Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything, and I suppose that includes preachy inspirational fiction. I’ve enjoyed my share of it when I’m in the mood, but it doesn’t take much to turn me off. However, as an inspirational writer, I feel compelled to share a message—maybe not a sermon—but a nugget of truth that will give my readers a boost on their journey, whether it be encouragement for their daily troubles or a better understanding of someone else’s. So I’ve come up with five ways to share an inspirational message in novels without sounding stuffy.
1. Be subtle.
Subtlety is paramount no matter what you’re doing with your writing, and a little inspiration goes a l-o-n-g way. Choose your words carefully, use as few words as possible, and tighten things up.
2. Do a search for the words God and Jesus, and delete half of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I like these words. I consider them to be the two most important words in the English language, or any language for that matter, but if I’m using them too frequently, I need to check and see why the words are there. Actually, this concept applies to any words in prose. If it’s not absolutely necessary, hit the delete key.
3. Avoid church jargon.
This is a tough one, considering most Christian writers have been steeped in church lingo from birth, but it’s like this: I’ve grown up in a certain denomination so—to an extent—my lingo will be unique to my denomination. Other churches have slightly different verbiage. When I read a book written with phrases used in my own congregation, not only does it not sound preachy, but often I don’t even notice it. However, when I read a book written with unfamiliar verbiage, it automatically sounds preachy to me, not because it’s from a different denomination, but because I notice it. And my goal as a writer, is for the reader to not notice what I’m doing. Ever. I want her immersed in the story, not noticing my verbiage.
4. Show Don’t Tell
I know. I’m sick of hearing this quip as much as you, but I’m putting a slightly different twist on it. Or at least a different purpose. When a scene is labeled preachy, it implies a sermon, and sermons are typically spoken. If you don’t want it to sound preachy, don’t tell it. Show it. Here’s a simplified example: instead of telling that Christians are loving, show them serving soup in a homeless shelter. It’s a lot more work, but hey, we love to write.
5. Listen to your writing with fresh ears.
Imagine you’re a non-Christian reader. (Just work with me.) Take it a step further, and pretend you don’t have any Christian friends, but you’ve heard that Christians are preachy. Become that person; then read the scene aloud.
Ask yourself how a non-believer would view your writing. Would your scene validate the stereo-type, or would it compel her to read more out of curiosity? Would the reader even be able to understand the lingo? If you’re repeatedly telling the non-Christian reader about the goodness of God, without showing it, why would that particular reader believe something she’s never witnessed herself? This exercise is just a tool, but if my writing sounds preachy to a nonChristian, odds are it will sound preachy to at least part of my target audience (Christians).
There’s a time for everything, and sometimes, I don’t care about the preachiness of my prose. If it’s the best tool for the job, I won’t hesitate to use it. But the rest of the time? I will hack it out with a machete.
Varina Denman writes stories about the unique struggles women face. Her award-winning Mended Hearts series, which revolves around church hurt, is a compelling blend of women’s fiction and inspirational romance. A native Texan, Varina lives near Fort Worth with her husband and five mostly grown children. Connect with Varina on her website or one of the social media hangouts.