Does anyone really know what constitutes good Christian fiction? Four years ago I was invited to do several book reviews for our national church magazine, The Presbyterian Record. The books ranged from historical fiction to children’s fiction, and I chose to consolidate the reviews in one article, incorporating the reactions of fictitious readers.
Those reactions reflected conversations I’d had with people whose experiences with Christian fiction were frequently negative. They told me plots were too often superficial, with stilted characters, unrealistic conflicts and predictable conclusions. Any romance reminded them of a television commercial where the closest lovers got to each other was running through a field of wildflowers, arms outstretched for an embrace. I have to admit their opinions mirrored my own, based on what I’d read twenty years ago.
But things are changing. After reading the designated books for the review, I realized many written in the twenty-first century were more satisfying than I expected. There were still shortcomings, but that’s just as true in books written for the secular market.
Although the guidelines of CBA publishers have relaxed a little, allowing for more true-to-life plots, and authors are writing grittier Christian fiction in ever-expanding genres, criticism of it still exists. In their blog posts yesterday authors Katie Ganshert and Jennifer Hale both discussed the question of why.
Jennifer suggested it may be in how we deal with the conversion scene. She said, “I really don’t enjoy books where the character “gets saved” and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s not realistic. And nine times out of ten, I skip reading the “conversion scene” in a novel. Why? Several reasons. But mostly because there is no cheesier part of the book than the conversion scene. It’s a very difficult scene to get right.”
Katie asked, when dissatisfaction with Christian fiction is expressed, “[is it] Christianity in general that bothers these readers, or the way the Christian themes are handled?”
I’m not sure the answer can be reduced to a generalization, but I’m interested in your opinion. If you don’t read Christian fiction, why not? And if you do read it, what genre do you prefer? What do you especially like or dislike about many of the stories?
I hope you’ll join me here on Monday for an interview with
YA author Dave Ebright.