How Christian is Your Fiction: Part 2

Christian-fiction-tips

Christian-fiction-tips

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

In my column last month, we talked about “How much Christian should you put in your Christian fiction novel?” I brought up the idea that there are 2 different approaches to this. Really, 2 different kind of Christian Fiction books: Message Novels and Worldview Novels. To read more on this, Click Here (PUT A LINK TO LAST MONTH’S ARTICLE).

I ended the column introducing an idea that needed more time to explain and said I’d cover it this month. So here goes. At the end of the column I said: “I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal for a Christian author to think they can write a strong Message Novel that will appeal to a huge unbelieving (non-Christian) audience. I believe the Bible would even speak of some built-in obstacles to such a ‘Crossover Hit.’It can happen, but I think it’s rare.”

I’ve talked with a lot of Christian authors in my journey, particularly newer ones, who feel a strong sense of conviction to reach unbelievers through their stories. As though God will use their novel to reach large numbers of people for Christ. So, whatever their story is about, you can be sure there will be a strong gospel message somewhere (if not in a lot of places) and that the main character (or one of them) will come to Christ at some point in the book. In fact, a case could be made that the entire novel is really a long, well-thought-out gospel tract.

I’m not saying this is wrong, but when I hear writers talk like this, I do feel a need to adjust their unrealistic expectations. Both in terms of what actually happens with these kinds of novels in the marketplace and even some things the Bible says about having such an expectation.

As I mentioned last month, a successful Crossover novel can happen, but it’s rare. Some exceptions might be books like The Shack and The Left Behind series. You could certainly add some of the novels by CS Lewis (who died in 1963). I’m probably missing a few others. But that’s the point, there are only a few that have accomplished this feat.

What usually happens is that non-believers may start off reading a strong Message Novel but quickly become turned off by the obvious effort to convert them through the story. The majority who finish such a book are likely already Christians, who really don’t need to hear the gospel message again. It won’t hurt them to read such a book and may even encourage them somehow.

But the point remains, the goal of effectively reaching non-believers through such a story is rarely met. The Bible actually gives us insight as to why.

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Consider the Parable of the Sower in the Gospels. Jesus makes it clear that the Seed being sown is the Word (the Gospel) and the response to that Seed shows up in 4 different conditions of soil. With 3 out of 4 types of soil, there is NO LASTING FRUIT. Did you catch that? None. And even in the one soil that does bear fruit (the good ground) there are 3 levels of response (30, 60, 100-fold).

Another clear Bible passage that should adjust our expectations is 2 Cor. 2:15-16 (NLT). Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.”

Jesus also said this about why certain people are open to the Gospel and others flatly reject it: “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.” (John 6:44, NLT)

To me, verses like these explain plainly why some unbelievers might appear wide-open to the Gospel message and many others are completely closed (no matter how effectively or creatively it is packaged). Which is also the reason why very few Gospel Message-type novels become huge Crossover Hits.

I’m not saying an author should never attempt such a thing, only that if you do you should have realistic expectations about its success. The only unbelievers who will like it and possibly be positively affected by it are those whom the Father is already drawing to Christ. Which obviously, is a good thing.

It’s the reason why all of us eventually responded to the Gospel when we did. I’d love to hear some your thoughts on this? Do you agree, disagree? Have any examples of other big Crossover Hits I’ve missed?

READ MORE WRITING TIPS

Sparking Emotions in Your Readers by Kathleen Freeman

5 Types of Rough Drafts by Michelle Griep

The Rhythm of Rest by Allen Arnold


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

How Christian is your Fiction?

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

I suppose it’s fair to say the majority of writers who regularly read this blog write what the publishing world calls “Christian Fiction.” I recently submitted a request for a BookBub promo on their website. They ask you to pick what genre you write in. More than a dozen to choose from.

Oddly enough, they lump all the fiction written by Christian authors into one category. You guessed it, Christian Fiction. Even though we write in just as many different genres as they do. What sets us apart, I guess, is the Christian theme that appears in our books.

But as Christian authors, we have another issue to consider besides what genre we write in. That is, how much “Christian” should we put in our Christian fiction novel? It’s a subject every Christian author must wrestle with as they craft their stories.

Do you include a lot or a little? Do you see the writing task as a call from God to preach the gospel to unbelievers through your fiction stories? Some writers do. Others are concerned unbelievers will be turned off (even some Christian readers will be) if the novel gets too preachy. I’ve read many Christian readers complain about this on Facebook groups.

