So, before we let the AMAZING Joy Caroline take the spotlight, I want to real quick give a small intro! So Joy Caroline is a blogger and aspiring teen author (like the rest of us, right? 😉 ). She’s one of my really great friends, and I was sooo excited when she had won the chance to guest post on TWN!! I hope all of you enjoyed her post and make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below. She’ll totally love to read them!!!!!!! Here’s the link to her site, so you can read her other GREAT posts and follow her!!!!!!!!!
First of all, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the team at Teen Writers’ Nook for giving me this opportunity to guest post. So thank you very much to Alana, Katherine, and Issabelle! I am honored to be a guest on your blog.
I really hope all of you enjoy the post. I’m excited for this, so let’s begin!
As Christians, our greatest desire is to lead others to Christ. Recall the words from that beautiful old hymn:
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine!
Hide it under a bushel? no!
I’m gonna let it shine,
let it shine,
let it shine!
When we accept Christ, that desire to share the love we now know should flow into everything we do. That includes writing. The apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians
10:31). That is exceedingly true. We must witness in everything we do. If we don’t, we are robbing others of a beautiful opportunity to know Christ. And we are robbing ourselves of a beautiful opportunity to share Christ. Nothing could be more tragic.
When we accept Christ, that desire to share the love we now know should flow into everything we do.
But how exactly do you lead your readers to Christ? I know many writers are anxious about this. I know many of you enjoy writing fantasy, science fiction, and other genres that would not be explicitly labeled as Christian or Biblical fiction. At times you may have found yourself wondering if your faith requires you to write only in the Christian and Biblical fiction genres.
My answer is that your stories do not have to be explicitly labeled Christian or Biblical fiction. Of course, if you feel called to write in those particular genres, that is wonderful. But your story doesn’t need to have those labels to make an equally astounding, miraculous impact on your readers. Any story written by a Christian should point to Christ. So how can you lead your readers to Christ with any story?
1. Your characters’ actions speak louder than their words.
We’ve all heard that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” In fact, we’ve heard it so often that we sometimes fail to recognize how true it really is. It applies to characters in our stories, too! Allow me to explain.
Often when writers want to point our readers to Christ, we make the mistake of screaming the message from the rooftops. This can result in the reader feeling as if you’re beating them on the head, trying to force that message or theme into their brain.
One way we tend to do this is by “subtly” spoonfeeding the reader the information through our characters’ dialogue. I can’t tell you how many novels I’ve read when the writer is obviously shoving a theme at me through the good advice of that mentor character. This is a common mistake with characters, especially mentor characters. Stories often have that one character who is the “moral compass.” Examples: In my novel, The Apostle’s Sister, it’s St. Paul. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s Atticus Finch. In E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, it’s Charlotte the spider. And these characters are powerful when used correctly.
There are so many scenes I’ve read when the moral compass is talking to the main character and is like: “So, you need to let go of all that hate and bitterness inside. You need to see that God loves you…” and on and on and on. This just doesn’t work. Don’t lecture your readers. Instead, show them what it means to follow Christ through your characters’ actions, and keep a healthy balance of emotional dialogue. Keep in mind, also, that it’s better to have the action before the dialogue. That way it impresses on the reader that your characters actually are Christlike, instead of just talking Christlike.
In The Apostle’s Sister, I first show the action of Paul coming to his sister Temira after years of estrangement, out of love for her instilled in him by his conversion. And when he first shows up, Temira doesn’t know about the conversion. Despite not knowing, she immediately notices by the new softness with which Paul looks at her and the humility with which he carries himself that he is a different man. After establishing this, I move on to the part when Paul actually reveals to his sister that he is now a Christian.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee first shows the action of Atticus Finch treating his African-American housekeeper, Calpurnia, with great generosity and kindness. In fact, he trusts her to raise his children and regards her as a member of his family. This is during a time when blacks were seen only as slaves, and would surely never be invited into a family. Atticus’s children notice the honor with which their father treats Calpurnia, and through this are taught to love and obey the woman. It isn’t until later that we hear Atticus’s dialogue with his children and others about his strong antiracist beliefs, and he even says: “I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man [a black man wrongly accused of a crime]” (Lee 139).
In Charlotte’s Web, we first see Charlotte’s actions throughout the entire course of the book: dedicating her life to protect her friend, Wilbur the pig, from the slaughterhouse. It isn’t until the novel is nearly at its close that she actually talks in a long paragraph about her love for Wilbur and why she chose to make such a great sacrifice for him. The point? Readers will be much more open to a Christian message, and see Christ much better, if they are first shown actions before a healthy amount of words.
2. Use the Bible as inspiration.
The Bible should always be the weapon of a Christian. Our every action, including our writing, should be inspired by it. Read the Bible daily, and don’t just read the parts that are comfortable for you. Explore hard texts that are difficult to understand. Study and wrestle with the Word. This will prove incredibly valuable to you as a writer. The more you read the Bible, the more you’ll find that your writing is naturally infiltrated with it and inspired by it. The more you read, the more ammunition you’ll have to astound and impress your readers with the beauty of Christ. It will happen naturally, if you pray and read the Bible often. Honestly.
