Last week my husband brought home a movie he thought I would enjoy. Gene Shalit called the movie “unforgettable.” We settled in to enjoy this “passionate and heartwarming story,” but not even the impressive cast could overcome the disappointment we experienced by the end because the story was devoid of confident hope.
The back cover copy touts that as two daughters care for their dying mother, “they come to their own understanding about the power of the past and the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, family, and the loves of their lives.” However, through a series of flashbacks viewers learn that the mother’s past was filled with regrets. The daughters first learned about their mother’s past only now as she converses with strange names in her sleep. The mother spoke of two unhappy marriages, neither of which involved the real love of her life, with whom she’d spent only one weekend. The movie was over when the mother finally died. The end.
Granted there was passion, but I didn’t observe “heartwarming,” much less anything resembling eternal hope. Since this film, Evening, was character driven, the effects of a God-less worldview on a person’s values and choices were starkly obvious. As a Christ follower the overwhelming emotions I felt as a result of watching this film were profound emptiness and sadness, followed by my reaction of resounding recommitment to encourage writers to touch your readers’ deepest needs.
We know God won’t allow the Christian message to be completely muzzled, discredited by worldly wisdom, or depleted by fewer Christian publishing options. You who have been gifted by God to write are an honored group. What a privilege you have to communicate the Christian worldview to your audience. You get to breathe true joy, hope, and inspiration into their lives through what your write. This is perhaps the most important motivator for developing your author-reader relationships. The question is what is the best way to present it, and the answer will be different depending on what you write, your readers, and their demographics.
A good place to begin is by understanding the age group you are targeting. Post-Millennials, Millennials, Gen-Y, Gen-X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation each have unique interests and perspectives on life. Learn as much as you can about your reader group’s deepest felt needs and address them through select characters’ journeys in your novel or in the way you approach your nonfiction book. Here are a few suggestions for your research:
- Read online articles about your age group’s characteristics.
- Read a non-fiction book by a popular author in your target audience.
- Visit websites of groups within your target audience.
- Interview people who are typical examples of your audience.
- Conduct a survey of your social media followers or newsletter subscribers.
Imagine how lives similar to the mother and daughters in the film could be different as a result of discovering true hope through your book. I want to inspire you today to keep on keeping on. You have a holy purpose, Christian writers. Pray for insight as you begin each day.
The main thing is to write with purpose . . . “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16 ESV). Let’s all—writers, agents, and everyone in Christian publishing—commit to pray for each other to accomplish this greater purpose in our work.
Have you seen a movie or read a book that left you feeling the same way I did after viewing the film, Evening? How have you been encouraged today? What methods have you used to understand your readers?
The high privilege Christian writers have is to touch your readers’ deepest needs. Click to Tweet.
Want to know how to discover your readers’ deepest felt needs? Here are suggestions for your research. Click to Tweet.
Mary, thanks for sharing this post. Your ideas for getting “in touch” with our targeted reading groups is so helpful. I haven’t done much of this yet, but I need to! Thanks for mentioning that.
The premise you shared of that movie sounded so promising! How disappointing to find it devoid of hope. I have seen a couple movies and read a couple books that leave me feeling empty. I don’t want to do that for anyone who reads my writing. I love that we have the hope Jesus gives us. And we can pass it along through our words to readers. What a beautiful calling Jesus has given us as writers.
Jeanne, I can’t imagine anyone who reads ANYTHING you write coming away without joyful hope.
Your blog is a brilliant testimony to a heroic heart of faith. Yours.
Andrew, those are some of the kindest words anyone’s ever said to me. Thank you.
Jeanne, the positive side of this is that, by contrast, books like yours can lift readers’ hunger and direction for where they can find true hope for their lives. And I know you’ll express it sensitively in a way that will attract your readers to Christ.
Oh, yes, I’ve seen movies like that. “Broken Flowers”, with Bill Murray…after watching that bit of trash, my wife and I looked at each other with “we didn’t really spend two hours on that” expressions.
And “Hanging Up”, with Meg Ryan and a bunch of other people who should have known better. Ugh.
