Why a Mormon Writer is Smarter Than Most Christian Writers

No, not Stephanie Meyer. You can relax.

I’m talking about Brandon Sanderson. Author of the Mistborn novels, The Stormlight Archive, the guy who finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time after his death, and lots more.

Dozens of factors play into success, but there’s one fact that should not be overlooked: Sanderson is good. Freaking good.

Now, let’s look at Christian writing in general. Most of it is unpopular, and while there are, again, many factors, the common denominator is that most Christian fiction is bad. Freaking bad.

So what does Sanderson know that Christians don’t?

Sanderson Isn’t Preachy (And doesn’t have to be)

I admit I have only read seven Sanderson books (Mistborn trilogy, Reckoners trilogy, and Warbreaker), but when you read seven works by one author, you have a pretty good sense of their style.

And I never once guessed he was a Mormon. I found out by accident! Not once have I felt the author looking at me and saying, “See? This is a metaphor for my beliefs! Won’t you join me in what I think?”

On the other hand, mainstream Christian fiction is almost strong-armed into preaching. If you don’t have an overtly Jesus-centric message, are you really a Christian writer? Some say yes, but others want little to do with your books.

The result…

Sanderson Isn’t Annoying

There’s a big reason I don’t enjoy much Christian fiction: I am a Christian. I know the story. If your novel is nothing more than a come-to-Jesus tract, then I have no use for it.

And most people aren’t Christians. They don’t want a come-to-Jesus tract either. So Christian novels easily become bothersome to Christians and non-Christians alike. These types of Christian stories only cater to those who want to pat themselves on the back.

Sanderson, on the other hand, makes cool characters, interesting worlds, and exciting plots.

Hmm…a good book, or a message I don’t really want to hear? Hmm…

Sanderson Doesn’t Limit His Audience

Like I said, I hardly knew Sanderson was Mormon because he never screams it. Thus, he appeals to non-Mormon audiences.

Revolutionary Idea: When more people can read your book, more people can buy your book. *Gasp!*

Much of the Christian market, the part that isn’t evangelical, is self-contained. They write stories by Christians for Christians. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But yet again, some circles have this air of judgment, that your work should be approved by Christian norms, thus creating a Christian-only audience by default.

Christians who shirk this trend can draw more non-Christians in. Such as Brent Weeks, another phenomenal fantasy author who’s seen incredible success because he doesn’t limit his audience. He just writes good stories.

Sanderson Doesn’t Limit His Content

Perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read in a while is where Siri in Warbreaker bounced on the bed, moaning, pretending to have sex to fool some high priests. This is after she’s been naked several times, expecting to be forced into bed against her will.

You just don’t see that in Christian fiction. Not that you need to, but the problem is you can’t. Sex is still a radically taboo subject in Christian fiction, and only the most daring touch it.

You know, like Brent Weeks, that other NYT Bestselling Author. Though Christian in faith, he’s not afraid to have sexually-active characters because, hey, that’s what some people are. Many, in fact.

In Christian circles, there’s still this stigma about sex, swearing, and un-Christian ideas like homosexuality. We’re told to write G-rated, conservative fiction or we’re shunned by writers, readers, and publishers en masse.

Sanderson’s example is PG-13 at best, but most Christian novels can’t even go there. Because Christianity is expected to be family-friendly at all times. If you aren’t, you’re pushed outside and discredited.

Which is strange because Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25 NIV) And what do we see? Christian writing is struggling to survive.

Sanderson, on the other hand, remains popular not just because of inertia, but because he keeps writing good stuff. Because…

Sanderson is Committed to Art

I’ve been hard on Christian fiction, so let me offer the olive branch. There is nothing wrong with G-rated Christian books, nothing wrong with writing for Christians, and nothing wrong with trying to evangelize your non-Christian audience.

The problem is when these things become idols. When there’s only one type of Christian writer allowed and all the others are heretics and pretenders.

When that happens, we limit not only ourselves, not only our audience, but art itself. We are fiction writers, creators of art. How can we cut off one corner of a blanket and expect to cover ourselves with it?

Sanderson has no such squabbles. Some of his books are middle-grade, some adult. Some of his books have one god, others many, others none. Sanderson seems to have only one rule: write books that are good.

Maintstream Christian fiction cuts what is good if it is not also in line with mainstream, orthodox, conservative Christian idealism. Quality remains secondary to agenda, money, and fear, three things Christians are told not to emphasize.

