Criteria for calling a book Christian fiction

Troyen

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I am a Christian and a fiction writer (not published yet). Lately I have been reading a lot of Christian fiction and trying to get a feel for what exactly qualifies. I still have only read a few CF authors, but I have been thinking a lot about what it would take to turn my writing in this direction. I am not a theologian by any means, but the stories I write are mostly about healing. I just want to know what the criteria is for calling it Christian fiction. Does a character have to find faith? Or is it Christian fiction just if God and faith are talked about? Is there anything that can't be in there?
Any direction on this would be greatly appreciated. :)
 

Carrie in PA

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Here's a good definition I found. The rest of the post is worth reading, too.

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.

...

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.

I think that really sums it up on a basic level. On a "realistic" level, it goes a bit deeper. Your main characters generally have to be Christian, and if they're not, they need to become believers by the end of the book. The faith has to be portrayed in a positive light. Obviously there are genre no-nos, like no premarital sex (without dire consequences and regret), drinking is frowned upon, etc.
 
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Troyen

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Thank you, Carrie in PA. This is helpful. I don't know that pulling out that thread would unravel the story. And I am a little surprised that ALL drinking would be a problem. I grew up Catholic, and it was just never seen as a big deal unless there was abuse of the alcohol. I know I've read a couple books marketed as CF that have a bit of drinking in them. Not anything serious, just casual. But I will keep what you said in mind.
 
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Icarus_Burned

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I remember reading a book called Cain, written by the reportedly christian fiction author James Byron Huggins...

ended up being about Soldier fighting a posessed vampire gollum over a little girl....

but it was regarded as CF and was very enjoyable, so the spectrum is fairly broad.
 
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Marissa D

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Thank you, Carrie in PA. This is helpful. I don't know that pulling out that thread would unravel the story. And I am a little surprised that ALL drinking would be a problem. I grew up Catholic, and it was just never seen as a big deal unless there was abuse of the alcohol. I know I've read a couple books marketed as CF that have a bit of drinking in them. Not anything serious, just casual. But I will keep what you said in mind.

I do not write Christian fiction but have close friends who write Christian romance, which can have very strict rules about what's "allowed" (some are no alcohol, no dancing, no mention of body parts below the neck, etc.) ...and there seems to be an unspoken rule that the brand of Christianity in those books is Protestant. It might differ for Christian fiction in general--I just thought another data point might be helpful.
 
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Troyen

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Thank you, Icarus_Burned and Marissa D. I do appreciate the help. What I write is not romance (though there may sometimes be some of that in there), but I still don't understand the no alcohol thing. Most denominations don't demonize having a drink once in a while. I guess I'll have to think this through. Most real Christians aren't that perfect, and I want my characters to be realistic. Also some of the characters will not be Christian. What is the rule with cuss words on occasion? I personally only put them in when I feel it is needed to make the writing feel real.
 

Troyen

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No dancing? Is this only for Baptists? Jesus said be joyful. I have never understood the no dancing thing.
 

Icarus_Burned

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There may be a gulf of difference between cultures too, a christian audience in the USA may be more hard line than one in Europe.

as an example, in Scotland there are essentially 2 "main" religions, catholic and protestant with the latter being far more "relaxed".

though Both have no issue with alcohol consumption, often in excess, swearing is very much in the common vernacular for both, dancing isnt even considered worthy of commenting on. premarital sex is more frowned upon by those of catholic faith as is divorce, living together before marriage, catholic priests live a life of celibacy etc where protestant ministers can be married or divorcees, have kids.

i was surprised to read the comment above about Protestant-ism above having formerly been one but this may be different in other cultures.
 
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LeviSweeney

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In my humble opinion, I don't think "Christian" is a real genre at all. (I say this as a former Evangelical who recently converted to Catholicism, I having grown up on VeggieTales. ;))

I would say that there are no "Christian" books, just like there are no "superhero" movies. There are only comedies, dramas, action-movies, crime films, etc. which happen to feature superheroes, or in this case, only books of different genres which happen to feature Christians as characters.

This doesn't mean that you can't write a story where the protagonists are Christians and the subject of the story is their faith. I would love to see more books like that. The key thing to remember is that it's too easy to turn such a story into a propaganda piece.

