How to write: Davis Bunn on Christian Fiction

Posted by Sam Hailes  ·  Be the first to comment

Davis Bunn has sold more than 6 million novels in 16 languages. His first published book was released in 1990 and became a best seller, but the journey there wasn’t easy.

Becoming a Christian at the age of 28, Davis says he was a “typical business executive” – extremely busy and self centered.

Called to write

Just two weeks after becoming a Christian, Davis felt a strong calling to be a writer. “There’s this assumption that when you receive a calling, the way is going to be open for you and it’s going to be easy. But the Bible doesn’t say that. Receiving a calling is both an invitation and a struggle.”

Davis wrote for 9 years, finishing 7 manuscripts before one was finally accepted for publication. Looking back, the author believes the long wait was a time of preparation.

“He was pushing me to the point where my walk was strong enough that I could represent him in my profession. Writing within the Christian world is not just about the book, it’s who the person is behind the book…There is a sense of carrying a real responsibility for what I’m presenting both on the page and in my life.”

Now writing two books a year – one aimed at the Christian world, the other the mainstream arena, Davis is a highly successful author. He’s even seeing some of his work turned into films.

Eager to give something back, Davis tells me he sees his teaching position at Oxford University as tithing with his time. Working with a predominantly Muslim and secular class, Davis has encountered worldviews very different to his own.

“When I teach in the mainstream I have to accept many of the things we use as basic assumptions as believers do not exist. They do not understand the parameters and boundaries we set up. Many of them are interested in writing a post-modern story structure which means there is no hero or judge of right and wrong. I have to teach them according to what they want to write.”

Embracing two worlds

Currently working in Hollywood, turning his novel The Great Divide into a film, Davis is a long way away from any kind of Christian bubble.

“Both my wife and I are involved in projects where we are oftentimes the only believer in the room. We are called to be beacons in the darkness, we’re not called to be beacons where it’s comfortable.”

Davis is amused by some people’s reaction to his Christian faith, pointing out “political sensitivity” among his colleagues.

We are called to be beacons in the darkness, we’re not called to be beacons where it’s comfortable

“Right now the gay and lesbian thing is very big in Hollywood. So you can be the wildest character you can imagine and it’s absolutely fine, but dealing with a Christian they have no idea what to do! ‘Ok I’ve got to clean up my language now’, that’s as far as it goes! My wife and I are trying to present the moral structure of faith to a community that is baffled by it.”

Critiquing the genre

Critical of some Christian Fiction, Davis argues some novels are not written for the primary purpose of entertaining the reader.

“The writers become so impassioned about the message that they forget for fiction to be successful you have to create a strong story and something that’s pleasurable.”

Explaining the basics of writing a great story, Davis points out where some Christian Fiction goes wrong.

“If you go back and look at the crafting of a strong novel or a story like Shakespeare or Dickens, all of these people had very clear morals to their stories. For fiction to work, you can only have one moral or spiritual message.”

“The only way you can be successful in balancing [the story with the moral] is if the moral dilemma is a component of arriving at the climax.”

“If the principle character realises what’s meant to happen you have a triumph. If you have a principle character that fails to make that realisation then you have a tragedy. This structure and dilemma helps the reader to become involved in the emotional side of whatever this moral structure is.”

“When the realisation happens on the page, even if they see it coming, they are embedded and emotionally committed. That’s where the stories succeed or fail.”

Fiction with a purpose

One of the most impressive aspects of Davis work is his ability to switch between very different genres. Working with fellow author and friend Janette Oke, the pair have written three biblical historical novels aimed at a female audience.

These novels, starting with The Centurion's Wife aim to stay true to the Biblical account while adding extra detail and speculation where appropriate. Many find this relatively new style of Christian Fiction engaging, entertaining and also helpful in getting to grips with the culture and context of the Biblical era.

Davis has also written 10 historical adventures. Choosing to base these adventures in reality, Davis has highlighted the struggles of the missionary church in Iraq (Lion of Babylon) and East Africa (Rare Earth).

Davis says the idea of using fiction to draw people’s attention to real life issues is something that has happened in mainstream fiction for decades.

“People read it because it’s great entertainment but also because they walked away with a greater understanding of issues driving society and culture. That’s what I want to do.”

“In Lion of Babylon I’m showing there’s a new concept behind many of the evangelical outreach organisations working in the Middle East. The number of believers is exploding and this is drawing an enourmous amount of fire from the ultra conservatives in the Muslim community.”

Advice for writers

Keen to pass on advice to the many who aspire to write Christian fiction, Davis encourages authors to “accept the challenge of the empty page”.

People read it because it’s great entertainment but also because they walked away with a greater understanding of issues driving society and culture. 

“The hardest thing about writing is going back and starting a new scene or a new page. The temptation for a lot of writers is to go over and over redrafting. Learning the craft really only comes through new story.”

Secondly, Davis encourages people to invest in training. Explaining that in the UK only five or six Christian Fiction books will be published per year, David encourages people to train stateside.

“In the US this is a growing industry. It’s still a very big market even in these difficult economic times. But writing for the United States requires a particular perspective and it’s much easier for a British person to understand this if they come over for one of these major conferences. There are six each year around the US and are relatively inexpensive because they are all church run. They are big enough that every major Christian publisher will attend at least two of these each year.”

It was a long road for Davis. Nine years of writing without interest from publishers was obviously a difficult time. But his hard work has paid off. His latest novel Rare Earth is already enjoying rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Davis comes across as happy and positive throughout our interview. But with over 20 books published to date, and distributed throughout the world, that’s not suprising. 

14th September

September 14th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes

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