I also did not care for the filmed adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook”, but my wife loved it. Left me feeling depressed for days; she felt uplifted. Just shows that either men are truly Neanderthals, or women are weird.
The way I see it, the whole point of writing fiction is to give readers hope that there are possibilities both within and beyond this life.
ANything else is both a disservice to God and a betrayal of our fellow Christians (and of the others whom we might otherwise have reached).
For those who want a good, Godly film, I would suggest…Godzilla.
In the first 20 minutes it shows two strong and attractive marriages, and later there is a scene of explicit and strong Christian prayer.
That was really all it needed to give me a feel-good that has lasted a long time.
“Left me feeling depressed for days” … I had to giggle. I have so felt that with some movies. Why did I watch that?! I don’t like movies that leave me disturbed and needing help! 🙂
I haven’t seen Godzilla … I’ll do that. 🙂
Andrew, thanks for the recommendation. We’ll check out Godzilla. I felt that way about the first season of The Last Ship. It portrayed a Christian character with respect, and allowed his “there is a higher purpose in this, and we are here for a reason” world view to influence other characters for good. There is a thread of redemption running through that character’s story and the writers, bless them, didn’t shy away from portraying it with honesty. There was a scene of heartfelt prayer in one episode that nearly had me up and shouting for the thrill of seeing something like that on my television set. Another thing about this show I appreciated was that the story stakes are so high, there is no need to resort to relationship melodrama create conflict. I hope the storytelling quality will continue in season two.
I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and Godzilla on the plane on Saturday. I gave TGBH a “meh” overall, but did quite appreciate Ralph’s Fienne performance (I’m here all week!) But Godzilla was awesome! Holy flaming plumes of blue hydrogen, Batman!
And yes, to see both marriages portrayed so well was unexpected and quite lovely.
On your recommendation, I’ll put Godzilla at the top of my “must see” list, Andrew. And perhaps breaking the typical female-male reaction, I agree with you about the film version of The Notebook. It left me feeling empty. So much feeble attempt at happiness portrayed in Hollywood means great opportunity for Christian writers to show true joy, no matter the character’s circumstances or the nonfiction topic.
Just to make “The Notebook” buzz a bit stranger, I recently read a memoir of Iraqi Freedom, written by a Marine lieutenant who went to Ramadi (center of the very nasty Anbar province) to take over a platoon.
Shortly after arriving, he was walking bast the dayroom, and heard weeping.
When he looked in, he saw that most of his new command was gathered there, watching…yep…”The Notebook”.
Hard to imagine Chesty Puller doing that, but one can never tell.
Andrew, we haven’t seen Godzilla yet. But, I’m adding it to our “must watch” list. My husband will probably appreciate that. 😉
Thank you, Mary. This was so encouraging.
My daughter inspired me for the middle grade work on finding contentment in our circumstances …
I’ve mentioned previously that my daughter is a cancer survivor (she was 13 months old when she had surgery). And it has been a slight struggle through the years dealing with lasting effects of chemo, scars, fear, monitoring her remaining kidney … and reminding my daughter that every little issue proclaims the miracle that she is. Like my daughter, there are many young survivors, grateful for life, but trying to come to terms with their remaining issues, their new “normal.”
In the past few weeks I have been introduced to a number of physical “new normals”, none of them pleasant.
Doesn’t matter. What matters is that in the most trying of circumstances, there is at least one thing worth doing, something that will let the light of Hope shine out, even if you think there’s no one there to see it.
So true, Andrew! And the light of the Lord certainly shines through you. I’m seeing it.
Shelli, only another mom who has been through similar circumstances could empathize with the words from your Mama-heart. To this day, I have difficulty talking about the five years the hospital became our “new normal.”
Praise God, however, for “new normals” and the everlasting hope and peace that only He can bring!
