There’s more to writing inspirational fiction than having a minister in your story, or making sure your main character goes to church at Easter and Christmas.
I’m continuing Marcy’s blogging blitz on genres for one more post. Second only to romance in terms of book sales, earning $759million in 2010 according to the RWA, we would be remiss to ignore inspirational fiction in our exploration of genres and sub-genres. It’s said that the Bible has been #1 on the NYT bestseller list for so long they no longer include it (wonder if that’s true).
Just as there are ‘rules’ for writing in any other genre, inspirational has its own staples and inviolable rules. In Canada and the USA, inspirational fiction includes any religious or faith-based writing, however an overwhelming percentage of that category is Christian fiction. Written primarily for a conservative (traditional) Protestant Christian audience, the conventions for this genre are largely determined by the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), and are specific and largely inflexible.
Within inspirational fiction you’ll find most of the general market genres and sub-genres – but there are distinct elements to inspirational fiction. Here are a few:
A Character of Faith
In Christian fiction, the protagonist(s) must either begin the story as a Christian, or be one by the end of the story, and by Christian I mean Bible-believing, regular church-attending, with a personal faith influencing their thoughts, choices and actions. As a general rule, the main character(s) must have a HEA. Redemption, mercy and grace are common themes, and readers like to see the redemption of one of the main characters.
This audience will not tolerate obscene language (slang terms for body parts for instance), cursing, gratuitous violence, sex, smoking, drug use or drunkeness. Some publishers will go so far as to ban dancing, card playing, gambling, games of chance, etc. See Harlequin’s Love Inspired guidelines. Premarital sex is only rarely tolerated, the aforementioned character arc of redemption one of the very few exceptions. Extramarital sex is prohibited for the protagonist, and all sex scenes are very sweet – and I mean ‘he kicked the door closed with his foot’ sweet.
Violence is tolerated to a degree. Many authors have had success writing crime and suspense novels for the inspirational market, and include serial killers, murderers, and the like, but the events are described without gore, viscera or blood baths.
This audience tends to hold rather conservative (traditional) church views on a number of issues such as women holding the office of Pastor or Minister, heaven/hell, divorce, and abortion. There is no paranormal sub-genre in the inspirational market, because this audience won’t read paranormal staples such as ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, and witches,. Also, elements that go hand in hand with paranormal such as voodoo, spell casting, tarot cards, witchcraft, and palm reading are taboo. Angels are generally relegated to non-fiction, though there have been a couple of notable pioneers such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Roger Elwood’s Angelwalk series.
There have been a few authors who have attempted to push the boundaries with paranormal elements such as Ted Dekker’s Immortal Veins and Adam, and Melanie Wells’ When The Day Of Evil Comes. As a general rule, there aren’t many dark stories in inspirational fiction. Horror is another genre hard to find in inspirational fiction, though you’ll find mystery, romance, historical, and to a lesser degree fantasy. Marcher Lord Press’ speculative fiction has been making inroads, but you won’t find their books in a bookstore.
The often-levelled complaint is that inspirational fiction is unrealistic. Inspirational author Deanne Gist has a great post about this.
The main core of this audience is looking for a break from reality where people don’t swear, they don’t drink, they wait until their wedding day to have sex, they struggle to follow the commands in the Bible, and at the end of the day overcome an obstacle or find faith in Christ. Yes, the Christian fiction audience is not looking for a story about, or characters seeking out, a generic ‘god,’ but rather a specific faith in Jesus Christ which permeates the entire story.
For many general market and popular fiction readers, this sugar-coated realm is unbelievable, and is often viewed as a thinly veiled attempt at evangelism. But the steady growth in book sales validates the marketplace for these stories, so much that many Christian publishing houses have been bought out by the large publishing companies.
Do you have a question about genres or sub-genres? What’s your favorite genre? Why?