What We Can Learn

If Christian fiction is to grow and thrive, it needs to be flexible. It needs to be comfortable with Christians writing books that have no salvation story in them. It needs to let some books be R-rated to deal with a topic properly. It needs to reexamine what it calls bad and why.

Most importantly, it needs to understand what art is.

Thankfully, I’m already seeing these changes. I’ve mentioned Brent Weeks, but smaller-time authors like Ben Wolf and Mike Duran are throwing the rules out the window and seeing success with them. And even old-school overtly-Christian writer Frank Peretti changed tactics by writing non-Christian books Monster and Illusion, and both were awesome because Peretti’s strength came not from his messages, but from his writing.

The world doesn’t want sermons in the fiction section. If you’re going to preach, by all means preach. But if you’re going to write fiction, take lessons from Sanderson: write well.

 

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20 thoughts on “Why a Mormon Writer is Smarter Than Most Christian Writers

  1. It really depends upon the purpose of one’s writing. Or, alternatively, how do you define Christian fiction?

    Sure, Christians can write good novels. Many Christians are multi-talented and can do several things well.

    But, if the purpose is solely to write entertaining, non-preachy fiction that sells – then what difference does it make who writes it? What distinguishes Christian fiction from non-Christian fiction? The themes of the stories? Be careful, a Christian theme may turn off non-Christian readers.

    I think you have 2 separate issues that you have not clearly addressed as being separate. 1. Christian authors who can write good (general) fictional stories. 2. Christian authors who write Christian fiction (with Christian themes) and who come across as too preachy to general audiences.

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    1. Good point. My intention was to speak to the side of Christian fiction that says there is only one way, while showing an “outsider” has it better than we do. Still. that’s not quite the audience I’ve cut out for my blog, so whoopsie. Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Most Christian fiction disgusts me, though I’m a devout believer. What disgusts me is its Pollyanna naivete (often seeming forced.) While I came to Jesus at age 6, my life has been more like a Steven King novel than one of those prairie or Amish romances. Everyone who knows my story agrees I got the short end of the stick in this world.

    A lot of those Christian romances come across like a slap in the face. “If you were a good Christian woman like Matilda Clay in Once Upon a Spring you would find blessings like her and the rest of us.” Ironically, I find these simplistic narratives more depressing than truly tragic stores such as Ethan Frome or Portrait of a Lady or The Metamorphosis by Kafka.

    And most “Christian romances” are less realistic than The Wizard of Oz or The Hobbit. Because they pretend to be realistic when they are not.

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    1. You make a good point about those who have lived hard lives being told their life is hard because they aren’t good Christians. I’ve read Ethan Frome (oh yeah, that was a happy ending…), but not the others. I’ll add them to my list. Are “Portrait” and “Metatoomanysyllables” any good?

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      1. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James was much longer but a bit less depressing than Ethan Frome. The Metamorphosis is maybe 15,000 words long. It’s sad but darkly funny. You know you’re reading a surrealist work after the first sentence where Gregor Sampsa–a hapless young traveling salesman– finds he has mysteriously turned into a giant cockroach overnight. Unless your German is better than mine, I recommend the translation by Edwin Muir.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I kind of hope that happens to me. That someone reads my books, loves them, then says, “Wait, that dude’s a Christian?” And that it starts a conversation from there. That’s my big dream, but it’s going to depend on God.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for tackling this issue! SOOOOO much of the Christian fiction I’ve read is stilted, and I think you hit the nail on the head- people are afraid to step outside of the accepted norms and let their characters breathe. I’m TRYING to find the balance in my own fiction- it’s nice to hear that other people feel the same way 🙂

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    1. Thanks for reading. It’s difficult, I know, and I can only hope I succeed in doing better. Still, it’s good to see more and more Christian readers harping about their craft rather than just their message. The two go together.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just attended a forum where Brandon spoke. He addressed this very topic. He said you can find strong morals in his stories but don’t look for alagory if it doesn’t move the STORY along.

    What I truly love about his work, beside the fact the books are AMAZING, is that I don’t have to fear a graphic sex scene or “F” bombs every other word.

    …and thanks for calling Mormons Christian. Somehow we still are referred to as a cult by some. 😉

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    1. Thanks for your kind reply, and I agree with Brandon’s words.
      However, I fear I’ve misled you somehow on your last statement. I was comparing a Mormon writer to Christians, not making the terms synonymous. I don’t think the two are the same. Mormons and Christians have vastly different beliefs on who Jesus is, who God is, and the authenticity of scripture, so it seems to me that they cannot be the same. I apologize if I miswrote something and gave you the wrong impression.

