Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 4

Thanks to each of you who stopped at the Lost Genre Guild to check out yesterday’s interview. Not that I revealed any little-known secrets. But I do enjoy talking about fantasy and Christian SFF in particular, whether it’s the story end of the subject or the business/marketing end.

Which reminds me. We are starting the October CSFF Blog Tour on Monday. Have I mentioned that I LOVE blog tours? 😉

By way of preview, I’ll mention that I’ll be holding a contest in conjunction with Mirtika Schultz, especially for writers. You’ll need to check back here Monday for the details. Plan on saving yourself some reading time, too, because the tour is best when you experience all of it, making the rounds of the other bloggers participating. I know—not always possible, but maybe if you know ahead of time …

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Good characters in Christian fiction—books geared more for the general market than for an exclusively Christian audience.

For me, I think the key trait needed is authenticity. That’s not revolutionary. Most readers say, Of course. Most writers say, How? How do we show Christian characters as distinct in a novel that isn’t set in a Christian community? How do we keep from showing our non-Christian characters as potential notches on the cover of an evangelist’s Bible?

My answer to those questions is not particularly profound: We show these characters in the same manner we relate with real-life people.

For example, when I’m with a group of non-Christians, I sometimes feel a tension, wondering if I should say something about my faith. Let your characters experience such tension.

Sometimes I’ve passed up open doors, when the opportunity to talk about God fit naturally in the conversation and I clammed up, then felt guilty as a result. Let your characters experience such guilt.

I’ve had times when I opened the door to discuss spiritual things by answering the “what do you do” question with, I write Christian fantasy.” (Or in the past, “I teach in a Christian school). A good number of those times, that answer was a conversation killer and I’ve felt like a failure. Let your characters feel like failures.

The unifying factor in all these examples—and I think it applies to lots of other areas, not just making the character’s Christianity known—is the thought life of the character. To authentically show how a Christian interacts with the world at large, the writer needs to show the character grappling with the circumstances before him in light of his overarching desire to please God.

A second avenue to create an authentic character is to show non-Christians reacting to this religious nut. Do they mock him? Then how does he react? Do they isolate him? Make snide remarks? (“Oh, right, you can’t come on Sunday because of your church thing. Hey, we do our share of praying, too, but so far the golf gods aren’t listening.”) Or maybe they grill him. (“So, what’s it like to sleep with only one woman?”)

A third path is to show the Christian character doing what real Christians do—sinning and repenting, accepting forgiveness, enjoying restoration. I’m thinking specifically with other characters here, Christian or non-Christian. Sure, he can repent before God in prayer, too, but I think forgiving and being forgiven are distinctives that Christians should demonstrate, so why not Christian characters?

A final manner that a writer can use to show a Christian character in an authentic way is to show how he treats others—people he doesn’t know. Does he use them? Or serve them? Does he look down on the down-and-outers or does he lift them from the gutter? Does he favor the rich or does he treat them as berift of what they need for life and Godliness?

This is not exhaustive, I’m sure. It’s a peek at creating characters who we force into circumstances that test them, not only as detectives or journalists or students or secret agents or artists, but as believers in Jesus Christ.

What does their faith mean to them? How does it affect their daily lives? Is it as important as their job? Their girlfriend? The upcoming business meeting?

In other words, how do their core values rise to the surface?

And, by the way, each character should be different.

Published in: on October 27, 2006 at 11:21 am  Comments (2)  

2 Comments

  1. I think this goes along great with what Brandilyn’s been saying this week. A character needs to be authentic in any way you write them: what they eat, how they respond, what they do for fun – whether the character is Christian or not.

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  2. Jason, I think one of Brandilyn’s posts gave me the idea to add to my Characters series. I realized we writers talk a lot about portraying characters realistically, but rarely do we discuss what a Christian character should look like in juxtaposition to a non-Christian character.

    Yes, they all do need to be authentic, but what exactly distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian? An unrealistic picture of a Christian can make such a character either too pious or too indifferent to spiritual things. It’s important to find the balance, but as I mentioned in that last line, the characters have to differ from each other, even as real-life Christians differ from each other.

    Becky

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