When I listed on my bio on Twitter a couple of years ago that I write Christian suspense, one of the writers who connected with me asked (partly in jest and partly serious, I think), “What is Christian suspense?” I then had to explain that a Christian suspense novel is like any other suspense novel, but with Christian elements in it. Or, on the other hand, it’s like any other Christian novel, with suspense elements included. Your choice. The point is, of course, that you have both spirituality and storytelling.
And that’s something that many writers miss. I review a lot of books here, some of the fellow Christian writers who are trying their hand at writing what some refer to as “alternative Christian fiction.” The idea is to use some imagination with your storytelling. But many are good at including the Christian elements, only to struggle with the suspense, while others can tell a good story but leave out the spiritual message. The goal is to do both.
And when you’re talking about the difference between writing a short story and a novel, beyond the obvious issue of length, complexity comes into play. Short stories should generally have one theme that is addressed in the several thousand words before the end, whereas novels–the good ones at least–often have multiple themes.
The theme in my highly successful Champion Trilogy was sacrifice. What does it mean to truly surrender yourself to God? Harris Borden revisited this question again and again, and each time the reader was challenged on their own level to ask that question. But beyond the spiritual theme, there was many other storylines going on that kept the story going.
The theme in the Foundation series (Salome’s Charger, The Key of Solomon) seems to be God working in our lives. I say seems to be, because we’re still writing the series, and sometimes these themes take on lives of their own.
And my new series, the Heretics Series, with its inaugural book, Soul Survivor, set to release in March, will pursue the theme of How do you find God? At least that’s the way it looks at this point.
I say often that writing a novel is much like composing a symphony. While the brass section is playing counterpoint, the percussion is laying down the foundation, and the woodwinds and playing the highlights. In other words, you have several things going on at once. It’s one of the challenges I really like about writing novels, and it’s one of the reasons I recommend that beginners start with writing short stories rather than novels. In my novel The Key of Solomon, I have a modern suspense story going on (actually two: one in Austin, Texas, the other in Egypt), I have a spiritual theme going on, and I have a historical story that the novel keeps revisiting. It keeps the reader interested, and keeps me, the writer on my toes.
The main point to remember in all of this is that Christian Thrillers are both stories and inspiration. Don’t get overbearing in either category, and don’t forget the other category. It’s a juggling act, I know. But that’s what makes the effort worthwhile.