Christian book tropes

TV Tropes doesn’t have a page for Christian books and what their tropes are. So I’ll take it upon myself to collect and list them. This is a work in progress, so if you know of a trope that wasn’t listed here, mention it in a comment and I’ll add it!

Aliens. There are no aliens, only Nephilim.

Alien planets. These are not allowed. If humans aren’t on Earth, how would God find them for the Rapture?

Altar-call Ending. Sometimes this ending is the reason the book was written in the first place. The Hero goes to a Church/Chapel/Cathedral, kneels before the altar, and accepts the Christ-figure with a fantasy-ized version of the Sinner’s Prayer. Usually this is directed straight at the reader.

Angels. Winged musclemen in white robes who fly around with fiery swords, beating down demons. See This Present Darkness. Occasionally an angel will appear as a smiling young man in a white shirt who mysteriously helps the hero or dispenses advice, then vanishes. This is sometimes confusing, because the Christ-figure does the same thing.

The Antichrist. According to Revelation, this is some dude who gets possessed by Satan and becomes the One World Leader. At first he’s good, then he turns bad and starts chopping off heads (of Christians). The ultimate big bad, most Christian books wind up trying to prevent his rising or fight him when he comes. See Left Behind.

Armor of God. This is a physical suit of armor that represents the one in Ephesians–the Helmet of Salvation, the Belt of Truth, and so on. The Sword of the Spirit and the Shield of Faith are usually the most important parts. Commonly seen in post-apocalyptic stories.

The Bad Girl. This is the harlot/tramp/whore who exists only to tempt the Hero from his path of righteousness. She only cares about her own pleasure. We’re treated to graphic descriptions of her entire body except her breasts. She usually works for the Antichrist.

The Bible. This is called anything but the Bible. The Book of Light, the Holy Book, the Holy Writings, the Sacred Scriptures. But it’s always the Bible and grants either obscure knowledge or superpowers. Expect clumsily-reworded Bible verses.

Breasts. No woman has these. We might be told that she has some nice “assets”, or that she wore a shirt that showed off her chest. But breasts, as we know them, do not exist. Perhaps women in Christian fiction have udders instead.

Christian Community
. Run by wise, sincere male elders (the wise sincere females are allowed to counsel younger women). They are 100% sure of every doctrine. This usually includes :
– Pacifism, they won’t fight the Anti-Christ’s forces with a weapon, although they may sometimes knock a baddie out, provided they are suitably sorry for it afterward.
– Guidance, they know exactly how God will guide Hero 4 chapters later.
– End Times, they know exactly what God has planned, even better than Jesus did in the Gospels.

NB there may be a Baddie among the wise, sincere male elders, but he will be completely undetected, despite the most obvious give-aways. – Submitted by Malcolm

The Chosen One. This is a kid, or a guy, who goes on a quest to find the lost artifacts, or the birthright, or the sage, or something, that will help him defeat the Big Bad. See Antichrist.

The Chosen One’s story is “yet another medieval setting with overt Christian allegories during the tale of [an] orphan who turns out to be the lost son of royalty about whom there is an ancient prophecy that he will defeat evil and bring peace.” -E.S. Burnett, Speculative Faith

Christ-figure. There is always one of these. He might be a man in a white robe, or he might be a lion or some other sacred animal. He shows up to give the Hero advice, help the Hero when the Hero has reached his lowest point, or in rare cases, actually do something interesting like swing the battle in the good guys’ favor. In other words, the Christ-figure is a literal deus ex machina.

Death. An unpleasant way for the hero and supporting cast to go hang out with the Christ-figure.

Demons. Insidious beings of pure evil. They appear as either patches of living darkness (see the Vashta Nerada) or as scaly lizard-like beings that breathe out sulfur fumes through long fangs. They can also appear only as a whisper in the hero’s ear telling him what a failure he is. Demons can only be slain by angels and occasionally good Dragons. Occasionally the most devout Chosen One can exorcise them.

Dragons. Most dragons are evil because they represent Satan. Some dragons, however, swing too far the other direction and are just dinosaurs with spikes and sometimes wings. Sometimes, you might meet a dragon that is the traditional fantasy type, breathes fire and has wings. But these are hard to find.

The Future. Christian science fiction can’t look too far ahead because of the Rapture and the Antichrist. There’s no future past that.

God. Generally a caricature of the Christian God, God is a distant deity who sits in heaven and allows bad things to happen to people to make them come to a better relationship with Him. Sometimes God answers prayers or resurrects someone, or heals a wound at a crucial moment. There will usually be a conversion scene where the Chosen One, guided by the Christ-figure, will come to believe in God. Then the Chosen One will get all kinds of Divine Power and beat down the bad guys with it. God is a Deus ex machina.

Heaven. A glowy gold place with lots of light and people who have already crossed over. The hero’s murdered parents/girlfriend/grandparents/best friend are always shown hanging out here, waiting for the hero to encounter Death and join the party.

