Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christian without the Cringe: 5 ways to craft stories with spirit


Are you Christian? 

If so, you’re right up there with 76% of Americans who believe in some form of Christianity

But I’m not.

Our family is Jewish, and I’ve written about writing Jewish children’s books a few times before.  I thought it would be both fun and fair to my non-Jewish readers to offer a bit of breadth and invite a friend to talk about her approach to writing Christian children’s literature.

Polls show that more than 90% of Americans believe in God. 

They may not all be deeply devout, but many are, and that means hundreds of thousands of parents looking for books that reflect their own family’s values.

This is a major market.

I’m not deeply sad that I don’t get a slice of this pie, but I’m happy to be able to share her tips to help you reach these families, if that’s part of your writing goal.  With these 5 tips, I hoped to help you turn out books that are Christian without the “cringe” factor. 

You know what I’m talking about, right?

But then I read her post, and realized it wasn’t just for Christian writers. The rest of us need to read this, too.

No matter what faith you practice, or if you practice none at all, read it anyway.  Even though she talks about Christian books here, these are really mistakes any one of us can make – pretty much.  (Though if you’re not Christian, I suppose you can substitute something else for the phrase “Christ-like living.”)

By the way, if you write from a different faith perspective, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments section, or with a guest post of your own.  Send me your ideas directly at Tzivia “at”


Writing for the children’s Christian fiction market can be fulfilling but also has its challenges. Your goals are encouraging faith and Christ-like living, but watch out for these pitfalls that can do just the opposite.

1. Making the characters too perfect. Children can be inspired by the characters in Christian fiction. One of the goals of the author is probably to help children strive toward a faithful life, but if the characters do not seem real it won’t work. Children who never disobey and parents who never make mistakes give Christian fiction a fairy-tale feeling that make it seem inapplicable to real life. All characters should have flaws, just like all people do. Do not create your characters at a level of perfection that is unobtainable to impressionable readers.

2. Overusing the power of prayer. God can do amazing things, but do not have every conflict wrapped up with people praying. Having all of your characters’ problems miraculously taken care of will, at best leave your young readers bored, at worst make them think that if they were better Christians their life would be that way, too. Show the power of God in your story while keeping some trials and tribulation.

3. Misquoting scripture. It is alright to have scripture paraphrased within your story, especially if that works for a specific character. However, be careful not to take scripture out of context in order to suit your purposes. Readers who are familiar with their Bible will lose their trust in your writing, while others may be confused or feel mislead.

4. New believer syndrome. Many Christian novels, children’s or adult, have characters experience an amazing born again moment. The next scenes have them praying daily and quoting hymns and Bible verses. This is both unrealistic and intimidating to readers. Your young audience will feel inadequate because they never had this conversion moment and their memory seems only able to hold John 3:16. Encourage readers with new believers who struggle with their chosen lifestyle and are helped by others, rather than an uneventful and unrealistic complete turn-around.


5. Making faith too vague. If you are writing a Christian children’s novel, be bold about it. Do not be afraid to clearly state what your character’s Biblical beliefs are. Being tolerant of and understanding a variety of beliefs is desirable, but help your reader define their faith through the faith of your characters. Too much moral relativism will leave them disenchanted.


Did you read that last tip carefully? 

That’s not just for Christian writers – that’s for all of us. 

Whether your characters are Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or any religion, don’t be scared to have them come out of the closet many of us prefer to use to stow our own faith and let them declare their beliefs boldly. 

Fiction is one of the main ways that children are allowed to explore their own identity in a “safe” way, and that doesn’t just mean sappy, Bible-living, clean-cut role models.

You’re also allowed to create characters of a different religion from your own.  You may have to research a bit (ask people who practice that faith to proofread your book for errors!), but it can be worth it to raise your book’s Diversity Quotient right through the roof.

If you’re struggling, in your story, with a character who seems to lack depth and resonance, maybe religion is just what he or she needs.  Listen:

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion

If any of your characters have “lost their religion,” back up, read the tips, and then sit down at that keyboard… confident that you’re the one to help them find it again.

What’s helps you craft kids’ books with faith?


  1. I enjoy these posts, but I've never done any children's writing. Maybe you'll inspire me... Hmmm.

    1. Always fun to try new styles and formats (especially if you have kids to test them on). Still, a lot of writers from different genres say my posts are helpful. Though in this case, I think there's probably a ton you could teach me, if you ever feel like writing a guest post. :-)


As always, I love to hear from you.