Monday, I reviewed this wonderful novel, The Dance, and gave my impressions of the context. Today, I want to go back and illustrate what I learned through Walsh and Smalley’s writing.
I classify this novel as Christian Fiction because if you pull out the Christian thread, the novel would unravel—or at the very least, become just another secular book about a failing marriage. The fact that it takes a very real problem among couples today and illustrates Biblical principles of how to solve it makes The Dance the epitome of Christian Fiction.
Although I’d recommend the novel to anyone and everyone, its audience would primarily be Christian, those who already acknowledge the authority of God over their lives. The authors let us know in a hurry that the characters were believers—flawed believers, just like the rest of us, but believers just the same. Being saved doesn’t mean we don’t face the same kinds of problems the rest of the world faces. It means we must address them differently and expect different results.
So, although not all Christian Fiction is directed to Christians, that’s the first thing I learned about writing CF from this novel—recognize your audience. And, as Terry Burns and I discussed in Writing in Obedience, when writing to Christians, address the problem up front. In The Dance, the problem is a marriage on the brink of crumbling because of the husband’s self-centeredness.
The next thing the authors did was to illustrate how the problem affected everyone, from the couple themselves to their children to extended family. They also illustrated the wrong way for the church to react to the couple’s problem. That was something—a reminder to church leadership that there is a right way and a wrong way to address an issue.
Hard emotions were presented bare-faced and bare-fisted. The authors didn’t gloss over them. Marilyn Anderson was hurting, almost to the point of hating her husband. Jim Anderson didn’t have a clue as to why because he could see her and her situation only from his own perspective—“I’ve given her everything!” Her pain and his anger were evident in the early chapters. Her pain held on for quite some time, but his anger slowly melted into confusion, then fear that he’d lose her.
Then, about midway or just beyond, the authors introduced another character who would guide Jim through the restoration of his marriage. With her wisdom, he came to recognize his role in causing his wife’s and children’s pain, and he repented of his behavior. Then he started the long process of winning her back.
From her perspective, Marilyn faced everything Jim presented with suspicion. Years of conditioning by the “old” Jim kept her from trusting the new one. But she faced another problem too: the fact that a man not her husband found her attractive. Her friend kept her on the right path by helping her recognize the fact the man was putting “the moves” on her. (Personally, I believe the authors could’ve developed this from Marilyn’s perspective a little better. When a woman has been neglected for so long, she becomes hungry for attention, and kind words from a stranger can go a long way. Though illustrating a carnal temptation isn’t necessary, illustrating a temptation to more often be in the presence of the one who seems to recognize your worth would’ve been a little more realistic.)
Finally came the big event, during which the two begin to reconcile. Marilyn’s daughter, who was steadfastly in her corner during this fight, had begun to work on her mother, telling her that Jim seemed to be changing. So when the finale came and Marilyn was curious to see whether what her daughter said was true, she was more open to reconciling with him.
And it was a very satisfying reconciliation. I cried (of course).
So, here’s the nutshell of what I learned about writing Christian Fiction to a Christian audience:
- Identify your characters as Christian early.
- Present the problem early.
- Over the next several chapters, illustrate the extent of the problem realistically and, also realistically, present how that problem affects everyone else.
- Show the evolution of the change of attitude, taking the characters through each step of the process. People don’t go from pain to healing to forgiveness overnight. There is an abundance of emotions from one end to the other.
- Around midpoint, present someone who will facilitate the change required in the characters using Biblical principles (but not spouting verses. Christians recognize Biblical principles without requiring a sermon).
- Spend several chapters illustrating the process of change realistically from each POV.
- Write a satisfying climax.
Finally, don’t preach. Don’t preach. Don’t preach. Realistic illustration is the key. Don’t preach.