Suspense with a Message?


Again, thanks to all who commented. This is turning out to be a great and enlightening discussion. Let’s take a new turn with it and go where it seems there are a lot of varying opinions and convictoins: the Christian message behind suspense. A hot button for sure.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of “Christian” suspense novels out there that really have no Christian theme or message to them at all. Yes, they are absent the cursing and sex and, for the most part, gore of their secular counterparts, but to call them Christian is really stretching it. I know this is an area of differing schools of thought, but really, let’s call it what it is and what it isn’t. No shame in that.

Here’s what I’d like to hear from you:

1. What is your opinion on this trend? Christian publishers putting “Christian” fiction out there that has no Christian message. (We don’t need to name names; this is isn’t about bashing anyone, just discussing). And what do you think the impact of this is on the industry as a whole?

2. Why do you think this trend has grown in recent years? Is it driven by fear, by sales, by what?

3. Would you rather read a good suspense book with no Christian message or one with a solid message?

I have to tell you, as an author I find it much harder to craft a story of suspense that has a Christian message than one that doesn’t. I have a lot of stories in my head and would not be hard-pressed at all to just write the story as it is, but to weave a message of hope or redemption or salvation and point the reader to Jesus through the story is a much more difficult task, it takes the story crafting to a whole new level.

What do you think?

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on October 11, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I for one am enjoying these posts/discussion.I would rather there be a Christian message in a book. When you read a book that has none, it is missing something – God being presented as the answer to the problem/issue that the characters are facing. Sure, it is great to avoid cursing/sex, but some publishers are even allowing some words and content in that shouldn't be in a Christian novel.It is my personal opionion, but I believe some publishers & authors are trying too hard to appeal to the general market and draw in readers that they normally wouldn't have if they had a strong Christian message. If their reason for writing is to please God, then shouldn't God be present?To go a step further, if any person is truly a Christian, it is going to come out in what they write – or sing – in some way, other than just an absence of cursing/sex, etc.This may be something not many people may agree with, but if Christian publishers are going to publish fiction with no Christian content, I think they should market them as secular fiction, not Christian.

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  2. Susan J. Reinhardt

    Hi Mike -Without a Christian theme, it isn't a Christian book. Period. It's a general market book with taste. In an effort to get crossover sales, some publishing houses are abandoning their roots. If they're looking to draw people to Christ, they're not going to accomplish that by diluting or eradicating the message. Blessings,Susan

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  3. Mark and Susan are both right — and I think the trend toward crossover sales (or attempts at crossover sales) isn't limited to suspense alone. The goal should be telling the story in the absolute best possible way, a way that honors and glorifies God. Does the "Christian message" have to be obvious? We can start by defining what we mean by "Christian message" — is it the direct presentation of the four spiritual laws? The direct presentation of the gospel message? Or can it be more indirect, and be about redemption or salvation or grace? I don't know the answers, but each writer may answer the questions differently. C.S. Lewis often used allegories in his fiction — does that make those works less Christian? Chris Fabry's novel "Dogwood" is Christian fiction by any definition — and yet the message is subtle, until it hits you like a hammer at the end and you realize what story he told.

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  4. This is a good but important discussion. Thanks, Mike, for hosting it. I don't mind sharing my opinion. First, I'm very disturbed by the trend you've described. This is not the "old school" Christian fiction market I grew up with. Then, the big Christian suspense author was Peretti, and he always wove in a strong, explicit message. That's the model I "buy into." You can have an exciting story AND say something of eternal value too; I firmly believe that. While I don't think it's a mortal sin for a Christian author to write only a clean story on occasion, I think (as others have stated) that something should be different about us as Christian authors and characterize our books. I like to think of each of us as a tall mug of coffee. If we're jostled, what's going to splash out? Hopefully, it's the grace and goodness of God. We shouldn't be able to help it. The story of redemption should naturally flow out of us. So if we develop the habit of writing only fun, clean stories minus any message of eternal value, I'd be concerned. It's like God handed each Christian author a megaphone and said, "Okay, here's your shot. Say something important." So what do we do? Just tell a clean story when thousands, potentially millions, are listening? We offer the Word of life. I firmly believe that God will hold us accountable if we remain silent, especially given our opportunities in this disturbing age. Second, I hate to judge anybody's motives here, but I honestly think what's mainly driving Christian publishing is money. Apparently Christian publishers put into print whatever sells, with some exceptions. If Christian readers suddenly start shelling out cash for Christian novels about nuns blowing away bad guys with machine guns, then that's what Christian publishers are going to sell. Publishers can't be entirely blamed for this tendency because they must operate with good business sense. Therefore, some of the blame falls on Christian readers themselves. Christian publishers publish what sells, but Christian readers DECIDE what sells. I agree with other viewpoints here that more Christian authors appear to be targeting the general market . . . or at least trying to. But that poses some interesting dilemmas. If some are trying to win the world, that motive doesn't seem to make sense, and here's why. To be accepted by the general market, their novels can't be overtly Christian, so what happens to message? (I realize there are some exceptions to this rule. Think Left Behind series.) How can the author expect to be accepted by the world and give the world the gospel at the same time? Does that really work? And if the novel is lacking an overt message, many Christian readers will be turned off. So that's the Catch 22. Now, as Glynn pointed out (and I completely agree), the message can be delivered in creative ways beyond the standard scene that reads like a gospel tract. Third, if I'm reading a "Christian novel," I personally expect to find some sort of overt spiritual takeaway value. (How strong the message needs to be can be debated.) If the novel doesn't deliver on message, I typically finish the last page and find myself shaking my head because I feel like the author missed the boat. That's just me. What's especially disturbing to me is that some Christian authors even appear to be dipping their toes into the river of mild crude language and mild profanity. I personally find this trend appalling because by apparently catering to a secular market (why else do it?), they are actually turning some Christian readers away. I'm not sure what's driving this trend. To be like the world to win the world? But how is inserting some mild swearing helping to win the world? Again, my two cents. This is definitely a controversial topic, and I don't mind discussing it. Just my personal opinion. Otherwise are welcome to disagree with me.

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  5. There is nothing wrong with "clean" fiction and that is what much what is called Christian fiction actually is.Do the four spiritual laws have to be presented for a story to be driven by a solid Christian world-view? No! But should Christian fiction strive to present the timeless truths of man's depravity, God's grace, and redemption? Yes.I fear publishers, lacking the creativity to market Christian themed fiction, are looking for ways to attract the general market and I think that is a big mistake. John Bunyan didn't write Pilgrim's Progress with any market in mind. Rather, he simply wrote the story God burned in his heart. Last time I checked it still considered a classic and selling quite well.

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  6. I am always asurprised and a little dismayed when Christian writers say that they can just write a story and then insert some Christian dialogue and – voila – Christian story.A believer who has been walking with Christ for more than a week begins to form a world view that is Christ-like. This can not help but be reflected in the Christian writer's invention of his characters' responses to a crisis. I did not say that the response is necessarily explicit.As our culture grows more and more pagan in thought, the contrast with Christian thought is striking.All humans, Christian or not, have a visceral response to terrifying images or occurances. But Christians behave differently. . . or should. Why is that?That is what Christian Suspense should answer, whether it's popular or not. Otherwise, why claim that I write with a mission? I may as well target the general market.

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