Creating Christian Characters

Along with my new theme for the month, I have a new author to introduce to you, Rocklyn Grace. Rocklyn has recently published her first Christian novel and writes about creating Christian characters. Welcome, Rocklyn!

I am a new author, and I am a Christian. I decided to enter the world of writing Christian Fiction because when I read that literature, I saw beautifully created characters. I also saw characters who did not strike me as “real” in the scheme of life and living in the world.

On the pendulum, some had the proverbial “thorn in the flesh”; some had other issues concerning prayer, understanding the Bible, or church attendance. On the opposing swing of characters, I saw characters so caught up in spiritual matters that the plot of the novel would be consumed by that which is “unseen”–angels, demons, and such interactions. 

Don’t get me wrong here: I loved reading those books. 

I noted, however, an opportunity for myself to create a Christian character that might reach a slightly wider audience — an audience that dips into both arenas of believers and unbelievers.

Thus, I crafted my goal: Create reality in my Christian characters. That is, they have the following characteristics:

  • They are believers who are highly flawed in some way — or many ways. 
  • They do not live easy lives. 
  • They struggle to read the bible sometimes. 
  • They question God even though they are convinced of His existence. 
  • They might struggle to pray or even utter a curse word in between a quick beseech of God for some much-needed grace and mercy.

In fact, one of my characters may outright sin and suffer consequences thereof, but the same character will also experience strength in weakness and the redemption, the table set before him/her found because of walking through death’s shadow.

How much greater the reconciliation when the reality of life is actively engaged by a character, and thereby, a reader. 

Here is my crafting process, or the questions I answer for him/her: 

  • What “flaw” will my character struggle with? 
  • How does that affect their actions? Their words?
  • Their laughter and joy? 
  • How does that affect their interactions with an antagonist? Another protagonist? A parent? A sibling? A husband/wife or fiancé?
  • How does it affect their reactions to types of trauma to themselves? Toward others? 
  • Ultimately: How does the flaw manifest in everyday situations? 

And finally, how does the redemptive power of Jesus rescue, heal, and help the character? How does that affect others around the character?

Once I have my character created — with those questions answered, it’s then a fantastic journey to write their story, let them face challenges, and always find Jesus.

*****

Soaring Eagle dreams of reuniting his family and his western rural tribe despite the dystopian government restrictions that have forced them apart. In his efforts to pursue his goals, his plans are thwarted by his capture and a young woman who saves him from certain execution in the only way the laws of her sector allow: marriage. His entire life is upended, his secrets exposed, and now Soaring Eagle must seek a new pathway to his dream. How can he unite his family without losing the woman he also desires?

*****

Rocklyn Grace lives in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where life is wildly free and beautifully peaceful. She raised two sons with her husband. Together, they fill the empty nest with rock music and loud praise. Rocklyn loves morning coffee, sunsets in the cool evenings, and the interruption of a moonbeam across the living room late at night. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Using Music to Show Character

As an author who loves music, it would be lovely if I could include a soundtrack with my books and stories. Do publishers ever do that with audiobooks? I would put songs or tunes that had inspired characters or scenes. Or my publisher could hire someone to write original music. Since those dreams will have to stay dreams, I have to include music in my stories the best way I can. Using music to show character is a fresher, more novel way for readers to get to know my characters than physical description and dialogue.

A Main Character Who’s Also a Musician

My teen detective Rae Riley is, first and foremost, an amateur photographer. It’s the way she sees the world. But, like a lot of creative people, she enjoys other arts. She played drums in her high school marching band and jazz band. Making her a drummer gives her personality another layer. She’s playing an instrument that leans more toward males, so some might see her choice as unusual or offbeat (ha!).

When I was in band, certain personalities tended to pick certain instruments. The Type A, straight arrows played flute and trumpet. The clarinet was the everyman or woman of the band. The more quirky kids picked trombone, saxophone, or percussion. My character’s choice of instrument can say a lot about who he or she is.

If you need to draw disparate characters together, making them all musicians gives them a common interest and a plausible reason for people who might not normally associate with each other to interact. Rae joins three young police officers in jam sessions because they play outlaw country music for fun and didn’t have a drummer. (Yes, it’s supposed to be funny that cops like outlaw country.)

Favorite Music Reveals Character Traits

The fact that these millennial cops are playing music from the 70’s says something about their personalities. Houston, who sings lead and plays lead guitar, explains how he can’t stand current country music. His love for outlaw country can mean any number of things. Maybe he’s not concerned with following popular trends. Or he doesn’t like how big business takes over an art form; he likes art for art’s sake. Or he just likes to be different, to stand out from the crowd.

