As Christian writers, stories offer us a purpose to fulfill on a daily basis, as well as a pastime that refuels our energy. Whether we’re obsessing over choosing the right theme or admiring the protagonist’s grit in our latest read, one of the reasons we’re passionate about fiction is because we know it has the power to irreversibly change lives.
But sometimes we forget that God designed a unique character arc for each of us that predestined when we would meet Him and He’d begin cleansing and shaping us. First Peter 3:15 emphasizes that sharing about God’s transformative work in us is an essential part of witnessing: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
We shouldn’t limit the habit to evangelism, though. Our relationship with God, and the ongoing battle with our fallen nature, can inform our portrayals of “unreal” human beings and the faith they’re either pursuing or running from.
1. Stronger Character Development
Characters who rarely make mistakes are neither compelling nor relatable because every person on this earth has not one but multiple flaws. Even if someone seems to display no vices, it’s likely a façade. But as we strive to craft heroes and heroines who embody truth, we may slip into Sunday-best idealism. One tactic for curbing that is comparing who we used to be with who we are now and acknowledging where we still haven’t stamped out sin.
We need to be vulnerable about our own weaknesses while also remembering that our journeys do not end there. If we spend time reflecting on our own growth, we’ll have a firsthand example of how a character could progress from a negative to a positive state. Answering a list of targeted questions can reveal the complexity of that shift, which originates internally before manifesting outwardly.
- What was my life like before Christ? What did I lack? What longings went unsatisfied? What sins did I commit repeatedly?
- Has anything ever challenged my faith? Have I faced a loss, injury, or illness that made me doubt God? Have I backslid and experienced consequences that led to conviction?
- Have I tried and failed to fix my problems alone? How have my poor choices affected me?
- What finally pushed me to change? What did the process look like?
Introspection has been immensely helpful to me as I’ve fleshed out characters. I’ve realized that the faults we notice in others are often symptoms of a deeper issue, because I tend to deflect attention away from my personal struggles too. That’s enabled me to avoid clichés and shallow representations of suffering. Instead of labeling a character as proud and boastful, I recognize that her behavior is a sign of insecurity. She doesn’t need “knocked down a peg”—she needs to discover her true worth. And in the case of a dark and brooding character, I understand that he’s unable to healthily cope with pain and needs mentoring rather than sunshine pouring down on him.
2. Accurate Portrayals of God
Because God has performed miracles in our souls, we want our stories to illuminate His attributes—without coming across as preachy or forced. But have the moments when we’ve encountered God’s grace ever seemed even remotely cheesy? I’m sure that all of us would be quick to shout no! When we’re having trouble depicting God’s intervention with the magnificence He deserves, our testimonies can provide a template for how He might interact with our characters. Again, self-analysis will generate extra insight.
- What introduced me to God?
- What new meaning has He brought to my life?
- How has He molded me into a better person?
- How has He helped me overcome sin?
- How am I basing my identity in Him?
- When has He given me peace amid chaos?
- When has His love instilled me with hope and confidence?
Whether we cast God as a character or seek to glorify Him through our themes, our relationship with Him will influence our approach. I tend to allude to God subtly and metaphorically, and this exercise equips me to include more nuances of Him in my stories. His holiness is a well of hope for me, and His mercy has healed me innumerable times. No matter what kind of story I’m writing, I can highlight those aspects of God through themes that revolve around hope and mercy.
One of the major distinctions between Christian and secular writers should be truth, as our manifesto declares: “We resolve to infuse our storytelling with truth, being bold and unafraid of our stance while presenting it with love and tact, recognizing that truth in storytelling is best communicated when shown, not told.”
To write effectively, we need to tell honest stories about our world, the people within it, and the God who created it. We can’t spread truth unless we’re already intimately familiar with it, and one of the most valuable sources is our own sanctification. Any circumstance, challenge, or conversation that spiritually impacts us has the potential to inspire readers too, and we can turn it into an opportunity to point them heavenward.
Allison Raymond has been captivated by stories for as long as she can remember. She was only eleven years old when she came to recognize writing as God’s purpose for her life. Although many years have passed since that moment, she has never doubted this purpose. Instead, she chooses to spend her time working hard to make her dream of becoming a published novelist a reality.
Allison grew up in Virginia, Illinois, and Oklahoma. She now lives in Missouri, where she is attending college in pursuit of a degree in Secondary English Education. In the future, she hopes to become a high school English teacher to share her passion for storytelling with aspiring young writers. Currently, she shares this passion on her personal blog and in a large number of her daily conversations.