Monday, August 10, 2009
This past weekend I had the privilege and honor to be the keynote speaker for the wonderful writers, authors and poets of FaithWriters. It was so satisfying to hear people say they had learned much, and would be implementing many of the ideas and tools I gave them. I think the best part, however, was meeting new friends, and hearing how God was at work in the lives of others. I also enjoyed the opportunity to sit in on a few workshops given by other writers, and to hear Deb Porter give an interesting talk on the trends in the publishing industry of late. It's exciting to see God using others, and calling so many talents into his service!
We've all seen so many "Hollywood" Christians who are not genuine, or hypocritical, that it was a joy to give a workshop on "Creating Characters Strong in Faith." I think I"ll just give a really brief recap of some of the points of that teaching, since I know that many of you who follow this blog are writers:
FROM MY NOTES:
1. Writing a Christian Character Begins with Writing for the Lord.
Get with God and decide what your goals are for writing. Who is your audience? What message do they need to hear? Why are you writing this book? Are you convinced God is calling you to write? Having the answers to these questions will go far in giving you assurance and focus in your writing. Don't try to write a book for the whole world--that's impossible. Narrow your focus to the target audience you must reach, and write for that audience.
2. Writing a Strong Christian Character Requires BEING a Christian Character! You may be able to create all kinds of characters in your fiction without actually walking a mile in their shoes, but you will never be able to articulate properly the nuances of a personal walk with God, unless you are involved in one. How is your relationship with Christ? My characters can have experiences with the Lord that mimic things I've actually experienced in my walk with Him. Faking it will most likely end up giving your protagonists a wooden feel, rather than the ring of authenticity needed to make readers resonate and identify with him or her.
3. Writng a Christian Character Means Writing a Real Person--Flaws and All
Don't even think that a Christian character needs to be perfect--that would be fiction, indeed.
The only perfect person was Jesus Christ. You can give them the desire to be perfect in some way--this is human. But trying to make them superior to others will only come across as pomposity or hypocrisy. Having said that, however, do try to demonstrate that most Christians are sincere in their desire to grow in Christ; to be useful and helpful in life; to share with others the enormity of the love and grace they've found in the Lord; and to make themselves vessels of His love. Hollywood loves to portray Christians as less intelligent beings, or hypocrites. Use your writing as a chance to set the record straight. Are Christians perfect? By no means. But we haven't left our brains at the door, either.
Perfect Timing!: I JUST NOW got this email from a reader. This underscores the importance of drawing your characters as real people. This is what she said: "
I just had to drop you a line to thank you for Before the Season Ends! Such a joy to read! I get increasingly frustrated with the majority of Christian fiction's tendency towards predictable storylines, one-dimensional characters and sappy prose. Imagine my surprise when I found a book that not only spoke to my "Jane Austen soul" but had an engaging plot and a heroine that was neither a blameless saint nor a fiery bombshell that took offense at the least little thing but rather an all-together likable character. Thanks for the inspiration and, please, keep them coming!" C. Webb
4. To Write a Strong Christian Character, Write a Character-Driven Story.
Writers who craft plot-driven fiction seem to have a greater challenge creating believable protagonists. Ask yourself: Is my character taking actions that I need him or her to do simply to forward the plot? Or is their action a result of who they are, of their character? Just as you have goals as a writer, and a person, give your fictional people goals of their own. In addition to driving the plot, they can behave "in character," and not drive your reader nuts by doing things that don't jive with who they are. Personally, I can't finish reading a book if the protagonist acts like a plot-device instead of like a real human being. Don't let your creations fall into that trap!
5. To Write a Strong Christian Character, Write a Strong Character!
The bottom line in character creation is giving your protagonist individuality. This can take the form of quirks, eccentricities, passions that are inordinately strong for one reason or another--anything that makes them stand out of the crowd. Yes, you want them to be "real" which means, in some sense, ordinary. But never write them as ordinary! Our first view of your main character should include the extraordinary thing about them. How are they different? Why should we want to read about them? What is their problem? Get this done quickly so our interest is piqued right away.
My only caution in this regard is that you need to avoid OVER-doing it. Don't make someone ALL good or ALL bad. People are rarely black and white. The villain who is all bad comes off like a cartoon character. Eccentricities are great, extremes are dangerous.
There are many, many ways to write good characters, just as there are nearly endless workings of human nature. If you can't seem to write a real human being, who readers will see as living and breathing, go back to your goals. Get your goals straight, both for you as a writer, and for the protagonists in your book. Then, aim for that goal. Be sure to fill the path with lots of obstacles and road-blocks--believable ones, of course--and enjoy the journey!
Strong characterization takes a great deal of energy and focus, but the end result is a work that you can be proud of, and which will glorify your Lord.
photo courtesy of Lynda Schab, FaithWriter, fellow ACFW member, and lovely friend.