Christian Fiction Part 3: Appealing to Teens

Writing a story crafted toward a specific audience means appealing to its desires. The danger  for Christian writers in this area is, as always, compromise. If we write what people want in all areas, we will end up cultivating the wrong desires. I see several things written specifically to appeal to teens that can be harmful.

  1. A desire for power

If only I was special and people looked to me as a leader. What if even my parents were indebted to me…

I read a story and begin connecting with the MC. Then 1/4 of the way through I discover along with him that he alone has the special power or was in the right place at the right time. Now the world is depending on him. He is the savior to 7 billion people (or make that a few thousand depending on the extent of the global catastrophe).

That could happen to me (or I wish it could). Then people would respect me, I’d have cool friends, and most of all I’d actually be doing something important. But that hasn’t happened yet, the dog ate my homework, and I’m sitting here… *sigh* [insert daydream here]

Maybe one story like that, that is clearly an anomaly, would be natural. But there’s a reason this is so popular. The shelves are filled with these books and so are teenagers’ heads. This encourages an unrealistic, unhealthy desire for prominence, self-sufficiency, and fantastical ability.

The stories you write will make an impression on your reader’s thinking, and as I’ve mentioned before we want to change them in a Christlike direction. For example, I have a friend who is writing a superhero novel. The MC has a God-endowed ability to move quickly/run at superhuman speeds. I think future readers will come away impressed with how he shares the Gospel at every chance he gets and consults God on ethical decisions.

2. A desire for independence.

Closely paired with point one, YA fiction makes sure the MC is an orphan, runs away, or her circumstances force her to operate without anyone to tell her what is right and wrong.

Come on, people! Your parents aren’t just your legal guardians. They are bosh guardians, physical guardians, and creep guardians. Yep, they aren’t called guardians for nothing (BTW it’s the coolest title ever! Sounds like Dad’s fighting Florentine and Mom’s got a bow and arrows with eagle fletching). You have a loyal/skilled detachment with life experiences fighting for you. They are also your best source of wisdom; advisors who truly care for your well-being.

But the MC ignores all this and somehow lives an independent and magically incredible life.

I hope you, as a Christian writer can pinpoint the error in this (let me know in the comments if you need me to make a biblical case for this). If you write this way you will most likely encourage a devaluing of God-given authority and protection. This is not how you want to change your readers. You don’t want them to think they can do this on their own and “aren’t normal teens saving the world from alien invasions at my age?”

Most teens already struggle with a natural/sinful tendency to rebel. Fictional, circumstantial autonomy is usually a guise for rebellion.

3. A desire for simple relationships.

The formulaic tough girl, ready to save the world…meets weak guy with good intentions…he continues to be a handicap but at least he has a cute smile…she is having an epic breakdown and she’s glad he’s there to give her a hug even though he doesn’t give any real comfort…he is always encouraging her; telling her she can do it…at the end of the day, there is an unspoken mutual understanding that even though they’re underage they’re committed to each other for life…oh, and she seems oblivious that his affections are only because of her unrivaled beauty (and her exceptional protection?). At least it’s sweet.

These kinds of portrayals of relationships are shallow and a twisted representation of the real deal. If this is how you think guys and girls are meant to love, you’ll enter a relationship, find out the other person is irritating, has her own needs and expectations, and will actually speak some deterring wisdom into your life, and you’ll leave because you want someone who just hangs out and let’s you cry on them. Get real. This isn’t just a matter of worldview, it’s a matter of reality. If you’re 16 going on 17 get some discernment because the dude is wearing his heart on his sleeve in the form of a Nazi swastika (I do enjoy that movie actually, just saying). Relationships are very complicated because they involve broken people; and if you want to cultivate good expectations in young people’s minds, the fictional relationships need to be realistic and wise.

So if you’re going to write YA fiction, write:

  1. a character who has a proper perspective on their prominence (if they must be prominent). For example: make them give glory to God for what He has enabled them to do and make humble statements about their human areas of inability.
  2. a character who seeks wise counsel. And if at all possible give him helpful parents that would cause readers to respect their own.
  3. a biblical relationship. If you write an attractive guy, make him attractive primarily because he pursues godliness and is duty focused (BTW he should still be sensitive to the girl; make him understanding and sweet). If you want to write an attractive young lady, make it be her pursuit of godliness and focus on her God given mission. Then make it “cute”.

Write what a young adult who is striving to follow God with all their heart, strength, and mind would find appealing. Point them to contentment with whatever mission and ability God has placed before them, appreciation for authority and heritage, and pure tangible love shown to the right person at the right time.

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14 thoughts on “Christian Fiction Part 3: Appealing to Teens

  1. All of this is so true! These patterns are repeated over and over again in YA fiction … but as Christian authors, we need to break the pattern and give the readers not what they want/expect, but what they need to hear, and what God wants them to hear (if we can ever do that … I hope God will guide my writing so I can).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really good! I totally agree!!
    Except I did cringe as one of my MC’s is an “orphan”…. 🙈
    Do you think there a way to do that correctly?
    There are orphans in the world you know. 😋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, Maggie. 🙂 Of course there is!! I was talking about how it’s often used used as a tool to make the child autonomous for the purpose of freedom. Your story is different though. The MC is not “conveniently” an orphan; it’s directly related to the historical setting. I don’t think it’s stretching because it’s realistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These are so true! I can’t stand the way YA(or anything YA) nowadays tries to leave out the parents or make the parents bad people, simply because they think that’s the norm. Well, maybe it wouldn’t be the norm if people stopped showing everyone that they think broken homes are normal!

    Liked by 1 person

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