What are the Rules Again?
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
I got an email asking a question that I’ve seen floating around for quite some time. How dark is too dark for Christian fiction? And I was thrilled at the silver-platter of blog content.
I’ve observed and participated in many of these conversations and consider the answer to be a massive part of my calling as a writer. Still, my opinion is only my opinion, and this is the kind of thing that I think can be quite fluid, based on someone's individual calling and personal walk with God.
Ultimately, I think it's a question to ask God before anyone else. And the answer might be different for each person asking it. Without a definitive answer, we need to be able to trust the Spirit inside of us and be willing to heed direction in our creative process. We also need to accept that the direction could be, "Go deeper here,” as much as, “Pull it back.” God can surprise us, giving us room to explore darker subjects because God's not afraid of those.
Think of Christian memoirs. Some are the darkest, most blackout drunk, crack-snorting, sex trafficking, cold-blooded tales imaginable. But we don’t shy away from those. We praise God for them. Why? Because they come with redemption. They highlight the power God has to overcome the world. But is there a difference when we’re the ones creating the stories?
That’s the question I asked when writing my second completed book. I had an idea. As the Grinch would put it, I “had a wonderful, awful idea.” It was a story holding religious tyranny up to demonic power and showing the similarities rather than the differences. I wanted to write it so badly. Everything in me itched to create this story of these two sisters torn by skepticism and devotion. But it was dark. My beta readers got a trigger warning for infant loss, self-harm, and sexual trauma. Not quite a purity-toting Amish romance. But when I took it to God and said, “Can I write this?” The answer was yes. I wrote a little but still pulled back. So, the conversation continued.
It’s too dark.
Where’s the redemption?
I can’t find it!
Can I force it?
Still no good.
Finally, I asked again where the redemption was so I could write it in, so my book could please and serve God. And that still, small voice said with a chuckle the same lesson I’d been learning in many different areas. It said, “I am patient.”
God wasn’t looking for a redemptive book. Why not?
In life, everything is redeemed. But not everything is redeemed right away. Sometimes the testimony goes on for a long time before someone recognizes the light and that it was there all along.
I didn’t need to write a redemptive book.
I needed to finish a dark one, highlight the hope and the humor where it existed, and trust that the story wasn’t over. As soon as I believed in what I’d written enough to hire a developmental editor, God opened the floodgates. The redemption for this story at last unfolded in the form of a yet unwritten sequel. Now, just like with the first book, everything in me itches to write it.
With all that being said, let’s go back to the question. There’s nothing that can't be redeemed. So there's nothing that can't be written from a Christian perspective as long as the theme is (ultimately) redemptive. While my personal tendency is to delight in the chaos, the point isn’t to highlight darkness itself but rather how God shines through it. I can only enjoy my cleverness and my character’s hardship so long as I’m truly enjoying the potential in those difficulties and what they can point to.
I’m a Christian. Some people would say I don’t write Christian books. And that’s okay. It’s okay because I’m not arrogant enough to say they’re wrong without taking a closer look. I trust God to show me what is true and to push me back in line when necessary. .And I make sure that everything coming out with my name on it is released with the soul intention to bring light to the darkness. Even if that means putting darkness on full, horrifying, grotesque, blood-curdling display.