A while ago, I spoke about flawed characters and the way popular literature and films are always encouraging us to overlook the vices of the heroes based on the fact that they're “only human.” After all, we know what it's like to have a particular weakness for a particular sin. Shouldn't we have heroes like this too? Doesn't this make them real? Doesn't this make them relatable?
Realism vs. Rebellion—How Should We Apply it?
I absolutely love dissecting stories, their plotlines, and their characters, and predicting what should happen in sequels. And here's a shocker—more than once I've run into the realization that popular stories aren't trying to create “human” heroes. They're trying to create “superhuman” heroes. Now I don't mean ones who can smell through walls or do triple back flips (i.e. not necessarily superheroes), but rather characters who do things they shouldn't, and get outcomes that are the result of exactly the opposite behaviour.
Think about it. Do you get away with lying about watering the yard? You may think you have successfully gotten out of a chore, until the flowers start to wilt and you are found out.
Story-crafters have figured out that every man's compelling desire is to eat the fruit AND remain in Paradise. And since that doesn't work out in real life, they make it happen in fiction, with the result that we have amongst popular heroes the most outrageous liars, cheats, thieves, or worse, and we are told to root for them. Christian literature may be much more conservative than this, but traces of the same thinking pop up every now and then.
So, how do we create something that's different? Something that reflects the reality of the covenant world God made and not our fabrication of utopia? Here are some ideas:
- Wrong must be portrayed as wrong, and not a means to achieving the right end.
- Characters who do wrong things shouldn't get away without some kind of consequence or restitution, whether that is bold and underlined or perhaps more subtle. This isn't some kind of authorly payback, but rather a reflection of the real world. Heroes who never reap what they sow are Hollywood's clichés, and they should stay Hollywood's.
- Bad company corrupts good morals, and I would tend to think that book characters can be termed “company” due to the amount of time we spend with them and their situations. Even if your story is about a villain who is converted, you don't need to go into unnecessary details. Remember, as a Christian author you don't want to present “tasty morsels” with the excuse of having a “good moral” at the end.
Whether we realize it or not, writing is inescapably full of theology. We've got to be very deliberate about the kind of doctrine we put into our stories—and that doesn't only mean denominational beliefs. As authors, we are always choosing how to present the world and the obedience = blessing, disobedience = cursing universe we live in.
Do you have any further ideas or thoughts? Let me know what you think!
C. R. Hedgcock
P.S. The book signing at the Christian Resources Exhibition International went well and I was greatly blessed to meet so many Christians from so many different walks of life.