“New Normal” … sounds like a wonderful book title, doesn’t it, Cynthia?! 🙂
We just found out that our oncologist, for all these 13 years, isn’t seeing patients anymore. He’s working more at the university. Why, he’s like family now. My heart broke. 🙁
Shelli, the struggle with lasting effects of that terribly heart-wrenching season is a tough thorn in the flesh. Surely it must also inspire your writing for middle graders. I hope you experience great joy in that.
Beautifully said, Shelli. “New normals” take adjusting to, sometimes over the course of a life time. Your daughter is fortunate to have you to remind her what a miracle she is. I’ll bet that hope comes through in your writing too!
Great reminder and encouragement Mary, and we all need both from time to time. Thank you.
You’re welcome, Lori. I know for myself that in the busyness of the business, I need the reminder once in a while. That film was a stark reminder.
My husband’s favorite movie is Legends of the Fall, I think because he’s got that wild, questioning spirit of the hero. That movie reinforces to my husband the theme of Ecclesiastes and the joy of eternity. For me, that movie is so hopeless I want to scream at the TV, “What about Jesus?” As Christians, we are so blessed to have a hope that is not only beyond this world but infiltrates this world to bring us joy in the everyday. That is what I want coming across in my writing.
Good morning, Sondra. Legends of the Fall was filmed near my hometown, Vancouver. Several family friends were in it, as well as a friend’s vintage cars. The cars used in several scenes were driven by a very close friend, because the owner refused to allow anyone else behind the wheel. The same friend drove us on our wedding day in his 1917 Auburn, but I don’t know if that car was in the film. And yes, Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt were, apparently, very nice people. But no, they weren’t allowed to peel around in Lorne Findlay ‘s cars.
“As Christians, we are so blessed to have a hope that is not only beyond this world but infiltrates this world to bring us joy in the everyday.” That’s it in a nutshell, Sondra. Thanks.
I loved your thoughts about how the hope we have in Jesus strengthens us for today and is something we look forward to on the other side of death. That’s something I always hope to see in a movie too. 🙂
Mary! You could have spent that movie watching time on The Last of the Mohicans! OrGalaxy Quest. Or even Leap Year, eh Jeanne?
Both Out of Africa and The English Patient left me feeling robbed of emotion and sick of heart. While each was visually stunning and brilliantly filmed, the characters had extra-marital affairs that ruined their lives and the lives of those around them. Having had my young life decimated by an affair, I know there’s nothing Oscar worthy about cheating on one’s spouse.
They may have been pretty to watch, but they made me sick.
I want my readers, who are people (not just women) aged 20-65, who want to experience a deep emotional engagement, to come away from reading one of my books a little worn out, a lot more caring, and missing my characters like old friends after an awesome adventure.
“Nothing Oscar worthy” about adultery. . .well said, Jennifer! God is impressing on me the importance of being a Titus 2 woman, teaching younger women to love their husbands and be godly mothers and wives–a theme that can be embedded in our fiction and non-fiction works in progress.
Oh, Jennifer … those movies were so sad. The first movie my hubby and I saw on our first movie date was Out of Africa. We must have been 17. We had no idea it was so long. And too embarrassed to admit a potty break was needed. We quietly and secretly suffered through it. We crack up over that.
Jennifer, you’re so right. Although we’ve seen Last of the Mohicans umpteen times (my husband’s favorite movie), we’ll go back and view it again. Why is that? It isn’t an overtly Christian movie, but the characters display Christian values of what is honorable and good. Just that much may be enough to awaken a hunger in certain readers’ hearts that they didn’t recognized before.
Those are exciting goals for your books, and you’re well on your way to reaching them.
Exactly! The scene in which Duncan knows exactly what he’s done, then says “My compliments, sir. Now take her and get out of here!” .
Total sacrifice, with a complete knowledge of the consequences.
And thank you.
Yes, yes. I still like Leap Year. 🙂 And I love your description of what you want your readers to come away with after reading one of your books. 🙂 I’m looking forward to that privilege one day. 🙂
Mary, I absolutely adored this post! What uplifting, encouraging thoughts! Thank you for reminding us of the incredible ministry God has charged us with.
