The Process Of Writing Faith-Inspired Fiction For Teens

by Family

It had to be wrong to love something this much. I had worked on my fantasy novel since I was a teenager, poured so much love, time, and pencil dust into it, that it became its own person. As Athena once sprang from the mind of Zeus, so this novel had gestated in my mind and leapt onto the page. My wild, tenacious, intellectual book-child.

As the years passed and my Catholic faith grew stronger, I began to fear the power of my own story. With shame, I realized that sometimes I loved what is good—my writing—more than the One who was best.

So when my fire to write grew all-consuming, I pushed my book away. One year I gave it up for Lent. Another year, I replaced it with volunteering and work. Finally, when I entered the convent in 2012, I gave up my novel altogether. Out of obedience to my novice mistress, I even gave up “thinking” about it.

It would have been less of a sacrifice, perhaps, to cut off my own arm. I could still keep writing with one arm. My story was so much a part of me. It was me.

Without my book, I thought, what do I have left?

This article is about writing faith-inspired fiction for teens: stories that are permeated with the goodness, truth, and beauty of our Catholic faith. These stories may not necessarily be religious or allegorical in nature, although they can be, like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. They may arise from a Catholic worldview: such as Dante’s Inferno; or out of a rich Catholic imagination, like Pan’s Labyrinth or the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Faith-inspired fiction usually has a deeper meaning and purpose than entertainment or creativity. They are written by men and women who have encountered Christ, and now wish to convey something of that life-changing experience in their stories.

Many of my deepest experiences of Christ’s love and healing power happened during my 19 months in the convent. The night before I left religious life, the Gospel reading at table was, “Go home and tell your family all that the Lord has done for you.” I was leaving the convent to pursue a vocation to marriage, but I also longed to share my personal testimony. My time in the convent had changed me, healed me. I wanted everyone to know, so Jesus could touch their lives, too.

I also wanted to finish my beloved novel. It no longer held a first-place spot in my soul—the Lord Jesus had captured my heart, and now I loved my writing because everything good and worthy in it came from Him.

As soon as I returned home, the Lord kept leading me back to my book. I attended a Called and Gifted workshop, and discovered I had the spiritual charisms of writing, encouragement, and faith. When I met teens as a youth group volunteer, a few of them offered to read my manuscript. And when I met my husband six weeks after leaving the convent, he encouraged me to finish and publish my story.

Because I had stepped away from my writing for a time, and allowed the Lord to purify my desires, my book was no longer an obstacle to my spiritual growth. I placed Jesus first, and let my novel writing flow as the fruit of my relationship with Jesus Christ. This quickly imbued my writing with greater beauty and feeling.

Similarly, when faith-inspired authors rightly order their lives towards God, they will write better, truer, and more beautiful fiction.

Of course this doesn’t happen all at once, and it still requires human effort and skill. Before my YA fantasy novel Avalon Lost was ready for publication, I spent years revising, rewriting, and sharing my work with a critique group and various beta readers. I had it professionally edited twice, changed the book’s ending, developed my protagonists and villains, and accepted as much feedback as possible. My goal was to produce an excellent, high-quality book that would touch the hearts of its readers.

So certainly, faith-inspired authors should strive to write what is good, true, and beautiful – high quality stories that express both the reality of fallen human nature and the love and joy of God. But authors will arrive at this ideal gradually, like travelers on a journey. The writing process is the journey. The only way to become better at writing is to do it, over and over again.

Faith-inspired writers and creators should also be actively living out their Catholic faith.
Do writers spend enough time in prayer each day, for the love of God to spill out into their stories?
Do they attend weekly Mass?
Are they reflecting on God’s Word, especially the Gospels?
In the New Testament, Jesus also tells stories—parables—to teach His disciples. 

When I was completing my first draft of Avalon Lost, I developed a habit of morning meditation and daily Mass before entering the quiet of my local library to write. I wanted my story to capture something of the interior peace, joy, and meaning that my Catholic faith had given to me. My fantasy novel is not explicitly religious, but it has a distinctly “monastic” feel. My heart, formed by the cloister, also has a monastic feel, and Avalon Lost is one creative manifestation of this reality.

In keeping with this monastic mentality, I write lean. I use only the best, choicest words. In an entertainment space offering a plethora of content, I work to provide nourishing, life-giving food. So also, the stories of faith-inspired authors should guide people’s hearts towards God.

As a high school teen, I remember how moved I was by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s story drew me into a world of nobility, honor, and sacrifice that I longed to imitate. It wasn’t just Frodo’s perseverance, Sam’s loyalty, or Eowyn’s courage that inspired me, but also the story’s Christian themes of hope and the final triumph of good over evil. As Sam observes in The Return of the King, “in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

In Avalon Lost, my protagonist Will Owain echoes this hopeful sentiment in “The Music Room”:

The melody stirred up memories from long ago in [Will’s] mind. He saw his mother’s face and his father’s grief, but also the comforting tilt of a ship at sea, and his childhood nurse’s calm smile and gentle eyes, filled with love for him when no one could love him. 

With the memories came a sense of hope. A hope that one day his sorrows would fade and his many sacrifices would all be worth it…In exchange for his grief, he might experience life again, with the same stark swiftness of the sun bursting through a thunderhead. 

The piercing strains of the Princess’s music renew Will’s heart with beauty and hope. Perhaps faith-inspired authors are also meant to be that sweet melody, that single star over the ruins of Mordor. After all, our Catholic faith has given us the light of the Gospel– a message of healing, hope, and unexpected joy.

Practical, Lived Experience

When applying these concepts of faith-inspired fiction to a teenage audience, possibly the greatest thing authors can give is their practical, lived experience. Teens may have learned their Catechism and received their sacraments, but most have not yet become intentional disciples of Jesus. They need caring, faith-filled adults to show them the way. They need stories that challenge them to greater virtue and holiness.

In Zephyr Thomas’ contemporary fantasy novel, An Octave of Stars, the two main characters Ash and Cascadia live out a chaste, respectful relationship while also being next-door neighbors and best friends. In Avalon Lost, both Will and the Princess display their fortitude in epic sword fights against a slew of villains and traitors. The characters and scenarios are fictional; the virtues they illustrate are real.

These are only a few examples. I believe that the field of faith-inspired fiction remains largely untapped. There is always room for more–greater holiness, creativity, and storytelling–through the grace of Jesus Christ. 

Once, I ran away in fear from my story. Now I see my fiction writing as a gift that God wants me to use for the benefit of others. Avalon Lost is my first published novel, but God-willing, there will be more books, and many more twists and turns in my writer’s journey. 

To my fellow Catholic writers and creators: don’t be afraid to let the world “hear your voice”! As it says eloquently in the Song of Songs:

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see your face, let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. (Songs 2:14)

Order a copy of Avalon Lost for the Catholic teen in your life HERE!

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Image: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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