And don’t be afraid to draw biblical parallels!
Think C.S. Lewis’ brilliant fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, which overflow with parallels that point to Christ although the word “Christ” is not explicitly present. For example, there’s that heartrending part in the second book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Aslan, the lion who rules Narnia, has a discussion with the White Witch about Edmund Pevensie’s grave mistake in listening to her. Aslan will not let the White Witch harm Edmund, and instead submits himself to her in Edmund’s place. This results in Aslan’s cruel, humiliating death at the hands of the Witch. This is clearly a biblical parallel of how Christ sacrificed himself on the cross instead of allowing us to take our deserved punishment for sin.
Don’t be afraid to draw biblical parallels in your novel.
In The Apostle’s Sister, I have my character Seth, Temira and Paul’s adopted son and nephew, to represent Christ’s adopting us as his own little children.
I encourage you to place a biblical parallel in your own novel! It’s a great way to show your theme instead of forcing the reader to swallow it whole.
3. Focus more on emotion instead of what’s being said.
We’ve already covered that a character’s actions mean more than their words. But what about the scenes when words are absolutely necessary?
For example, maybe your main character is a spy and they’re hanging out at a church, waiting for their buddy to show up. Then they start observing the service and how the people interact with one another, or the kindness with which the pastor addresses his congregation. Or maybe one character has something urgent to tell another character that absolutely cannot wait. Or maybe your MC’s dying grandfather, with whom she is very close, is having one last precious talk with his granddaughter before he dies. Sometimes longer dialogue will be necessary.
When those times come up, focus more on emotion instead of what’s being said. This will help you pull off the scene with lasting impact. During the dialogue, show us your character’s thoughts and what he is feeling. There’s another old saying that goes, “People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” This is so true in our writing! Make sure your character – and your reader – never forgets what this scene made them feel, rather than just stating what was said. You can do this through action beats and by filtering the scene through your character’s unique voice.
In The Apostle’s Sister, there’s one scene where Paul is giving a farewell address to the church elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-35). Instead of detailing every single word that Paul said, I instead summarized his sermon by choosing a few poignant verses to include, and condensed the remainder.
Then I had several action beats: there’s one when Paul pauses in speaking to take up his young nephew, who has grown restless in Temira’s arms. The action beat is well-placed because it’s interesting to see how the nephew’s childish innocence adds to the solemnity of the situation, and reinforces Paul’s words to the elders about guarding their helpless flock.
Finally, Temira was watching the scene, worrying over Paul’s future and what would happen to her son if he were to lose his uncle. Basically, I describe the emotions Paul’s sermon evokes in her rather than focusing on what he is actually saying.
And the final tip is…
4. Give your MC one short, heart-stopping moment that changes his life.
Every main character needs that defining moment. That one brief yet lingering, quiet yet loud, moment that changes their entire life for the rest of the novel. That moment means everything, so be sure to put everything into it.
The Bible books of Esther and Song of Solomon never mention Christ by name, but are still so clearly about him.
And “everything” includes Christ. It can mention him by name, or not. Either way, it includes him. The Bible books of Esther and Song of Solomon never mention Christ by name, but are still so clearly about him.
Make that defining moment unforgettable.
The novel I’m currently reading is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. It is INSANELY good. I have about 100 pages left to go, and I’m so excited to finish it so I can do the full review on my blog. I seriously think it’s now my second favorite book, so I highly recommend! But anyway. The defining moment in Les Misérables comes in the chapter “The Bishop At Work.” Jean Valjean, a convicted thief, is now out of jail but shunned by everyone. He is hungry, cold, and exhausted, but no one will take him in. No one – except a kindhearted Catholic bishop, who invites Jean into his home. And what does Jean do when the bishop is asleep? Steals his silver.
Jean is caught and brought back to the bishop for punishment. Instead, the bishop, who knows full well that the silver was stolen, says, “I gave him that silver.” Jean stands there staring at the bishop, completely shocked and trembling at the undeserved mercy given him.
The bishop then says: “Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good” (Hugo 39).
For the rest of the novel, Jean Valjean never forgets that moment. The bishop forever changes his life. The convict becomes a benevolent mayor, then an honest man who humiliates himself and loses his position to acquit the wrongly accused, then a tenderhearted adoptive father.
That’s what Christ does.
Show him changing your character’s life.
Keep it going for the rest of the novel.
Your readers won’t forget it.
Thank you for reading this post!
Thank you all for reading this post! I hope you enjoyed it and that the tips were helpful for you.
Thank you again to the team at Teen Writers’ Nook for having me as a guest.
Joy Caroline is a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian and Biblical fiction writer. Her two novels, The Apostle’s Sister and The Anointed, are about St. Paul from the perspectives of his sister and nephew. JC also enjoys reading, sketching, and trying delicious desserts. You can find her on her website, joycarolineauthor.com.