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      1. Brandon Sanderson, as all Mormons, consider themselves Christian. It’s always interesting to me that others try to tell us what we believe and that we are not Christian. How is one Christian to tell another that they are not. We may have different beliefs in some matters, but I can guarantee it is the same Christ and the same God that we worship. I would think the only qualification for a Christian, would be that one believes in Christ.

        This is part of why I found your article interesting, trying to oppose Sanderson and “Christian” writers. He is a Christian writer. Just like Orson Scott Card, Stephanie Meyer, Brandon Mull, and dozens of other popular fantasy authors.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Brandon Sanderson, as all Mormons, consider themselves as Christian as any other denomination. It’s always interesting to me that others try to tell us what we believe and that we are not Christian. How is one Christian to tell another that they are and what they aren’t? We may have different beliefs in some matters, but I can guarantee it is the same Christ and the same God that we worship. I would think the only qualification for a Christian, would be that one believes in Christ as the Lord and Savior.

        This is part of why I found your article interesting, trying to oppose Sanderson and “Christian” writers. He is a Christian writer. Just like Orson Scott Card, Stephanie Meyer, James Dashner, Brandon Mull, and dozens of other popular fantasy authors.

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      3. You ask how one Christian is to tell another what they are and what they aren’t, yet the New Testament is full of Christians making distinctions and correcting on another. Several passages talk about false teachers and denounce them, sometimes vehemently. 1 John, 2 John, and Jude come to mind. So evaluating someone’s Christianity is part of living in Christian community according to the Bible.
        You also say that the only qualification for a Christian is that one believes in Christ as Lord and Savior, and I would agree, but are we believing in the same man who calls himself Christ? Are the facts the same and are the results the same?
        Let me elaborate: Christians believe Jesus is and was part of the Triune God from the dawn of existence. John 1:1 and 14 illuminate this and Jesus does when he says “Before Abraham was, I AM,” referring to himself as “I AM,” or “Yahweh,” God (John 8:58). Christians also believe that Jesus’s death and resurrection were sufficient for any and all sins. All our good works are useless. They are merely responses to Christ’s goodness, indicators of faith perhaps, but not requirements to get into Heaven or reach some higher echelon of holiness. Christ is our entire holiness. Christians also believe that the Bible is the final authority on Jesus’s life and identity. Other books may be helpful and good, but not authoritative, including the Book of Mormon. Anything that contradicts the Bible about Jesus is seen as untrue and dismissed. The Bible is the complete and final authority on God and therefore Jesus because the Bible is the word of God (again, John 1:1 and 14 talk about Jesus being The Word who became flesh).
        So I will not “try to tell you what you believe,” as you say, but rather ask you: Do Mormons believe that Jesus was and is God from the foundation of the Earth? Do they believe Jesus is the all-sufficient sacrifice, our only chance for holiness? Do they believe that the Bible, and nothing else, is the final authority on Jesus? Are these the things you believe?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hey Michael, I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I get that this is an old thread and wasn’t intended as an offense towards Mormons. I commend anyone is this day and age who truly tries to live by their Christian creeds. The world is constantly fighting to destroy the morality and values of those who devote their lives towards Christ.

        Though we don’t agree on all the teachings and words of Christ as found in the bible, we both consider ourselves Christian. The fact that there are so many denominations of Christian churches shows that there are many different interpretations of the Lord’s words and even the same passage of scripture. I was a missionary for several years in South America. I’ve spoken with people of many different Christian faiths on many different topics. I discussed the bible with a variety of different Catholic traditions, Evangelicals, to Protestants and even Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists. Though there was strife between some of the denominations and their belief systems were obviously different, a belief in Christ was the common thing among them. They all believed themselves to be Christian and I don’t deny that.

        The main point here is that no two Christians are alike, even in the same organization. Everyone is at different places in their testimony of Christ and their understanding of His doctrine. Everyone has their own perspective and relationship to God. Some are lacking, where others have abundance. Some are humble and submissive to God, others let their own pride blind them from gospel truths.

        By their fruits and their heart, they shall be known to Christ.

        Let me tell you why I am a Christian. I believe in Christ. I worship Him as the only begotten son of God the father. Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life by which we can return to God. There is no other person who can or has redeemed us of sin. It’s Christ or nothing. He was in the beginning, He created the earth and life as we know it. He is the Yahweh or Jehovah of the old testament. I believe that Christ has spoken to man from the beginning. He spoke to Adam and Eve, he spoke to the prophets of the old testament, he spoke to the prophets of the new testament, specifically during His earthly ministry.