To illustrate what I mean, I once was acquainted with an indie writer who wrote these self-published science-fiction novels about a Christian who meets a bunch of aliens and is recruited by the good aliens to be a missionary reaching out to the bad aliens. Aside from certain problematic theological stances my acquaintance took in her books, there was one chief, glaring flaw that made me realize just how silly the whole series was: All of the Christian characters are so. Darn. Absolutely. Perfect.

The hero never dealt with any serious temptation to sin, all the other Christian characters had no real flaws, the entire race of the good aliens was (by authorial fiat) incapable of being sinful, and miracles and what not were frequently utilized as deus ex machinas. In hindsight, the only reason I particularly liked those books as a kid was that they reinforced existing prejudices integral to my worldview, which amounted to, in sum, that all Christians are nice and anyone who's not a Christian is that way they are because they're stupid, evil, jerks, or crazy.

Now, let me be clear; this problem is precisely the reverse when a lot of secular authors write about Christians, and it incredibly annoys me when anyone does this sort of thing. I have no sympathy for uniformed world-building and characterization of any variety.

But remember: If you're going to write a story about Christians, don't make it into what might be called a "Christian book." Make it into a story of a more exact, established genre and throw a Christian into the mix, while avoiding the standard pitfalls one might run into with other such stories. Give all your characters interesting motivations and genuine flaws, whether those characters are Christians or not. Make them undertake a specific actions to achieve a specific goal.

To be brief, it's okay to write a story about a Christian character. Just make sure that it's a good story first and foremost.
 
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Taylor Harbin

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I think “Christian” work has fallen prey to the same marketing as any other genre. I can only offer a personal opinion.

I used to visit a Lifeway bookstore before they closed and was always curious what kinds of fiction they were selling I saw three kinds of books on their shelves: historical novels a la Francine Rivers, contemporary stories a la The Shack and Misc Amish romances (when did they get a corner on the market? Where are the Mennonite, Quaker, Shaker, and Anabaptist romances??), Lewis/Tolkien reprints, and a few Clancy-esque mysteries/thrillers devoid of cursing or sex scenes (Red Cell was actually really good).

As many others have noted, such books can be very limited in their scope and depth. The kind of imagination that made Narnia and Middle Earth so enduring seems all but gone.

But let me submit my own definitions:

1. Stories written in such a way as to be palatable to readers with Christian beliefs (a lack of profanity, explicit sex, violence, etc).

2. Any story that deals explicitly with the characters, events, and themes unique to Christianity.

Themes are important because it expands your horizons. The early church came into being when the world was steeped with stories about nymphs, oracles, the Golden Fleece, gods that ate their own children and copulated with animals and other oddities. Aside from myths, the church faces the real danger of demon possession. I think that’s what we harken back to when writing fantastical tales.

I wrote a story called The Woodcutter’s Wife. It is set in the Abbasid Caliphate, a time when Christians and Jews were forced out of public offices (the prior Umayyads were more tolerant). There is tension between them and a monster is trying to kill family.

Whereas science fiction is concerned, who knows when God will judge the world? A year from now? Ten thousand? I like thinking of places and situations where the faith will endure.

Part of my journey has been learning to write regardless of current market sensibilities. Please yourself. You might try Mysterion Online. It is publishing a lot of good stuff (though not all squeaky clean, fyi) and some stories are rather thought-provoking.
 
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frimble3

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I think there is a difference between a book with Christians in it, and a 'Christian book'.

I think a book with Christians in it is a wide-ranging field, that could be read and enjoyed by anyone.

However, if you are going for a 'Christian Book', and thinking of trying a publisher who specializes in that, then the situation gets more complicated.
As has been mentioned, there is a wide range of Christian beliefs, especially with regards to lifestyles.

If a publisher has a name for Christian books, and knows that their readers are coming to them specifically for that, better to be careful.
They don't want their trusting readers to come upon excessive violence, a drinking scene, profanity or what they would see as 'immoral' relations between people (unless it is shown as a bad thing).
 
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MaeZe

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Correct, frimble3. Specifically C-fic (and NF) publishers often have a series of strict rules: No smoking, no cussing, etc. etc.

