unravels, it’s Christian fiction. There are a lot of Christians who write fiction, for both the secular and Christian markets–James Scott Bell, K.M. Weiland, Debbie Maycomber–but not all Christians write Christian fiction.
You can write about Christian characters involved in space exploration or whatever, and if you pull out all your references to Christianity and the story still stands, you’ll have a terrific Sci-Fi that’s clean enough for the Christian market, but you don’t have Christian fiction. Leaving the Christian thread in allows you to shoot for publication in the Christian market; leaving it out can make you a candidate for both markets, depending on your publisher.
It’s the same with any genre. You can’t pull out the romance thread from a Romance novel and expect the story to survive. You can’t pull the crime to be solved from the mystery novel and still expect the story to stand. Christian fiction is a genre. If you pull Christianity out of a Christian Romance, and the story stands, it’s more about the romance than it is about Christianity/God/salvation/redemption/restoration/etc.
Like I said, Francine Rivers provided the best and strictest definition of the genre, but the complication arises when we want to differentiate ourselves from the secular market as we’re promoting ourselves and our works. I adore Brandilyn Collins novels. Collins writes “seatbelt suspense” for Christians to enjoy. Her characters are Christian and engage in Christian activities, but you can pull all that out and still have a fabulous suspense novel. No sex, no language, no gore, no filth. Just an excellent adrenaline rush. But to differentiate her from Sandra Brown, for instance, her work is called Christian Suspense. In this case, the term is used to identify who her market is, who her readers are. She writes to entertain Christians who, like me, love suspense novels.
The question for some budding Christian authors is where the line is drawn between secular and Christian fiction. Virtually every subgenre is open to the Christian author, every topic, every problem facing mankind. You want to write about witches? Do it. Vampires and other undead? Go for it. Prostitution, drugs, murder? Open play. Have fun.
But in the end, who is glorified? Christian fiction as a genre uses Christian principles to draw characters away from their hell-bound path, and God always gets the glory.
As for the content–how graphic you want to be, what kind of language you choose to use–that’s a matter of personal choice. Whatever you’re comfortable signing your name to, go for it. But if you’re hoping for publication in the Christian market, do your research and learn what their limits are. You may be better off looking for a secular agent/publisher.