Magic. There are only two kinds of magic: Holy and Demonic. Because all magic comes from God or Satan. There is no neutral magic, and thus no neutral magical practitioners, even in high fantasy worlds with otherwise standard fantasy rules. Good magic is only used for healing and defense, making everyone either a Paladin or a Cleric. Black magic is used for mind control, summoning demons, and other, far more interesting things.

Magic can also come from Science. Science magic is basically a superpower, like increased magnetism, or super-developed brain lobes to allow telekinesis or telepathy. This kind of magic squeaks past the Occult-radar because it’s more like Spiderman.

Miracles. These take the place of magic spells. Characters offer a token prayer, then fling miracles around at their own whims. – NewburyDave

Monsters. Monstrous creatures are always 100% bad, whether they’re genetically engineered, part human, or anything in between. Monsters seem to ascribe to the action movie school of thought, where everything and its brother is out to single-mindedly eat the hero.

Nephilim. These are half-human, half-fallen-angel people. There are no aliens, elves, mermaids, dwarves, or any other fantasy race. There are only Nephilim. They can be tall and handsome with pointy ears, or tall and ugly, or tall with big round eyes like aliens. They can be any combination of man and animal (man + horse, man + goat, man + fish). The Rephaim and the Anakim are almost never mentioned.

The Pure Girl. This girl is the Right Choice for the Chosen One. She’s kind, helpful, supportive, and never thinks about sex. She is the Proverbs 31 Woman. If the hero is not saved, the Pure Girl will show him the error of his sinful ways and guide him to repentance.

The Rapture. The only future allowed to Christians. This is when God returns to Earth and vacuums up all the Christians, leaving behind all the bad people for judgement. This is when the Antichrist takes over. Usually has elements of an Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by seven years of Ultimate Revenge Fantasy.

Satan. The original mustache-twirling villain, always out to take over the world. Satan is always behind every bad thing happening, no matter how fantastic the world.

Sex. This is only allowed if it’s part of a character’s backstory and involves rape or some kind of abuse. Sometimes, depending on the publisher, the abuse can be very graphic. This is so the heroine can be Saved by God later in the book, and learn to love the Chosen One. Love scenes between two married people are never as graphic as the abuse scenes.

Snakes. See dragons.

Villains. Often the villain is the most likeable character in the whole book. He may be a misguided rogue, waiting for the Christ-figure to show him the error of his ways.

Or he is a psychopath, possessed by Satan or a demon, bent entirely on destruction.

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19 thoughts on “Christian book tropes

  1. Haha that is so funny. I never thought about this stuff before. Udders??? I almost fell out of my chair.
    You are so funny I don’t know how you come up with this stuff. How are the kiddos? Well/sick?
    Okay break over back to work. 🙂 Thanks for the laugh.

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  2. “Holy and Demonic. Because all magic comes from God or Satan. There is no neutral magic, and thus no neutral magical practitioners, even in high fantasy worlds with otherwise standard fantasy rules. Good magic is only used for healing and defense, making everyone either a Paladin or a Cleric. Black magic is used for mind control, summoning demons, and other, far more interesting things.”

    *clap* Magic in storytelling is a huge topic on its own, but the workaround of ‘hey, the hero’s using magic given from God!’ has always frustrated me. Magic can never just be a cool thing that’s part of a fictional world, no no. Eesh, I’ll stop now before I go much further with that.

    Good post, though. Highlighting many a reason as to why I can’t stand Christian fiction. As for things you missed, would the physical manifestation of the Armor of God count? I’ve seen that come up several times, especially in relation to post-apocalyptic stories.
    That, or the troubled sibling that reaches their darkest moment just as the hero is getting their life together. Perfect opportunity to use their newfound courage to pull their loved ones out and have an altar call scene(maybe for the second time!).

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that if it ain’t human, it’s downright evil. Have a race of creatures? They’re all bad. I suppose it’s an abject fear that the reader might connect to a character that isn’t human, and thus, the human message is lost. Doesn’t come up as often as other things, but applicable nonetheless.

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  3. Cyphir: Does the “Nephilim” entry cover the “other evil races” idea? I added your Armor of God trope. I have seen that done, I just forgot about it. 🙂

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  4. Mmm, I suppose it does. I was speaking more on a general level (IE, ‘dragons’ might just be evil dragons, not Nephilim), but they’re already so similar. Probably not worth adding a second entry.

    Not sure if this counts as an in-story trope, but one thing I see _constantly_ is ‘The Homage.’ Otherwise known as ‘taking a groundbreaking, excellent Christian story and reimagining for today!’ I see this constantly with Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and more often than not, they’re really bad rip-offs.

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  5. SO TRUE. With little exception. It’s the novels that break away from those tropes, or use them differently that really stand out.

    As I said on Facebook, I THINK the Spirit Flyer series (The Magic Bicycle) breaks away from that a little, and it’s very dark at times, but I can’t remember enough of the series to be sure.

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  6. And here is the post! Cool. I haven’t actually read enough Christian fiction to know too many tropes. I think a few things on this list are there because they work, just like some of the traditional fantasy tropes get used over and over because fans demand them (elves with bows and arrows, anyone?), but others are pretty annoying. Like dragons–WHY must they be evil??? Dragons are so cool!

