I often hear from writers who ask how to infuse faith elements without making a story sound preachy. This is a crucial skill to learn. The moment your story starts preaching, many readers will be turned off.
Readers usually don’t mind following a character’s spiritual journey and taking in what the character learns along the way, but they usually don’t appreciate being told what they should learn and do as a result. Few people enjoy an author’s wagging finger.
Still, faith elements can abound, and such themes can be the most memorable parts of a story.
Here are some tips on how to infuse faith elements while avoiding the pulpit:
- Make sure that faith is a natural expression of a character’s being, that is, don’t make someone speak about faith without developing that this is an inherent part of the character’s nature.
- Show God’s intervention by having circumstances come together because of faith, prophecies, or foreshadowing rather than by an immediate answer to prayer.
- Don’t let any character sermonize in dialogue.
- Don’t explain a thematic lesson. Let the reader figure it out. For the most part, the treasure should be hidden, but clues to finding it should be sprinkled throughout the story.
- Make sure your theme doesn’t feel shoehorned into the story. It must be natural.
- Don’t teach lessons in simplistic, moralizing ways. Readers want to be stretched, not necessarily converted. Let God do the converting.
- Strive for the feeling of journey that the reader wants to take with the characters.
- Bring about subtle revelations. The best storytelling doesn’t dispense information; it withholds information and makes the hero and the reader search for it.
- The external journey leads to an internal journey, and this is where your theme is explored and finally realized. In other words, the theme is tied to the characters’ goals, often without the hero knowing it until the end.
- Use dialogue that raises the hint of the theme but doesn’t explain or resolve it. The discussion should be peripheral rather than direct.
- Allow the reader to wonder. What would he or she do in the character’s position? Give enough conflict and depth to provide meaning but don’t answer the questions.
- Create multiple layers — physical, spiritual, psychological, and sociological. This layering gives long life to your story, making readers come back to it again and again.
- When choosing a faith-element theme, you should ask yourself what you’re passionate about. Let your character take a strong stand. Readers usually cheer this. As an author, have the courage to say something with conviction, but do so through the story’s pathos, not with direct telling.
For example, a major theme in my book Circles of Seven is contentment with who you are, including accepting abnormalities that might make you feel less than attractive to others. Readers perceive this through Bonnie’s struggles as she deals with seeing a virtual copy of herself (Shiloh) who comments on her (Bonnie’s) scaly face. No one in the story tells Bonnie how to solve this problem, and no one explains the importance of contentment.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips