Too cliche?

Forums Fiction Characters Too cliche?

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    Hope Ann

    A fairly focused question here for the newsletter (from an author by the name of Victoria) but I thought you guys might have some unique input I haven’t thought of.

    In my current story, the main character is dying and I’ve been struggling with writing Christianity into it. If he either has faith, and then loses it, or has no faith but becomes a Christian before he dies, does that seem too cliche? Are there other options that I might use?

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.

    Sam M

    I feel like either of those options can be done well. The character could also go back and forth for most of the story before coming to a solid decision. Or maybe he goes from being an atheist, to believing in a religion that isn’t Christianity and then realizes that religion doesn’t work and eventually comes to believe in Jesus. Maybe he’s searching for the truth, but ends up working through a lot of false worldviews before coming to Christ.

    Another interesting thing that you could do with a story, is explore why the character believes what he believes. Is he a Christian because he doesn’t want to go to hell or because he wants a relationship with Jesus? Is he an atheist because he struggles with reconciling a sinful world with a good Creator or because it’s just what his family believes and what he was taught?

    I think the author could make any of those ideas work. In the end, whether the story is cliche or not may be more dependent on how it’s written.

    Sarah Inkdragon

    Both are rather broad questions that can be taken a number of ways, either cliche or not. On one hand, it really depends on the kind of story you want to tell and the theme. Losing faith towards the end is a rather desolate outlook on a novel, but it could be a good way to showcase the effects of living without Christ, and the human sin nature and depravity. However having a character gain faith before he dies could be done a number of ways, but it might be a bit harder to balance than the other option to make sure it’s not cliche.

    Reasoning is a big part. If a character suddenly decides to become a Christian with little deep emotion or logic behind it, he will not be rooted in the decision or in his faith. That’s one reason why revivalist preaching can be so harmful in some ways – it gives people a taste for faith and Christ, and a want, but leaves them without direction. With no one to turn to or teach and help them, and no real knowledge of the Bible, they become confused and often end up hating God and renouncing their new-found faith. Lack of depth is a large problem with what we call “Modern Christianity” in my opinion, and a great source of the lack of quality in Christian media, arts, and reputation. A person must have some real, genuine reason for wanting to believe and trust in Christ. It doesn’t have to be perfect at first – he might just be afraid of death and want some kind of comfort of what will happen when he dies. But after that initial want, the faith must progress, and that’s what makes it strong. Having a character suddenly gain faith right before he dies is difficult because there is little room for growth or progression, and that makes the faith seem shallow and only because the person is dying. We as the audience feel that if the character were not dying, he would not care about his faith and wouldn’t believe.

    Curing that shallow appearance is… difficult, but worth it. One approach could be having the character be attracted to the idea of Christianity all throughout the novel, but unsure about actually proclaiming it as his core belief. It is extremely difficult for a person to come to terms with the fact that they were wrong, and that their belief must change. We are a prideful people, after all. Having that baseline want to study and learn about Christianity, the intrigue and curiosity, will help your character start to change his beliefs and cultivate a learning mind. Eventually, he may come to the point in which all logic and emotion points to Christ, and all he must do is value his salvation and faith over his pride.

    Another approach would be denial. A character might have been raised to understand faith and Christianity, but might be in denial because of something that happened or simply because he is young and doesn’t care. He might feel like the existence of God can’t be justified with all the evil in the world, or he might just feel like he is young and has all the time in the world, he doesn’t need to worry about death and life and understanding right now. Many young people are careless in this manner, it’s not that far out of the box. He might not like the idea of Christianity, he might not want to have to hold himself to a higher standard(as plenty of people do not like). He might see it as a set of “rules” and not really care because he might not consider himself to be a “bad person”. Many people consider themselves to be “good” because they haven’t stole anything, or killed someone, or are nice to people. But that’s not what makes someone/thing “good” according to God(even though, we are not good, not really).

    The most important thing in my opinion would be to get him thinking. A thinking person is one who will question their beliefs, their thoughts, actions, their life, their existence, and most importantly: why everything is the way it is. They will set aside prejudice or favoritism, even what they have been taught, to consider all the angles. Most people never think in this way, but the best of Christianity is built from questioning and seeking answers.  Anyhow – try to challenge his beliefs, and not just with “but that’s wrong because so-and-so says so”, or even “because the Bible says so”. Non-christians don’t view the Bible or God as an authority, they won’t accept it’s authenticity. Many times you must challenge them on terms they can understand and rationalize in their own minds.

    I heard a story once that a pastor(I cannot remember his name, it was a rather well-known older fellow) met some young women who claimed to be Wiccans(or some sort of similar religion) in an airport. He asked them what that meant, and what their values were. One of the women responded that Wiccans “celebrate all life”. So the pastor then said, “So, you must be pro-life then?” Not surprisingly, they responded with no. The pastor didn’t give them a lecture or a sermon, merely left them with something to think about that contradicted their beliefs. And sometimes that can be the beginning of God prompting someone to look deeper beyond what they think they know. You can’t force someone to accept Christ, after all, only encourage and help them when they need it. Anyhow – questions like that, making people think, and allowing your character to question himself and his views is what can really help faith seem more authentic. Sorry for the rant, but I hope it helps! 😉

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

    Taylor Clogston

    It sounds like you’re squeezing a very important element into a story where you made no room for it. If your character’s faith is so unimportant that you don’t even know what he’s supposed to believe or what he should end up believing, you’re not doing God, the story, or yourself any favors by shoving Christianity into it.

    When you use either of these options without giving them the support and consideration they deserve throughout the story, they’ll fall into whatever easy ideas come to your mind and probably be nothing but cliches. You’ll avoid cliche regardless of whatever option you choose by making the event one large piece of a larger whole. For example, Crime and Punishment is a conversion narrative, but Christianity is only one large facet of the protagonist’s repentance and worldview shift.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

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