For the sake of clarity, I think we can put the kind of books Christian authors write into 2 distinct categories:

  1. Message Novels
  2. Worldview Novels

By a Message Novel, I mean one where the writer is clearly looking for a way to present the gospel message, or some other overtly Christian theme, through their story. Hopefully, they do it in a way that doesn’t come off as overly preachy. But even if well done, they want the message to be strong and clear.

By a Worldview Novel, I mean a book where the Christian message is more subdued and less obvious. Perhaps some of the main characters are Christians, but they don’t seek to deliver any specific Christian message as the story unfolds. When issues of right and wrong or morality are shown, they are presented from a Christian (versus secular) point of view. A Christian message may not even be central to the story (think clean entertainment).

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Out of the 19 novels I’ve written (20 including my WIP), about half are Message Novels and half are Christian Worldview. I don’t have enough time here to say which ones are in which category, or why I write both kinds of books. I don’t believe one type is more right, or better than the other. Usually for me, the story itself favors one approach or the other.

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to write the “perfect blend novel.” One that has just the right amount of message and just the right amount of worldview to make everyone happy. Readers’ expectations of what they hope to see in a book are all over the map (including many Christian readers).

Consider my Jack Turner Suspense Series (the first three books are depicted here). These are not Message Novels. My goal in writing them was to create a clean, somewhat romantic, very suspenseful set of stories, not unlike the big secular thrillers people read; only instead of having the main characters sleep around, swear profusely and display rebellious attitudes, I wanted to show how credible Christian characters might handle these same kinds of intensely suspenseful plots and situations.

Thankfully, for the most part the reviews have been outstanding. But a few Christians have complained that the Christian message isn’t strong enough for them. In these novels, it never will be. They’re not Message Novels. If these readers read my Message-type Novels, they’d think they were wonderful, as is.

I hope I don’t come across as mocking here. I believe Message Novels have their place in Christian Fiction (why I write them also). But I want to end this column with something I’ll pick up again next month, and elaborate more fully. That is, I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal for a Christian author to think they can write a strong Message Novel that will appeal to a huge unbelieving (non-Christian) audience. I believe the Bible would even speak of some built-in obstacles to such a “Crossover Hit.” It can happen, but I think it’s rare.

When I write Message Novels, my intended audience and even my goal somewhat, is to strengthen and encourage Christians in their faith. I don’t see it so much as effective evangelism. If I’m able to win some converts to Christ, I’d be thrilled.

More on this next month. So, how about you? What kind of Novels do you write? How much Christian do you put in your Christian Fiction?


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Make Eye-Catching Ads on the Cheap

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

As I write this, the holiday season is definitely happening. For me, the Christmas season starts on Thanksgiving Day. I just can’t get excited before then. No matter how many people or stores put up Christmas decorations in October or early November.

One aspect of the holiday season, of course, is shopping. People buy lots and lots of gifts this time of year. And thankfully, books make great Christmas gifts (which is what got me thinking about this topic for my December column).

As many Novel Rocket readers know, I transitioned from being traditionally published to publishing my own novels 3 years ago. That began an adventure that added a lot of new hats to my wardrobe. One of the biggest is marketing. My publisher had an entire department devoted to this. At Bainbridge Press (my imprint name), there’s only me. And very recently, my wife has jumped in to help.

Early on I realized I needed to learn how to create eye-catching ads to use on places like Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and newsletter. All the social media studies I’ve read said people will scroll right past even the best-written text unless it’s accompanied by a great looking graphic. I knew this was true because I do the same thing.

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The problem was, I didn’t have any money to hire a graphics expert. It was either me, or it wasn’t happening. So I began to investigate. Everyone was saying I had to get Photoshop. It’s the gold-standard for graphics software. So, I did (the cheap version you can rent one month at a time).

I’m SO glad I didn’t buy the whole thing.

It didn’t take long to realize this program was WAY too complicated for me. After watching about 50 YouTube videos, I was still miles away from figuring out how to make good-looking ads (I think it was less frustrating learning how to play golf).

Then I remembered when I was a pastor, I used to use PowerPoint to make nice-looking graphics for my sermons and Bible studies. I updated MS Office to get PowerPoint’s latest version and started playing with the art tools. Only instead of making overhead slides, I began working on ads for my book promotions. The program was so simple. Really, if you can use any Microsoft Office programs you can use PP. After a little experimenting, I was soon turning out some very satisfying ads.

