What are “edgy Christian thriller” books? What do “religious horror novels” have that’s so different than regular books in the horror genre?
Today, we’re going to look at these two interesting sub-genres. We’ll figure out what differentiates edgy Christian thrillers from traditional Christian thrillers. And we’ll dissect the religious horror category and see why and how it differs from traditional horror books.
Edgy Thrillers: What Are They?
Let’s start by defining edgy fiction. I like the definition that Autumn Christian shares in her article, “How to Write Edgy Fiction Without Being Obnoxious.”
The first time you read an edgy piece of fiction, I mean actually edgy, in the way that it makes you think of humanity/the world/yourself in a new light — it changes you on the molecular level. It adds new neural connections in your brain…you know after reading this fiction that nothing will ever be the same again…the understanding of what is possible has changed.
AUTUMN CHRISTIAN, AUTHOR OF ECSTATIC INFERNO
So, if we add “Christian” or “faith-based” into the mix, what do we get? Dark, sometimes twisted thrillers that deal with raw and often very ugly situations and people…but that always includes a focus on hope and the Light that Christians place their faith in.
Edgy Christian Thrillers
Is there a difference between edgy Christian thriller books and traditional Christian thrillers? A little. Here’s the differentiating factor: edgy faith-based thrillers have a tendency to not include some of the regular tropes that Christian thrillers contain. They’re also usually darker and more gritty in terms of subject matter.
It might be a wilderness thriller where cannibalism is involved. An edgy Christian thriller novel might portray incest or polygamy or feature a Christian character with a history of sexual abuse.
That’s not to say that traditional Christian thrillers couldn’t wade into these waters, but it’s less likely.
Christian Horror Books or Religious Horror Novels
“What about Christian horror?” You may wonder if there is such a thing. As a weirdo Christian who loves horror and dark thrillers, I’m answering with a resounding, “yes!”
And I’m not alone.
In The Horror Zine, author Thomas Smith says, “At first glance the words [Christian and horror] seem to go together like jumbo shrimp or controlled chaos; the concept seems to be something of an oxymoron. But on closer examination, the two are more closely entwined than you might think.”
Smith goes on to explain that in many horror books and movies, there are symbols, practices, and nods to the Christian faith. Religious Horror is popular both in books and movies. Think of Poltergeist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose, for instance. Even many of Stephen King’s books and movies contain Christian elements.
Maybe this is because of our innate need to balance out the dark with the light, or our desire to connect with something, or Someone, greater than ourselves.
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
BLAISE PASCAL, PHILOSOPHER AND AUTHOR OF PENSEES
Mike Duran, author of several dark novels and a great nonfiction book, Christian Horror, would agree. Duran states that the term, “Christian horror” doesn’t resonate with him. Marketing anything as “Christian” immediately turns off most non-Christian audiences, Duran explains. Labeling anything “horror” is bound to turn off other audience members.
What’s the Point of Writing Christian Horror or Edgy Christian Thrillers?
The Christian book market is going strong. According to statistics by Statista, religious books generated 593.7 million U.S. dollars in sales revenue in 2018. And though that number fluctuates annually, the site noted that it rarely drops below 540 million dollars.
But is there really a need for gritty, dark, disturbing, sometimes even graphic fiction in this typically squeaky clean genre?
I don’t think I’m the only Christian who hungers for something deeper, rawer, and real, than typical Christian fiction. In fact, though I grew up on it, I’ve stopped reading Christian fiction for the most part. The awkwardly placed prayers, scripture references, and so-sweet-your-teeth-ache characters aren’t my cup of…coffee.
Also, the often forced feeling, “come to Jesus” moments always feel false to me. (Also, they make me wonder who the author thinks is reading the book…personally, I don’t know any non-Christians who read Christian fiction.)
I’m digressing I know…and certainly don’t mean to step on your toes if you’re a fan or author of Christian fiction.
What I’m getting at is that it’s all okay. Squeaky clean Christian novels. Gritty and dark and disturbing books by Christian authors. There is no right or wrong answer. Thankfully we have many genres and subgenres and sub-sub genres, to choose from. As many as there are different types of authors and readers.
What do you think? Are edgy Christian novels, dark Christian thrillers, and Christian horror something that resonates with you or does it make you feel confused or disturbed? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
J.P. Choquette writes thriller books and coaches writers by offering support, systems, and simple writing and marketing plans that can be followed in real life.