Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Critical Importance of Truth in the Stories We Write

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

Research always turns up "head-scratchers," and my recent research was no exception. As I prepared to teach a class on adding Christian worldview into the general market writing, I ran across that head-scratcher.

A group of college students working on their masters' programs performed a pole among 1000 random individuals passing through bookstores nationwide. Their questions were specific. What genre do you read? Do you have a favorite author? Do you read the general market? Do you read the Christian Market? Then they got more specific. If a reader answered they only read in the general market, the question to follow was why and this was where my jaw dropped.

What Readers Often Say About Christian Stories
It's cheesy. Hoakie. It's not real life. It's always tied up in a sweet bow, and life isn't that way. Christian storytellers lie.

The blood in my veins turned icey, and I felt such a sense of brokenness. Failure. How could readers say such a thing? There are some amazing Christian writers in this market. I had to lay down my personal attachment to the Christian writers I love to read like Francine Rivers, Stephen James, Coleen Cobble, and Max Lucado. There must be a reason why Christian writing appears to fail to general market readers.

Deeper research brought me to the conclusion that these readers were right. It pains me to say that, but it's true. As I flipped through book after book, I saw what general market readers saw. Truth was missing.

The Problem
Now, before you decide to hang me, hear me out. It is not that Christian writers are not good wordsmiths. Many are. In our effort to put the message of God out there, we forget the craft of writing. Storylines become forced. Events within the story become skewed as we work to bring about a "happy ending" where the protagonist wins, and a full conversion happens. Our stories continually show a God who answers every prayer exactly the way we ask. And to the faithful general market reader, this is fake and dishonest. Truth be known, as Christians, we know God answers our prayers ALWAYS, but not ALWAYS as we want.

It's not that we set out to make the world think because we are Christians, everything ends up happy. Instead, it's a mindset that we want those outside of Christ to see that God loves His children, and He wants us happy. God does answer our prayers and sometimes, exactly the way we pray, but more times than not, our answers are not what we anticipate, and the ending may not be joyful. This, my friends, is what general market readers see as a lie. They understand life is not always rosy and that sometimes the good guy loses. They don't expect a happy ending or even want a happy ending every time. Sometimes they simply want to be satisfied with the ending.

The Fix
So how do we fix this? We begin by inserting truth into our stories. This is not just the truth of God but the reality of how life happens. Allow our characters to experience life as it really is. Write those times a believer may doubt or even grow angry at God. In essence, we allow our characters to become "real."

We know the truth of the world is not always happy. Our characters may lose a loved one rather than having that person suddenly survive the unsurvivable. We allow our characters to find peace in the storm, learn to live amid hardship and fight for what is right. That is adding truth into the mix. Once the story has truth, you can gently thread in faith. You can now allow your character to find peace and hope. The story may not tie up perfectly, but in the end, your character has found resolution and learns to adapt to the solution, regardless of the outcome. Perhaps they learn to trust – something they may have never done before. It doesn't have to be a complete conversion. Rather, a step toward that. 

This is how we are in our daily Christian lives. No one, bar none, has a perfect Christian life, so why would you allow your characters to have an ideal life? 

General market readers deem us hoaky and cheesy because most of our stories finish perfectly happy. Worse yet, plots seem forced to bring about that happy ending. Triple worse, the hope that we want to show in Christ becomes labeled as a lie.

If you want to write strictly to the Christian market, then keep up what you are doing. Preach to the choir. But if you want to become an outreach, change your mindset and write stories that show truth and redemption in characters. Let your story end satisfying instead of tied up in a bow. Allow your characters to grow in their faith and to experience those moments we all experience when we cry out to God and ask WHY? 

What makes a good story? Truth does. The fact is, human nature loves to see conflict, pain, and destruction. It's always been that way from the time of gladiators to the floor of our governments. We love to see conflict. Conflict drives the story. We want to know how the characters pull themselves out of a situation. They may not pull out perfectly, and there may be a consequence they must live through, but we want to see how that happens.

Several years back the television show Twenty-Four aired. Jack Bauer had only twenty-four hours to prevent a national disaster in this show. We walked through each hour of the twenty-four watching Jack face decision after decision and seeing that some of his decisions were not wise and came with a consequence. Ultimately, he solved the problem. As the series ended, the watcher took a deep sigh of relief. They felt satisfied that Jack Bauer had prevented a disaster, and though they rejoiced in that success, they also saw how the consequence of some of his actions continued to cause an issue. The story ended. We were satisfied, but life continued, and more hardships lay in the future. That is life. That is the truth in the story. A good writer can then add the truth of God gently into the plotline and show faith and trust. Even if things don't turn out rosy.

Bottom Line
Learn to tell a good story and allow life to happen. Our world faces such disheartening challenges. Every place we turn, our faith is squelched. It doesn't mean we stop showing our faith. Instead, it means we become creative in how we deliver it. We know how this earthly story ends, and Christ wins. But the world does not know this. Meeting the world "where it is" doesn't mean stooping to its standards. It means raising the bar. The world can be a messy place, but then Jesus trod through all the messy places He could. The world needs the peace that passes all understanding, and we can learn to craft stories in real truth. 

It was once said, "Much is lost, but for one more effort." Make the effort.


Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and the executive editor for www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. Cindy is the lead managing editor for SonRise Devotionals and also Straight Street Books, both imprints of LPC/Iron Stream Media Publications. She is a mentor with Write Right and the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference held each February at the Billy Graham Training Center, the Cove, Asheville, NC. Cindy is a best selling, award winning novelist. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.


  1. This is so good, Cindy, and it's also true when writing devotions. We can't promise that if readers do a, b, and c, everything will be fine.

  2. Ha, your talking my mantra! Great post, Cindy!

  3. Excellent article! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Cindy, after becoming acquainted with the horse-and-buggy Mennonite and Amish people, and learning about their culture as we did taxi driving for them, we found they looked upon some of the Amish fiction writers with disdain. As one teen told me, "They're not true to life." For instance, Amish people don't usually hug one another or show affection in public. It's so important for writers to know their topic--and not rely on internet searches to be accurate. Thank you for your post.

    1. True. But remember...fiction allows for embellishment. Still on the finer points accurately portraying is important.

  5. Thank you, Cindy
    I agree strongly. There is a great need for general market writing with a Christain point of view. We are the teachers.

  6. Thank you, Cindy
    I agree strongly. There is a great need for general market writing with a Christain point of view. We are the teachers.

  7. So you see how truth effects the story...or not. Yeah.