Good Characters and Christian Fiction

I’ve shared some ideas about creating engaging characters, ones readers will care about. Now how does that translate into Christian fiction?

The general advice to Christians writing fiction is, write a good story. But then comes the inevitible question: what makes a story Christian?

One answer is that it has Christian characters acting like Christians.

Recently, I found one of my childhood favorites, a book in the Sugar Creek Gang series by Paul Hutchens. I was a little surprised that the book met my expectations—it was well written, painted wonderful characters, and wove Biblical truth into the story without being intrusive.

Maybe by today’s standards it might seem a tad heavy-handed, but I think the WAY Hutchens portrayed the characters is the key.

First is William Collins, from son Bill’s first person point of view:

Then Pop, who, as I told you, is a swell Christian, and is always giving me some good common sense advice which is sometimes hard for me to take, but which is good for me, said, “Remember, every boy has a soul, Bill, and that he needs a Saviour, and sometimes a boy needs a friend, too, before he will become a Christian.”

Later, one of the gang members, Little Jim makes this comment, again relayed to the reader via Bill’s perspective:

Then Little Jim sidled up to me a little closer and whispered something which I knew he must have been thinking about for quite awhile, he being the only one of the Sugar Creek Gang who thought things like that all by himself, and what he said was:

“I’ll bet it’ll be easier to get him to be a Christian now than it was.”

“Get who to become a Christian?” I asked.

And Little Jim didn’t even know he was saying something very important, which any minister might be proud to even think of, and it was, “The thief. Now that he’s stolen and done something kinda big to be sorry for, maybe it won’t take God so long to show him he is a sinner and needs to be saved.” Imagine a little guy like Little Jim being able to think of a thing like that! I knew he’d probably heard his mom or his pop say something like that at home, though, maybe, ’cause it sounded like things I’d heard his pretty mom say before, his mom being a swell Christian as well as the pianist in our church and a music teacher.

Interestingly, once the thief is unmasked in the end, he does NOT become a Christian. Instead these lines in the resolution:

[Little Jim is talking]”Big Jim gave his blood for Bob in Chicago once, and now he is trying to be kind to him, and Bob is still mean … It’s just like what happened in the Bible, I’ll bet, ’cause Somebody gave His blood on the cross for John Till and Bob, and they’re running away from Him, too.”

Earlier, in the midst of a fight, when the gang tries to stop the guy they think is raiding animal traps, this:

Even while I was holding on like a bull dog to that man’s right leg and Circus was holding on o his other leg, and Poetry and Big Jim and Little Jim and Dragonfly were tumbling all over him and getting socked with the man’s fists every now and then before we could get him under control—even while we were doing all that, I was sorry that Little Jim had to be there, ’cause honestly I never heard a man swear so much in my life. The words that came out of that man’s mouth were actually worse to hear than the mud in our barnyard looks in the spring when the ground has begun to thaw out after a long winter.

The swearing was terrible, and if there is anything Little Jim can’t stand any more than anthing else it is to hear anybody swear, on account of Little Jim not only knows it is wrong to swear but he has a special reverence for the Bible and for the One who is the main character in it.

But say it didn’t take us any more than a short jiffy to get that guy down and all of us sitting, and half lying down, on him …

That’s about it. Maybe one or two other references—prayer and morning Scripture reading before breakfast, I think. Singing and prayer to dedicate a new addition in a home.

The point is, these were Christians acting like Christians in the 1940’s would act. The wonderful voice of the protagonist didn’t change into something church-y even as he made the observations about his dad or his friend. It was more matter-of-fact, with a touch of amazement thrown in.

Certainly one option in Christian fiction is to write about Christian characters acting like Christians, who sin and who repent, who are kind and who jump to the wrong conclusions, who help old men and who get in fights with bullies. They are real people who happen to be Christians.

Published in: on October 23, 2006 at 10:26 am  Comments (5)  
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