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How Not to Write Christian Fiction — 22 Comments

  1. Biggest point? Christian authors need good editors. As a writer, I always get tripped up with things like this. Usually I can iron out most of it after about 20 revisions, but human nature dictates that we’ll stop seeing what we stare at the longest.

    Too much of one thing (merciless editing) can lead to the opposite (burnout and sloppy prose).

    My point: edit a bunch, then get several others to edit a bunch, even if it costs you some coin.

    • You have hit on something I’ve suspected. Both lack of editing and too much can lead to poor product. The examples I gave looked like rough drafts to me. Here’s another example I came across after I wrote the article: Underground Railroad conductors were shorthanded one night because they’re leader was busy harvesting tobacco. In Green Bay Wisconsin. I would think that extra pairs of eyes would have picked up that nonsense. A paying for an editor would have surely been worth the $$ because the author lost a possible fan with me. I couldn’t even read another page.

  2. LOL! I couldn’t help but laugh at the use of the term “special needs” in the 1800s. The term was coined in 1978 by a school teacher (I forget her name now) and was first used by “the general public” in 1983, and did not become “popular slang” until the late 1990s, so yeah, way out of place in the 1800s, but even out of place in ANY novel set before 1995. Authors avoid being politically incorrect, but in the 1800s “retard” was the correct medical term for mentally challenged people, it was an actual medical diagnosis to call a person “a retard” back in that time period, and the use of saying “a retard” in a hateful way did not come about until the 1950s. And if the author was being historically accurate, the boy would have been sent to an institution to be castrated and lobotomized, he would not be home even if the family wanted him home because the USA and Europe, until the 1950s had laws that forbid parents from keeping “retards” (who were considered “highly dangerous” in their homes – the government would have sent doctors to the house to take the boy away by force when he reached the age of 3. So having a mentally challenged character living at home in an 1800s novel is a lot more than simply being inaccurate on the “special needs” slang – anyone with even a minimal knowledge of pre-WWI medical knowledge would tossed to story as incredible unplausible and hugely inaccurate. (Studying the history of Autism, Schizophrenia, and the treatment of such patients throughout history is quite a bit more than a hobby of mine, as I have both and am a long time activist for the rights “my people” – it’s my job to know the history of how families and doctors treated us “retarded folks” over the years, and that is how I know the author you are describing got it wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG, oh so very, very, extremely laughably wrong!)

    And “the fanciest-reared lady”??? That’s not even good grammar! I almost have to wonder if that was a spelling and grammar error that an editor “fixed”. Did the author originally mean to compare the girl to a “well bred lady” and used the word “well reared” meaning “raised by goodly parents” and the editor mistakenly assumed the author was referring to the shape of her bottom so “fixed” the spelling accordingly?

    • You made me laugh all over again about that ill-written and ill-edited book. Thanks for shedding more information on the subject of mental illness, etc. It made me think I should be slower to think critical thoughts of parents in the past days who kept such “defective” children hidden away. Maybe it wasn’t always a matter of shame, but of protection???

      I would love to hear your feedback on how I handled a young character with a speech defect in Time and Again. Let me know your thoughts if you ever get the chance to read it. (Currently on sale for 99 cents on Amazon.)

      • Very interesting. I had a “special needs” (sorry. I can’t call him a “retard”) uncle who lived with his parents well before 1950. This explains why they didn’t include him in any photography, although he looked fine, and was a nice-looking man. They may have hid him so the government wouldn’t remove him. This is a layer of their suffering I didn’t realize. In your example, this would only have added to the plot.

        • Thanks for commenting. If I had written the novel I’m referring to, I sure wouldn’t have used the term “retard” either. Maybe something like “not right in the head.” I didn’t realize the government took such people away from families. How horrible! Yes, the novelist could have used the character and situation to add to the plot and teach readers new truths.

  3. Pingback: For Pete's Sake Do a Fact Check: Or, How not to write TV screenplays | Deborah Heal

    • Thanks for stopping by, Carolyn. You’re so right. With my fiction you get a contemporary story and a historic one. What a bargain.