I have indeed read many books and watched a few movies that left me disillusioned and drained. As a writer I understand and appreciate the value of being well-read, but I’m more discerning now than I used to be when it comes to time-sucks. I’m all about heartwarming (as you know ;)) and I definitely want some everlasting, confident hope at the end of a great read or movie. (Debbie Macomber, Cynthia Ruchti, Beth Vogt–I wish I had enough space!)
I appreciate you, dear Mary! Thank you, and the Books & Such team, for ministering to our weary, hope-seeking hearts!
Good point, Cynthia. At some point many people who’ve thought the world’s perspective is reality, will become disillusioned and drained. Christian books will be there to point them to what they’ve been missing.
Thanks for your kind words. It is an encouragement to all of us on the Books & Such team.
Ann H Gabhart
Thanks for the post, Mary. Only this morning as I “prayer walked” with my dog, I was wondering if what I did was of worth in the spiritual way. I guess the Lord answered me by letting me read your post and be encouraged.
I love how perfect the Lord’s timing is. Ann, there is no doubt your stories and your characters are ministering to your readers spiritually. I’m one of them.
Since having my twin boys (who are now four), and writing for publication, I have had very little time for movies. It’s sad, because I love watching movies and going to the theater. On the rare occasion we hire a sitter, and take the time to see a movie, I have great expectations. Sadly, in the past two years, I have walked away from the theater disheartened and depressed almost every single time.
Your post is so encouraging and timely, Mary. As Christian writers we are given the great responsibility, and honor, to write stories to inspire and uplift. I want people to walk away from my stories feeling hope and life pulsing through their veins. I want their heart to pound with excitement that there is redemption and healing available. Thank you for reminding us why we write.
“…feeling hope and life pulsing through their veins…their heart to pound with excitement that there is redemption and healing available.” Gabrielle, that kind of passion for your readers is sure to guide your writing and ultimately to be reflected in your characters and stories.
Mary, what a inspiring post! Sometimes the world just can’t get the hope on film. It is so important we learn to. For children’s writers there is this fabulous book called, “Yardsticks.” it parallels the development of a child and tells you what to expect at each stage. With an adult audience our yardstick is getting out there and meeting people who are challenged with the theme of our books. We need to feel their pain to write their journey of hope.
“Just can’t get the hope on film” … well said, Michelle.
Michelle, thanks for letting us know about that helpful resource for children’s authors. You are so right. There is no better way to gain insight into a particular adult audience than by “getting out there and meeting people who are challenged with the theme of our books. We need to feel their pain to write their journey of hope.”
Thanks for this post, Mary. I’ve been struggling with this lately, wanting my writing to not only entertain but to convey a deeper spiritual message and wondering how to go about that. You’ve given me some ideas. 🙂
Jenny, I’m glad to hear this was helpful. I so look forward to seeing your books in print and ebook someday soon.
Erin Keeley Marshall
Love this. Thank you.
You’re welcome, Erin.
Preach it, Mary! 🙂 Lord, teach us to number our days, to gain a heart of wisdom, to stay energized and enthusiastic, as we use the gifts and the passion you’ve given us. Guide our words as we endeavor to point readers toward The Word. Amen.
Thank you for that timely prayer, Meghan.
donnie & doggie
I went to see – Home Alone 7: It was supposed to be funny and cute and 90 minutes long.
I was disappointed. It wasn’t funny or cute but it was 90 minutes long.
Hey! 1 out of 3 ain’t too bad for Hollywood.
Mary thanks for this much-needed encouragement, and the practical applications to keep studying and growing. I think too often we get caught in a numbers game and feeling like our writing might not have purpose if it isn’t reaching a certain number. Yet the hope for even one or a few, when it may reach them for eternity, what a calling!
Nebraska starring Bruce Dern left me feeling unsettled.I selected this movie on a flight home and could not stay with it until the end. The main character was in the early stages of dementia, his wife was mean and foul-mouthed. Woody’s son seemed to be a good guy, but he was tied to a job he hated and I saw no hope for a happy future. It was a sad reminder of the lost world we live in with so many people who need Christ and love.
Needed this. Thank you!