Christian writers who want to involve God as a character in their stories face an ongoing struggle. We’re acutely aware of how monumental the endeavor is, so we hesitate. If we’re too bold and dive in without forethought, we may make mistakes that mislead readers. But if we’re too timid, we risk tiptoeing around the real source of story, beauty, and truth—God Himself.
Despite being the most prevalent health condition in the United States, mental illness causes a devastating sense of isolation in the victim. That’s why those readers need characters they can empathize with—to remind them that they’re not alone and inspire them to push through dark moments. However, misrepresenting mental illness can be far more harmful than avoiding the topic altogether, as Netflix’s adaptation of 13 Reasons Why demonstrates. The month after the show’s premiere, youth suicides increased by 28.9 percent.
“Help you, I will.” As soon as you read those words, I bet an image of Yoda from Star Wars popped into your head. Every writer hopes that their characters’ voices will be just as unique and unforgettable. When characters lack recognizable verbal tics, conversations may flow together and confuse readers, especially if dialogue tags are scarce. In contrast, a distinct voice can be identified without any attribution at all. But when you’re balancing a wide assortment of characters, how do you make all of them sound different?
Although the wide range of dialects that exist in reality may not be useful in every fictional setting, a solid understanding of how a person’s environment affects their vocabulary can help you craft unique voices even in the most fantastical story worlds. As you begin to refine this aspect of your characters, you’ll achieve the best results if you keep three guidelines in mind.
Every human perspective has value, but some are second nature to writers while others are more unfamiliar and intimidating to explore. That isn’t an excuse to exclude characters who are in different life stages than us, however. As Christian storytellers, our goal is to represent the full spectrum of the human experience, no matter how tricky it can be.
I’ve noticed a growing and concerning trend among writers when they’re developing a cast of characters. In an effort to make a protagonist memorable, they slap on a unique, edgy, and complex moniker and call it a day. The conviction that names carry more significance than just a pretty string of letters has been lost.
The newest character who’s taken up residence inside your mind is a vibrant being with compelling desires and deep emotions. But the instant you pluck him out and flatten him onto a page, he becomes limper than wet cardboard. You love this character. So how do you pump blood into his paper veins?
Killing a side character isn’t bad storytelling. But some writers (particularly those in the fantasy genre) tend to rely on death to catalyze character growth, which makes it predictable. Even worse, it trivializes the loss of a human being. As Christian authors, our stories ought to preserve and emphasize the value of life, and we can’t do that if we’re crucifying characters purely to keep the plot moving.
Back in 2012, I started writing my first fantasy/sci-fi novel. I chatted about the characters with my friends, enjoyed coming up with scads of different plot lines, and experimented with all kinds of tropes and techniques. But despite the effort I went to, my manuscript stayed in a constant state of flux. Beta readers, though quick to offer support and encouragement, couldn’t tell me why. Not until year five did I begin to see the truth.
Have you ever been writing a scene or chapter and something felt wrong? In the moment, you couldn’t name a specific detail that needed to be added, removed, or changed. That’s because singling out a problem as you’re pouring ideas onto the page is almost impossible. But even after you finished, you were still dissatisfied.