  4. What are your thoughts about self publishing? I found a publisher start night publishing. Their rates ate much lower than other self publishing companies. However I’m told they do not offer content editing. Is this common practice? Proof reading is pretty much the extent
    How dou feel about avoiding words like of us ing words about see eyes use of active writing in the Otis passive in the dialogue? I sent a comment but you didn’t reply. I wasn’t upset but a little annoyed. lol. Please get back with me. Thanks
    Marshall

    • Sorry, I must have missed your previous comment, Marshall. It may have gotten caught in a spam filter. As for this comment, I have a feeling auto correct is messing with you. Or are you being ironic about proofreading? In any case, I don’t understand what you’re asking me. Please do get back to me.

  5. Here is an example from my own work of how your book can say things you DO NOT mean for them to. Thank goodness for cut and paste. It was an easy matter to move the last sentence where it belonged–after Nelda’s comment about wanting to make a little book. Have a good laugh at this pre-edited version:

    “I found your relative Cornelius Garrison, who is listed as the son of Garret Garretson, born in Monroe County in 1823. . . Anyway, Garret was your fifth great grandfather.”

    Nelda gasped into the phone. “I had no idea I could get that far back. Brett was right. You really are good. Tell me how much I owe you.”

    “Don’t worry about that. Brett’s paying for this. And I’ve only just begun the hunt. I hope we can go back much further, maybe even to when the family immigrated from Europe. I have a feeling Garretson is Irish.”

    “I can’t wait to hear what you find. I’d like to put everything together into a nice format, a little book or something, for Brett. Hopefully, he’ll start taking more of an interest in the family history.” She chuckled. “A genuine interest, that is. It will be up to him to preserve the information and pass it on to his own children one day.”

    “Maybe I can help with that,” Merrideth said. “It would be a nice service to offer all my clients.

  6. Christian work lacks divine dynamism because ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge’. Christians do not know they must be involved in life, with all its contours:Especially training, getting better, investing in oneself, attending good programs that are not christians, be willing to be Real people both relating with the spiritual but also with the physical. Most of them act as if life is all about the unseen spirit world, that is why their work is equally unseen from the world. It seems mediocrity has been spiritualized. They do not know it is time for the manifestation of the Sons of God in every area of life. In another hand, we have no mentor, no unity in the body of Christ, no gathering of experts, intellectual christians to encourage each one’s excellence and perfection in every area of life.

    • Very good points! It behooves us to become educated in all areas of life so that we may do as Frankie Schaffer suggested and “reclaim” the arts. In other words, our writing, our painting, our sculpting should be as technically excellent as the best of the world’s if we expect to have a voice that people listen to and bring glory to God. Thanks for adding your comment!

  7. This blog is a couple of months old so this may not register. On this subject I would suggest that when all is said and done T. Mary, above, hit the nail squarely. Christians have a small world view. And sometimes we’re kind of proud of it. I write what I call family friendly western fiction with a smattering of Christian influence. I have pretty much given up on our own church library and almost totally given up on christian westerns. The sheriff leading the gun fighter to the Lord in the middle of the street is just too much. As a broad statement the critics are not far off in saying Christian fiction is shallow and simplistic. I’s a shame, really.

    • Dear Sienna,

      Not at all! I went back to see what could have made you think I was saying that. I realize now that I could have been a little clearer in how I worded one sentence. In introducing Flannery O’Connor’s comments I wrote “Feel free to substitute Christian for Catholic.” After your comment, I changed it to read “What O’Connor says concerning Catholic writers goes for any Christian writer. Interestingly, several of my Catholic friends DO seem to think they’re not Christians–only Catholics. I’m glad you brought this to my attention. Precision is soooo important in writing!

  8. I accidentally stumbled upon this post and as a christian writer myself, I had to let the Holy-Spirit guide me in what I write as its my ministry and just like how a pastor have to go before the Lord to get his message clear and truthful so I find myself. The Lord have been teaching me so much through the yes of my characters. I do believe that we have to be careful how we portray what we call Christian romance and not make Christians seen like they aren’t humans with similar struggle like the world and at the same time not try to be too much like the world. The best way I found as I write is to let the Holy-Spirit take over, as I can’t write without him.I am looking forward to reading your book Deborah as I have it in my library to read, as soon as I get some time to do so. God Bless

  9. Pingback: Getting the History Right in Historical Fiction & Giveaway by Deborah Heal - phyllis-sather.com

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