Lessons from a Reader: Faith is Tricky

Another lesson I learned from Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is that tackling faith is tricky. And this comes from someone who writes for religious audiences for a living and has read quite a lot of Christian fiction.

One of the secondary characters in Life As We Knew It is a Christian. She’s preachy, self-righteous and irritating. Now we can argue about whether or not that’s a stereotype. But I can live with it—Christians often come across that way. But you have to make it believable. It doesn’t help that you’re already going off on politics, now religion too?

What sunk this sub-plot for me was the stilted dialogue when the main character and this preachy Christian interacted. They were supposed to be long time friends, but every time they talked the dialogue suddenly became stiff and memorized and the Christian character preached to her friend and urged her to come to Jesus. Now maybe those conversations are stiff and memorized. But they’re also awkward and difficult and have a very realistic quality to them. Even a Lifetime special has more realistic conversations about serious, weighty topics. People get flustered. They don’t know what to say. They’re passionate, but never perfect. It should move in fits and starts. And if you’re going to use cliches (people use them when they talk, so that’s fine in dialogue), you have to poke holes in them (because that’s what people do in real life).

The worst mistake in handling faith came later in the story when [SPOILER ALERT] the Christian character had died and the main character was confronting the reverend who inspired the Christian character’s stiff faith. While everyone else is starving to death (including the now-dead Christian character), the reverend was plump and healthy. Here we go: The age old bad preacher bit. This is such a tired stereotype. Once again, I get it. It happens in real life. But give it a purpose in your story. In Life As We Know It it didn’t seem to have a greater purpose. It was just a swipe at religion.

As a writer, you should be better than that. If you don’t like religion, that’s fine. But write a real diatribe against it. Don’t set up straw men you can knock down.

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