Oh no! In my opening paragraph as well?? And after Bonnie did such a great job, telling us not to use the "J" word!
You see how
Flawed as I am, I'm going to stick with the theme Bonnie and Debbie established, and add a few don'ts to the list. Only mine are slightly different, because they represent not only bad writing, but also bad theology - if you turn your head the right way:
Derivative plots and themes
When Francine Rivers said of Bonnie Grove, "Call her the Jodi Picoult of Christian Fiction!" we all cheered for her. When Latayne Scott's Latter Day Cipher was compared with The DaVinci Code, none of us were surprised, because she had explored the secrets of the Mormon church in a way that was fully as engaging as Dan Brown's novel - though more faithful to the truth.
Still, the thing I love about Bonnie Grove is that she is unreservedly Bonnie Grove, not Jodi Picoult. And Latayne is not Dan Brown. Both of these ladies can scare you, and amuse you, and thunder-strike you in ways that are truly their own.
Sometimes I see covers on bookstore shelves that broadcast - by their artwork, title, and back cover copy - that this Christian author is exactly like that general market author, only with a Christian message. It makes me feel creepy, because 1) it may well be that the general market author has actually told a story with a great, even a Christian message, though more subtly than his imitator, and 2) part of the Christian message is that each person - each author - is an orignial, made in the image of God, with a story and a style all her own. When I see a derivitive work, it seems to me like a failure of faith.
I've met them in too many novels. The unbelievers whose arguments against belief are simple-minded, thinly veiled excuses to protect the debauched lifestyles they would have to surrender if ever they knelt at the altar.
Don't write characters like that. It's lazy. It's not nice. And somewhere, some time, some unbelieving reader will see herself in your character and find herself ill-treated. Because maybe she lives by a moral code that in many ways resembles yours. And maybe her reasons for unbelief are honest reasons. Give her your respect. Explore her questions with her. And beware the easy answer. She's wrestling with angels. Hand her a towel.
God Saves the Day
The plot is simple: Main character gets into trouble. He loses his wife and his truck and his dog. He walks down the aisle and has a talk with God. His wife comes back, a check comes in an unmarked envelope so he can fetch the truck back from the bank, and his dog comes home - with puppies!
And one way he saves us is through suffering, and part of what that salvation means is that we have found something more precious than the things we once held dear.
Authors, go forth: Write about that precious thing.
And all of you, both authors and readers, please add to my list in the comments. What elements of bad fiction strike you as bad theology on the page?