        I believe that the bible is the word of God, so much as it is correctly translated. The bible as we know it was compiled and created in 1611. That is a long time passed the days of Christ and the prophets of old. During those 1600 years, the records of the prophets wasn’t neatly tucked away in a bank vault all in notebook. The wriitngs were scattered, lost, translated, rewritten, gathered from all over the place during centuries. When the bible was composed, it was a collection of what they could find at the time from a variety of sources. It wasn’t compiled in strict chronological order or even from original eye witnesses either. Revelations was not the last book written, though it is currently found at the end in modern publishings. The bible was never intended to be the end all book of God. It is only a fraction of a fraction of God’s dealings and words to man. God is infinite and so are His words. It is only man who tries to limit Him.

        As such, I believe that scripture is open ended and always will be. This does not exclude someone from being a Christian. Anyone who believes in prayer should believe that God’s words are never ending. If God lives, He speaks. If He speaks, then scripture is continuous. There is no way that the bible alone could ever contain all the Glory of God, nor was that ever the intention of Him nor His prophets. I am a Christian because I believe God lives. I believe He loves us and continues to speak to us.

        I am a Christian because I believe faith without works is dead. I believe Christ when He taught us to repent and sin no more. His words were not to eat, drink, and be merry. He did not run around throwing rose petals and write free passes for sin. He taught us to be better than that. He taught us to do good works in His name, always. I do believe that His grace is sufficient for all, because it covers all, for those who chose to follow Him. How can one follow Christ if they do not repent and walk in His ways? How can I say I believe in Christ and then willfully sin and rebel against His teachings? It would be blasphemy. We are here to be perfected in Christ through walking in His footsteps.

        To say that all will receive the same reward of God is to deny Christ’s teachings. There would be no point in Him teaching anything if our works didn’t matter. There would be no purpose to life. Our purpose is to learn, to repent, to grow and show ourselves to be children of Christ, children of light, children of integrity and purpose. Life is a school and a test. Otherwise life would be pointless. Christ has paid the price and redeemed all of those who will be redeemed. The idle or foolish will be as the five virgins who were not ready for the bridegroom and when they knock on the door and cry “Lord, Lord open to us” He shall say, ” I know you not.” I am a Christian because I believe my life, actions, and obedience have value to Christ.

        I am a Christian because I am constantly seeking new knowledge and devotion to Christ. I love Christ and worship Him. I place Him above all else. I am a Christian because I have accepted Him and He has accepted me.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. So in short, no. We do not believe the same things about crucial, game-changing beliefs. Therefore, we cannot claim the same faith.
        You believe the Bible is open-ended and continuing, while I believe God has completed his revelation, and that while he still speaks, it all echoes the Bible, and nothing God says will contradict that. And from what I’ve researched, the Bible was not compiled in the 1600s, but as early as the 300s. Only the King James Version was completed in 1611, but the canonical scripture had been used long before that. If our authority comes from different sources, how can we be in alignment?
        You also say that we do not receive equal reward in Christ when he gave the Parable of the Workers in Matthew 12:1-16, showing multiple workers receiving the same wage for different times of service. That is because Christ gives us himself, not just atonement, but himself, for he is our atonement. We don’t get a pass to get into Heaven, we get in with a friend, as it were. Or so I believe.
        You say we are “perfected in Christ by walking in His teachings,” whereas I say we are perfected in Christ by his blood. Why would Jesus die if his teachings could grant us holiness? The teachings are crucial, yet secondary, means to the end of knowing and abiding in Christ, not gaining holiness, or so I believe. Repentance, too, is crucial, and walking in Jesus’s ways, but they are the result of holiness, not the cause, or so I believe.
        You say you are a Christian because of what you’ve done (seeking knowledge and devotion, loving and worshiping Him, placing him above all else). I say I am a Christian because of what Christ has done. I have no merit on my own, regardless of any good works I do. Or so I believe.
        If this sounds like blasphemy to you, then it only proves my point: we do not share the same faith. One of us MAY be a Christian, but both of us cannot be, not with two different Jesuses, two different Bibles, and two different purposes of religion. It’s like saying my left hand is the same as my right. They may be similar in endless ways, but identical they are not.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Michael, first off, I hope that you understand that my comments are civil and conversational in tone. It is difficult to convey total tone in internet dialogues. In truth, I find it fascinating to discuss religious topics with others, especially when they are honest and true about their beliefs and do so without a mocking attitude. I thank you for that kindness, even if you cannot accept me as a brother in faith.