If anyone is thinking 0f writing for that market, check the guidelines!
Just out of curiosity, are your books about the private detective ex-nun considered Christian fiction? I never thought of them in that genre.
 

Calla Lily

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Just out of curiosity, are your books about the private detective ex-nun considered Christian fiction? I never thought of them in that genre.
Oh HELL no! :e2teeth: People cuss. :e2faint: Villains beat good people up. :e2beat: People live together without getting married! :e2kissy: In Veiled Threat the bad guys are extreme evangelicals and most of the action takes place in an LGBTQ resort.:e2thud: And in the last 3 books, Giulia--oh, noes!--hunts ghosts!:mob

(Do I need to add this: :sarcasm)😉
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Probably not. Same with Father Brown and Brother Cadfael.
Father Brown is Catholic in attitude and having a redemption arc for the good Father's thief buddy.

Brother Cadfael is strongly Catholic in cosmology including a few saintly interventions. But a lot of naughty people do very well and there's a lot of skullduggery that is approved of, and the morality is decidedly ambiguous.
 

Calla Lily

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Father Brown is Catholic in attitude and having a redemption arc for the good Father's thief buddy.

Brother Cadfael is strongly Catholic in cosmology including a few saintly interventions. But a lot of naughty people do very well and there's a lot of skullduggery that is approved of, and the morality is decidedly ambiguous.
<has several convent flashbacks>

I read one Father Brown and one Cadfael. Can't do 'em.
 
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Elenitsa

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I suspect that most people looking for 'Christian' stories don't count Catholics as being 'Christian'.
How possible? Catholics and Orthodoxes are the oldest Christian branches. And I guess Catholics the most widespread... (Of course they are Christian! Not Islamic, not Buddhist, not polytheist)
 

frimble3

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How possible? Catholics and Orthodoxes are the oldest Christian branches. And I guess Catholics the most widespread... (Of course they are Christian! Not Islamic, not Buddhist, not polytheist)
True enough, but for some people, they aren't 'proper' Christians - ie, not like the 'some people'.
The Catholics tend to be a better target than Protestants because there are so many different Protestant variations. There are people who believe Catholics worship the Pope, or at least take their orders from Rome.
(I am not a Catholic, nor am I particularly defending them. My parents were born/supposed to be Catholics, but they both dumped the Church for different reasons, and never sought another.)
I am, I think, agnostic, in that I believe in something, a general creator, but it has it's business and I have mine.
 

Tocotin

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How possible? Catholics and Orthodoxes are the oldest Christian branches. And I guess Catholics the most widespread... (Of course they are Christian! Not Islamic, not Buddhist, not polytheist)
What Frimble said, and also many Protestants believe that Catholics aren't Christians, because they worship/pray to Virgin Mary, saints, etc., and because they don't subscribe to the Sola scriptura doctrine. Going by which, if those Protestants were familiar with Orthodox Christianity – which they often aren't – they wouldn't consider Orthodox Christians Christians either.

:troll
 

frimble3

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What Frimble said, and also many Protestants believe that Catholics aren't Christians, because they worship/pray to Virgin Mary, saints, etc., and because they don't subscribe to the Sola scriptura doctrine. Going by which, if those Protestants were familiar with Orthodox Christianity – which they often aren't – they wouldn't consider Orthodox Christians Christians either.

:troll
Yes! Idol worshipers! All those statues of saints, and the icons, etc.
 

Ashigara

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True enough, but for some people, they aren't 'proper' Christians - ie, not like the 'some people'.
The Catholics tend to be a better target than Protestants because there are so many different Protestant variations. There are people who believe Catholics worship the Pope, or at least take their orders from Rome.
(I am not a Catholic, nor am I particularly defending them. My parents were born/supposed to be Catholics, but they both dumped the Church for different reasons, and never sought another.)
I am, I think, agnostic, in that I believe in something, a general creator, but it has it's business and I have mine.

Because of my own character's backstory and leanings, I came to know of alatrism, the recognition of a deity/deities' existence, but making a deliberate choice not to worship them. After all, gods do what they want and hardly respond to prayer, and rituals hold no significance, so why pray?
 

Jazz Club

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This is all eye-opening to me. I already knew that there's a Christian romance genre, but I didn't know of the existence of 'Christian' thrillers etc. So interesting!
 
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