Besides the art tools, there are all kinds of free graphics (backgrounds and clip-art) you can download off the internet (make sure you don’t copy licensed or copyrighted graphics without paying). I use different ones for every season or holiday. You can easily insert jpgs of your books and resize them, as needed. Add shadows to make them stand out. Then create the text for your ads in a variety of font styles and colors. They’re so easy to move around on the colored background.

When you have the ad just the way you want, use an app like “Snip It” for PC’s or “Grab” for Macs and select the Ad right on Powerpoint, then Save it as a jpg that can easily be uploaded to the internet. The Christmassy-looking ad for my brand new book, Saving Parker, was made using Powerpoint in about 30-45 minutes.

PowerPoint also makes for a great place to store your ads. As you create more, you can easily find the previous ones on the left margin. To save lots of time, I often copy and paste specific ad features from previous ads to make brand new ones.

Once your ad is finished, the next step is to create the Ad Copy that goes above it. I’ve included a recent one I put up on Facebook and Google-plus. I actually used the same ad copy for Twitter (though I had to trim off much of the text). Don’t be intimidated by this task. You’re a writer. You can do this part. You’ll probably even find it easier than creating the graphics.

Make sure to use the colorful Emojis FB offers now (I often create my ad text on FB, because these little graphics copy and paste well in other apps). And don’t forget to add hashtags at the bottom. Although they’re more often associated with Twitter, people are used to searching for topics and themes using them and they work just as well with other social media apps.

Well, that’s it for me. I’m sure others reading this have found some additional creative ways to make book Ads on the Cheap. If so, please share them with us.


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Don’t Say It’s Over

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

Last month, I submitted Part 1 of a 2-part column about The Power of the Review. I highlighted some exciting news that one of my novels, Rescuing Finley, had just passed the 800-review mark on Amazon (while keeping a 4.8 Star average). A month later, it’s added an additional 113 new reviews, most of them 5 Stars. And–supporting my premise that strong reviews boost sales–the novel is still selling very well.

I ended the column talking about endings. Specifically, how important great endings are in motivating readers to WANT to write a great review. I was freshly reminded of this dynamic this week, as my wife and I watched yet another potentially-great movie on Netflix that we had previously never heard of. Don’t recall ever seeing it in the theaters and have never heard anyone ever talk it up (like friends, for example). It had brand name actors, a great premise for the story, great production values, and kept us on the edge of our seats the whole time.

Well, not the whole time. But for at least 97% of the time. Then guess what happened? We watched THE ENDING. And we instantly realized WHY we had never heard of this movie before.

The ending STUNK!

We were angry, both of us. That whoever had produced this film had the gall to ruin it with such a dismal and dumb ending. That we had wasted 2 hours time watching it. The movie instantly went from receiving a 5-Star review to 1-Star in the last 5 minutes. This has happened SO many times. But it doesn’t just happen with movies but also potentially great books.

What do you think the chances are that a reader will want to take the extra time to post a great review of your novel if they hated the ending? Or even if they didn’t hate it but found themselves frustrated, bored or indifferent about the story when they finished the final page?

I’d say the chances are slim to none.

The good news is…the opposite is true if you take the time to craft a great ending for your book. Readers will often, totally on their own, want to give it a great review. Or if they’re not thinking about it, they might easily be encouraged to do so after reading one of your back pages inviting them to (with a link).

The late bestselling crime fiction author Mickey Spillane said, “Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book.”Which provides a great segue to my first suggestion: Spend as much time crafting your novel’s Ending as you do its Beginning. Don’t leave anything to chance (even if you’re a pantser). Take the time to think it through. Don’t just hope it all comes together, because without serious effort, it may not.

You want readers’ reaction to be what I’ve used as this month’s Title: “Don’t say it’s over.” You want to create a growing, intensifying climax over the last 75 pages or so, forcing the reader to keep reading at a frenetic pace (because they must, to find out what’s going to happen). Then you want the ending to be thoroughly satisfying, so that now they’re sad it’s over.

But see, that kind of sadness is a good thing. Because it quickly converts to total delight. And the reader’s next reaction is to find out if this author has written any other books. And even if they got that book for Free (or seriously discounted), they’ll be willing to pay good money for the next one, and the next (assuming they’re all written equally well).

I know this is true, because that’s what happens to me, as a reader. And that’s what dozens of other readers have told me they do when I ask them about this when I speak about Writing Great Endings.

And…I follow this strategy myself, with every book I write. Including the one I recently finished, Saving Parker, which is available for pre-order now and releases on November 15th.

Why not share some of the better book and/or movie endings you recall (as well as some bad ones that totally ruined the experience for you).

TWEETABLES


Saving Parker

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.