Christians and the Creative Writing Process, Part 1
“With many such parables He [Jesus] was speaking the word to them [the crowds], so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.” – Mark 4:33-34 (NASB)
In my last writing update, I talked about my development process. As I’ve worked through the pre-writing stages for my new series, I’ve found myself wondering: as a Christian, why do my stories matter? Is my writing significant to the Kingdom of God when I don’t write Christian fiction? I believe the answer is yes, because my hope and prayer is that my writing can be used as a part of my ministry.
Also, Jesus used stories—called parables—to convey His messages.
As a writer, I find comfort in this fact. The Son of God used stories—sometimes explicitly naming God, other times not—to preach to the masses and point to the larger truths of the Gospel. He used these parables to plant seeds, then explained what the stories meant.
My prayer is that my stories accomplish the same: pointing others toward the Author of the Universe, who gave me my gift and love of writing and calls me to use it for His glory. While I don’t expect to do this perfectly all of the time, I do believe God can use me and my stories—with all of my flaws—for His purposes.
For Christian creative writers, regardless of genre, themes are perhaps the most important stage in our writing process. Themes are the most apparent, obvious, and easiest way to honor the Lord with our work—whether historical, speculative, Christian, secular, mainstream, contemporary, or any variation of genre. Just as Jesus told parables pointing to the Kingdom, so can we. Admittedly, our stories won’t always meet the mark thematically or structurally. Nonetheless, I think that when we lean into the Lord and draw from His truths to bring a greater depth of meaning to our work, He can still use our imperfect writing and execution to bring glory to Himself and perhaps help someone find Him. Stories are meaningful to people; they move them—that’s why themes are so important. While I don’t want my novels to come across as too heavy-handed, I do pray that it plants seeds for an open mind and heart. But my writing alone cannot bring people to Christ. I totally understand that, which is why I seek out other ministry outlets beyond writing and why I write so openly about my faith today. As I grow older and perhaps become a published author, I want to continue writing about my faith, the ways it shapes the themes of my stories, and how it relates to my calling as a writer. There are many spaces I can live out my faith and preach the Gospel and my writing’s just one of them. But because it’s so deeply tied to who I am created to be, it’s important for me to link my stories to the most central aspect of my life: my faith in Jesus Christ.
I believe the best way I can honor the Lord with my writing (in any genre) is through the themes I’m led to explore in each story. The heart of Jesus’s parables are the truths and message of the Gospel; I also want to use themes essential to Christianity and the Gospel in my writing. Whatever the theme—from love to suffering, the cost of sin to forgiveness and grace—I want the heart of each story to be purposely based on Scriptural truths.
Since I want to root my themes in Gospel truths, I go to the Word of God as a way to ground myself and shape what each theme should look like. I pick one or several “theme verses” as a part of my theme development process. This is a wonderful moment in my pre-writing stage where I get to pour over a single idea expressed in Scripture and look at the various places and scenarios where that theme comes into play over the entire scope of the Bible. I allow myself to take my time with this step—I don’t want to arbitrarily pick the first verse or verses I happen upon—and use it as a time to intentionally ask God to shape the narrative of my story. This practice of picking theme verses grounds me and lays a solid foundation for the rest of the writing process ahead.
(I also do more than just this step to make sure I think how each theme plays out in a narrative or character arc, but theme verses just happens to be my personal favorite step that I do!)
Themes are perhaps my favorite part of the pre-writing process. It fills me with so much joy and passion to spend time in Scripture looking at various truths, weaving those themes into the narrative of my stories, and devoting time to pray about each novel’s message. Sometimes when I write, I can forget why I’m writing a particular story. Refreshing myself on the themes and taking time to ground myself in Scripture related to the heart of my stories serves as a wonderful reminder for the ultimate purpose of my writing: to glorify the Lord through the gift He’s given me. It’s my prayer that I keep this focus in mind every time I sit down to work on my writing.
Do you spend a lot of time on themes? What does your process look like? I’d love to hear your own thoughts on themes and how you use them in your own stories!