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Plotting With God: Turning Story into a Journey of Faith

by Margaret Brownley

The challenge for any Christian writer is to tell a good page-turning story that also enlightens and encourages readers. For the writer starting out, working a meaningful faith arc into a manuscript can be daunting (It was for me coming from the secular market). How much or little faith does a book require and what makes a story seem (gasp!) preachy?

The best Christian stories are the ones that emerge naturally from an author’s personal beliefs and from the characters themselves. Some ways to accomplish this:

Location
As we know from the Bible, mountains, deserts, seas, towns and cities all challenged God’s people in different ways. The spiritual challenges of journeying through a figurative or literal wilderness can be powerful. In my Rocky Creek series I created a town that mirrored the spiritual decay of its citizens. Through the course of the series the town begins to reflect the positive changes that come when dispirited hearts turn to God.

Worldview

Victor Hugo wrote that one of the overarching themes in Les Miserables is “from nothingness to God.” In other words, Jean Valjean’s world view went from secular to Christian.
Bride for all seasons
In A Bride for All Seasons collection, my heroine is a gambler’s daughter who believes everything that happens to her good, bad or indifferent is the result of luck. My goal in writing the story was to change her worldview. Through a series of events, she eventually comes to understand that all things come from God.

Characters
Everything that happens to us changes our faith in some way, sometimes for the better, but not always. The same is true of our characters. We know to hold a protagonist’s feet to the fire, but sometimes forget to show how the experience affects his or her relationship to God.

In Les Miserables the opposing forces of good and evil are layered with Biblical meaning. Javett is said to represent what many believe to be an angry and vengeful God of the Old Testament. Jean Valjean represents the loving compassionate God of the New Testament.

A good way to avoid being preachy is to have a minor character carry the Christian message. This can be the job of the wise old man or woman. In my Brides of Last Chance Ranch series, an old cowhand’s faith inspires a change in the heroine.

Themes
According to writer and superhero blogger Adam Graham, the most successful superhero movies are the ones whose characters evoke such Christian themes as service, self-sacrifice, redemption and hope. It’s these very same themes that readers are looking for in our books.

Scripture

Sermons can take many forms. The character who can recite Biblical verses verbatim might seem to be sermonizing. Try paraphrasing scripture in a character’s own words.

“I plumb don’t know why God brought you here, but I reckon if He wanted you to be a rancher he’d have built you so you could stay in a saddle.”-Dawn Comes Early

Let Us Pray
Resist the temptation to sprinkle your manuscript with quickly muttered or meaningless prayers. Prayers are more effective if they flow naturally from the character and not the author’s pen. A simple prayer can help deepen character and provide insight into his or her relationship to God.

Prayer can characterize:

“Dear heavenly father, hear our prayer. Send rain and help us catch those connivin’ scoundrels. Amen.” -Dawn Comes Early

Prayer can be used to work in backstory:

“God, this is the only real home we’ve ever known. Please don’t let me mess it up.” Waiting for Morning.

Prayer can convey emotion:
GunpowderTea
What I have I done, God? Oh what I have done?-Gunpowder Tea

Finally:
A character’s faith journey must be believable. A non-believer won’t realistically become a devout Christian overnight or even in the course of a book, but can be shown taking the first steps toward that end.

By creating a believable faith arc, you will give your readers renewed hope and perhaps a new understanding of how God is working in their lives. What could be better than that?

Margaret Brownley
The author of more than 28 books, Margaret Brownley is a New York Times and CBA bestselling author and former RITA finalist. Her story “And Then Came Spring” will appear in A Bride for All Seasons collection (June 2013). Margaret has three scheduled releases for the fall including Gunpowder Tea. Margaret and her husband have three grown children and live in Southern California.

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5 Responses to Plotting With God: Turning Story into a Journey of Faith

  1. Angel Moore says:

    Thank you for sharing. I was praying about this just two days ago. This was very helpful.
    Angel Moore

  2. V.J. Martin says:

    Margaret,
    Thanks for your post! Prayers in Christian novels is one of my pet peeves…it’s a rare thing to find one that is real, natural, and “unpreachy.” I have to resist rolling my eyes in most manuscripts when I see this coming.

    I also like your idea about using minor characters as the Christian “push” rather than simply focusing on an MC that’s a believer. Readers, I think, tend to be more open to minor characters’ faiths since they’re less “threatening.” (Of course…this then makes the minor character the most useful tool in “baptizing the imagination,” to quote Lewis.)

  3. V.J. I wonder how many Christian readers do the eye-rolling thing when it comes to prayers in Christian fiction. It’s one of my pet peeves, too.

    Love the Lewis quote!

  4. Hi Angel, glad it helped. Take care!

  5. Good article…mentioned one of Boise’s own, Adam Graham!