        Since you are open to dialogue, I would like to continue the conversation, but I don’t expect you to take up your time to respond, I don’t know if you have a family or other obligations, and in truth- I don’t even know what Christian faith you align yourself to, if you do have one of choice. I’d assume Evangelical or a denomination of Born Again, or possibly Baptist. It also makes me curious if you also do not count Catholics in the Christian faith because they pretty much violate all of your Christian requirements, along with groups like Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and several others. I’m just curious where you stand on that.

        So! Back to your last comments. One of the reasons that I believe God still speaks, is because He always has. Throughout all time, He has called prophets and followers and spoken to them. This occurred over thousands of years as recorded in the Bible. From Adam down to John and Paul as for as the King James Version is concerned. As long as God had a faithful people, He had prophets and dealt out revelations and council for those people in those times. It never stopped. I don’t believe that God, after establishing this pattern for the entire history of creation, suddenly stopped with the collection of notes that was gathered as the Bible. It’s an arbitrary ending to the prophets and revelation.

        One of the major issues with this is that time moved on, culture moved on, interpretation moved on. When Christ walked the earth, He organized one church, He placed Peter as the head of that church and gave him the keys to administer the church on earth. Peter held the authority and under him, the apostles and other priesthood holders down the line. Christ organized it all in a very structured body.

        Over time, this fell apart due to man’s fallacies. The true priesthood authority and order was even taken off the earth for a time due to man’s wickedness. This was during the aptly named dark ages. It was a period of apostasy. There were good men on the earth struggling to return Christianity to it’s truer and purer forms but the majority were corrupt and lost.

        Eventually, the true authority and full gospel was returned, again through prophets, seers, and revelators. As God has ever had a people, He has had prophets. Without them, there is extreme confusion among the particulars of the gospel and the authority that men give themselves. I hold as evidence for this, the large number of “Christian” churches. How can there be so many different sects and denominations? It is because they all interpret the same passage with such different reasoning, purpose, and meaning. This is part of why further revelation and guidance is always needed. God does not leave His children in confusion or division. He provides a way.

        Now, on to the excellent parable you chose. The workers. Now, don’t let that key point pass you by. Workers. They were called to work. The master went out several times into the marketplace and saw men standing idly by. They weren’t doing bad, they weren’t bad people, they were simply idle. They weren’t doing any good in the world or bettering themselves either. They were called to the work. They took up the calling and came to the vineyard to work. The master promised to pay them what was good for their efforts. At the end of the day, all of those who did their work were equally paid. This did cause some contention. Those who worked longer felt they should be paid more, but the master said that it was his right to pay as he saw fit.

        Now, the key here seems to be not how long men are working in the cause of Christ, but that they are working from the time they are called until the end of the day. If you convert yourself to Christ at age 10, or at age 85, it matters not. The important part is that when you heard the call to join the work, you came and put in what time you had. You did not stand idly by in the marketplace. You picked up the shovel, the pruning hooks, the dung, the whatever, and you got to work. Faith that you would be compensated fairly, work to qualify for that pay.

        I love the last part of verse 16, “For many be called, but few chosen.” Christ calls all men. The salvation and redemption is available for all. The price has already been paid. He calls us all to come to Him. However, few are chosen. Why are few chosen? Why aren’t all who are called chosen? Why aren’t they all ushered into His presence. I submit that it’s because, though they are called, not all answer the call. We are all asked to work, but few choose to obey and follow. Not everyone picks up the shovel in the vineyard and puts in time. Some choose to sit idly in the marketplace and twiddle their thumbs.

        Sorry to be long-winded! Like I said, I enjoy pondering and conversing on these topics.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It hurts to have your church called a cult. Many folks call the Church of Christ a cult and refer to us as “Campbellites” as a slam at one of the men who helped start the “Restoration Movement” in America. Around the time the Mormons got started.

      One major difference. Alexander Campbell never claimed to be a prophet and we do NOT honor him as such. He wouldn’t even allow folks to call him Reverend despite his M.Div. He said only God should be revered and went by the title Mr.

      I really don’t like hurting the feelings of non-Christians whether they’re Moonies, Mormons, Muslims, or Buddhists. Unfortunately it’s unavoidable sometimes. Like telling a friend she’s wrong for shacking up with her married boyfriend.

      Too bad more “real” Christians aren’t as friendly as some Mormon elders and sisters I have known!

      Liked by 1 person

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