Christian fiction can be a complicated genre to tackle. In many books, the characters are thought of as too legalistic to the point they have no personalities, while in others, the character are deemed too edgy. How can authors of Christian fiction instead go about writing realistically flawed characters who still lead the reader on a Christ-centered journey?
Remember, We All Fall Short… And Mistakes = Conflict
First and foremost, let’s establish the ground rule: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23, KJV
What does this mean? Basically, that no one who has ever walked this earth, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is perfect. Not. A. One.
Again, not a single human obeys God’s every commandment perfectly day in and day out and avoids all sin. If you think you do… go back and read your Bible, sweetie. All have sinned.
Now that we’ve established the ground rule, let’s talk about why Romans 3:23 applies to writing Christian characters. The reason is that so many Christian authors seem to forget this verse altogether and write characters that are the perfect Christians. They never swear, not even an innocent “shoot” or “dang”. They are never tempted by anything. They pray at all the right times and never, ever question God. They can recite the entire Bible forwards and backwards, and in three different languages.
What’s wrong with that? They’re not real. By biblical definition, they’re not real. And we’re doing a major disservice to both Christian and non-Christian readers by portraying Christian characters this way. Not only does it portray the lie that Christians’ lives are perfect, but it could essentially turn new Christians, or people who are interested in learning more about God, away from pursuing God because they feel they can’t live up to those unattainable standards.
Instead, Christian characters should be written as flawed humans who strive to abide in God’s will, but who mess up from time to time. For example, in the film Grace Unplugged, Grace was raised as a Christian and knew the consequences of living in sin; however, she lusted after a lucrative career in music to the point she turned against her parents, grew distant from God, and fell into sin so she could “advance” in her career. Eventually, through encouragement by a fellow Christian she meets among the mess she’s in, Grace finds redemption and healing through Christ.
This scenario represents the reality of Christianity: portraying how we fall short, and God picks us backup again when we seek His help.
But, Use Discretion When Tackling Tough Topics
Here’s where writing for the Christian market gets tricky. We just covered that in order for Christian characters to be realistically relatable that they must mess up… but how much of the snares of sin should we show?
This, my friend, is an issue that you and God should sort through. Prayerfully consult Him on the issue you would like to write about. There, and only there, will you find your answer. God equips those H’s called to tackle the issues He’s assigned to us, so His opinion is the only one that should matter.
That being said, may I forewarn you that Christian fiction can be a difficult genre to write for content-wise. Some readers, like myself, prefer a more honest representation of the world (and people) in Christian fiction, while others prefer to “escape the fallen world” and commune with characters that don’t stray too far (or at all) from God. The amount of “negative” content you write into fiction is between you and God. Try not to let readers influence you to sway one way or another on the spectrum. Instead, utilize the discretion God equips you with and write what He lays on your heart. If you are writing for the glory of God, He will use the negative parts or truths of your story as a learning opportunity for readers. Just trust Him.
The Gray Areas
Can Christian Characters Question God?
The short answer is yes. Most people question God in some way or form, even after they’re saved, so having your character struggle with coming to terms with something they perceive as negative that God allowed to happen can be not only a teaching moment for those who are new to Christianity, but also a loving reminder to Christians who are more mature in their faith. Fantastic examples of “the God-questioning struggle” can be found in Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time sries, as well as the Purple Moon series by Tessa Emily Hall.
Do All Characters in Christian Fiction Have to Be Christian?
The short answer here is no. This is an aspect of Christian fiction where I find many books fall flat. There are so many books on the Christian fiction shelves that either feature an entire cast of Christian characters, or feature one non-Christian character who is, in most cases, the antagonist. For this, I implore authors of Christian fiction to people watch in the real world. I, for one, have met some pretty mean “Christians” before, as well as some really sweet people who don’t go to church or adhere to Christian beliefs. And so, that’s how I try to approach writing characters in my Christianity-based fiction.
If you’ve read Speak Your Mind, you may recall that Zeeb is curious about God, but also expresses his doubts. However, despite his beliefs (which I’ve considered to be agnostic) contradicting with the Christian beliefs of the main character, Victoria, Zeeb is never considered to be an antagonist. Zeeb and the Christian characters are able to have civil conversations about their different beliefs. Likewise, if you’ve read The Crush, you’ll remember that Emery’s family originally goes to a church that is full of murky Christianity, meaning while some Christians there strive to abide in God’s will and live by His commandments, that others there talk the talk and self-righteously choose not to walk the walk. In turn, I made the hypocritical nature of murky Christianity an antagonistic force in the story.
Remember, the invitation for salvation is open to anyone who seeks God, and their pasts can vary. Let’s try to be more diverse in our origin stories for characters in Christian fiction.
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
What further advice, or questions, do you have about writing Christian characters? Let me know in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.