Christian suspense author Mike Dellosso gave a talk of the same name at the 2011 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference (BRMCWC): Is Christian Fiction an Oxymoron?
Well, is it?
It’s a difficult thing to define but you’ll find my answer at the bottom of this post. My answer in turn is based on another slippery definition: What does it mean for a story to be Christian?
I posit that Christian stories contain an element of redemption. No more, and no less. Examples:
- When a high school basketball star becomes pregnant during her Junior year, she must choose between a future with the child, adoption, or abortion.
- After an inner-city detective discovers his partner has been taking payoffs, he must choose between friendship and duty.
Now, what is redemption? What does this quality look like in fiction? I think of it as an opportunity, a choice presented to a character to do the right thing – or not. This is often a choice between bad and worse rather than good and evil, an agonizing decision colored in smoke and shades of gray.
So if being Christian means there exists an element of redemption, what of horror?
Most people would define horror as being that which elicits fear in the reader. But suspense often induces fear too so I find this definition lacking. I tend to separate horror from suspense along the lines of hope and meaning. In horror, there is a general lack of hope or expectation of meaning behind whatever is going on. However in suspense, there is generally a very good reason why the bad guy is doing bad guy things which is revealed by the end. Plus, the good guy is expected to be triumphant at the end of the story. Not so with the horror.
By the way, these should not be confused with Thrillers where we get to watch the villainy happen as it were over the antagonist’s shoulder. Someone on The Kill Zone Blog defined Thrillers as mysteries in reverse: Mysteries start with a crime and thereafter follow the detective working through clues to determine whodunit. By contrast, thrillers often begin with a credible threat and then follow the protagonist questing to prevent it from being executed.
So, is Christian Horror an oxymoron? Can something with a redemptive quality lack meaning? Yes, by having the chooser make the wrong decision, especially the wrong eternal decision. What’s more frightening to a Christian than a sinner rejecting the offer of salvation? This dooms them to hell, a very frightening thought.
Image from http://www.mixcloud.com/black-buddah/literature-mystery-thriller-horror/