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  7. Altar-Call Ending (includes breaking the fourth wall to preach directly at the reader; after all, the only reason for writing the stuff in the first place is Witnessing/Soul-Winning).

    Rapture — the only Future Christians are permitted to have (any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…). Usually has elements of an Ultimate Escape Fantasy followed by seven years of Ultimate Revenge Fantasy.

    And the four tropes of Christianese SF:
    1) NO aliens (except for angels and — especially — demons).
    2) No semihuman/genetic constructs (except evil & demonic).
    3) NO stories set off Earth (because if we’re off-world, God won’t be able to find us for The Rapture; besides, it would invalidate all the End Time Prophecy choreographies).
    4) NO stories set more than twenty minutes into the future (because The World Is Ending Any Minute Now and It’s All Gonna Burn).

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  8. Hmm, According to my understanding a Trope is something that is so trite, from over-usage, that it is likely to get your story/writing branded as ridiculous. I assume that you are looking at the Christian Booksellers Association books and stories for your source material.

    I’d say this is a good initial list of some of the more egregious stereotypical plot devices that have made CBA fiction sort of a laughing stock in some portions of our culture. Based on the discussion here I think that it might be a useful exercise to set up a forum for discussion/working group of Christian Authors to refine it and expand it further. Then that group could publish their list for the Christian author community much like the Turkey City writers group did with the famous ‘Turkey City Lexicon.’

    IMHO you may attract more American Booksellers Association authors to this (those of us who intentionally try to write for the secular market [Assymetric Evangelism]) than CBA writers; but who knows, some of the tropes you mention have become so ridiculous that even some of our CBA siblings may want to get into the discussion.

    I’d say you’ve been hit by a spark of inspiration on this my sister. I may add this blog , or whatever forum you use, to the recommended Anomalous Sandbox references.

    Write on Sis

    SGD
    dave

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  9. I wish your list wasn’t so accurate. But truth often hurts.
    Can I add:
    Christian Community.
    Run by wise, sincere male elders (the wise sincere females are allowed to counsel younger women). They are 100% sure of every doctrine. This usually includes :
    – Pacifism, they won’t fight the Anti-Christ’s forces with a weapon, although they may sometimes knock a baddie out, provided they are suitably sorry for it afterward.
    – Guidance, they know exactly how God will guide Hero 4 chapters later.
    – End Times, they know exactly what God has planned, even better than Jesus did in the Gospels.

    NB there may be a Baddie among the wise, sincere male elders, but he will be completely undetected, despite the most obvious give-aways.

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  10. “Occasionally an angel will appear as a smiling young man in a white shirt who mysteriously helps the hero or dispenses advice, then vanishes. This is sometimes confusing, because the Christ-figure does the same thing.”

    This is actually a standard urban legend format — “Jesus On The Road”, a variant of The Vanishing Hitchhiker. In the archetypal Jesus-on-the-Road, a driver picks up a hitchhiker (just as in the typical Vanishing Hitchhiker). Hitchhiker “Witnesses(TM)” to him (usually about End Time Prophecy) and near the end reveals himself as a supernatural being (usually the Angel Gabriel) and disappears — usually with a parting prophecy along the lines of “HE is Coming Soon!” This legend usually gets attached to a particular stretch of local road, with the postscript that drivers along that road now do NOT stop for anything.

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    1. Headless Unicorn Guy: RE: Vanishing hitchhiker, I think that’s why the trope is so old and tired when you meet it in fiction. Sometimes it can be done well, I suppose. No actual books come to mind where it is. In GOOD books, a crucial message is always delivered by another character, or someone about to become a major character. A message-bearer doesn’t just appear and vanish in fiction because that’s just plain bad writing.

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  11. “Another thing I’ve noticed is that if it ain’t human, it’s downright evil. Have a race of creatures? They’re all bad. I suppose it’s an abject fear that the reader might connect to a character that isn’t human, and thus, the human message is lost.”

    After all, you don’t want to be one of those FURRIES (TM), do you?

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  12. Incredibly Sharp Delineation Between Good and Evil
    There are typically two groups, one good, one evil; and it’s usually terribly obvious which is which. There might be a good person in the evil group or an evil person in the good group, but even then it’ll be obvious. Moral complexities and “grey areas” do not exist, and the evil group will typically not have a justification for their actions other than “They’re evil, therefore they are evil”, or else a really weak one.

    The Chosen One vs. The World
    It seems the entire world is out to get the Chosen One, and if a person isn’t Saved(TM), they might as well be a sock puppet for Satan. There is no goodness in any Unsaved(TM) person’s heart, nor any inclination to Do The Right Thing.

    It’s All About Sex
    When it comes to Sin, it’s usually about sex. Thievery, lying, fraud, etc. are rarely explored. Maybe people in Christian books just don’t get enough of the sweet stuff (or else the authors aren’t)

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  13. Does the raging bitter atheist count on this list (see God’s Not Dead)? I give up on a book/movie the minute that guy shows up. It’s just not worth it.

    Good list though. It made me smile. As a Christian who writes fiction, this is why I mostly read secular fiction. It’s a less painful experience.

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