When Rae and the cops take a break from jamming, they play songs from their playlists. I can use their choices to say something about their characters. Since Rae doesn’t know the three young men well, she hesitates over her selections because her playlist contains what she considers some pretty obscure songs. So she picks more popular songs. Her choice shows her uncertainty in this new social situation. Out of the four characters. the bass player is the only one to pick instrumental pieces instead of songs. I can use that deviation from the other characters to reveal something about him.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written or read about characters who love music? How did the author use music to show character?

Here’s another post on adding music and poetry to prose.

How to Write About a Nice Family (Without It Turning to Mush)

I take issue with the opening line from “Anna Karenina”: All happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” I think happy family can be happy in their own, unique way. But I understand Mr. Tolstoy’s point. Writers think they have more to work with when they create unhappy characters within a family. But as long as the kind members of a family aren’t perfect, and writers don’t shield them from unhappy events, nice families can prove just as interesting and more challenging as lead characters in a story. But how to write about a nice family without it turning to mush was a problem I confronted when writing my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow.

My main character, nineteen-year-old Rae, has just discovered who her father is and is getting to know him, her half-brothers, her grandmother, and extended family. Her father is thrilled to have her because he thought she died before she was born. I wanted readers to see that this is a warm, loving family without miring them in a lot of sentimental goo. To accomplish this, I relied on three keys ingredients: humor, matter-of-fact, and no loitering in emotional moments.

Humor

I don’t think I could write main characters who are likable without a sense of humor. Giving Rae a sense of humor about some of the members of her new family keeps my writing from turning all mushy. For example, Rae’s two younger half brothers Aaron and Micah are crazy about her. They’re nine and seven and like having a big sister with whom they can share their interests, like they’re latest invention.

Now I could have had Rae melt every time these little boys wanted to show her something. But that would soon get boring and tiresome. Instead I have her somewhat stunned that they want to spend time with her. And having been an only child, she has a hard time deaingl with little boys who have no appreciation for personal space. So while she’s trying to learn how to be a good big sister, she’s also fighting the temptation to order them out of her face. The warmth of the relationship is evident without being cloying.

Matter of Fact

Another way to handle emotional family moments is to state them and move on. Rae’s father is very close to his sons. I show this through all the physical contact between them–Aaron likes to attack his dad when he gets home from work, Micah likes to scare him, their dad hugs them. The oldest brother Rusty likes to read with his dad on the couch after his younger brothers are in bed. Rae, as the POV character, mentions the actions but doesn’t add things like, “As Dad released Aaron from a hug, the kitchen overflowed with his love for his family.” (Wow is that awful. I hated writing it even as a bad example.)

Rae does think about Rusty and their father reading together but in a questioning tone because she’s not sure why Rusty values this time.

Let the reader understand the close relationships through actions and dialogue without underlining it. They’ll be able to figure it out.

But Don’t Be Afraid of Big Emotions

My novel is a story about a teen learning about her father for the first time in her life. If I didn’t include some emotional scenes, the story would seem false, even trivial. But a few raw emotions can go a long way. So when I have an emotional scene, I …

Don’t Loiter

Or maybe a better way to put is to use the line from The Court Jester (1956)–“get in, get on with it, get it over with and get out.” As I mentioned in my post “Six Tips for Plotting Elegantly”, Rae has an emotional scene with her father in the middle of A Shadow on the Snow. I loved writing about it. But if I lingered too long, basking in all the good vibrations, I might bore readers or give them a sugar rush. So I only let the scene last as long as I felt necessary for readers to enjoy the emotions and to make the scene seem genuine. Then I got out.

To know when to depart a warm, fuzzy family scene takes relying on your instinct of how the scene is unfolding and your memories of similar scenes you’ve read or watched and what worked and what didn’t. But humor does allow you to stay longer because it knocks down the mush. For more on that, read my post “Adding Humor to Enhance Drama.”

What happy family in fiction is your favorite?

Introducing Characters

Introducing characters at the beginning of a story can be tricky. If not done well, it will sink your narrative before it’s had a chance to take off.

Too Many Characters

My mystery A Shadow on the Snow has a lot of characters. My main character Rae lives in a county not only full of suspects but also crammed with relatives and friends. So as not to overwhelm readers, I introduce most of them in groups of two or three per a chapter and spread the introductions of most of the important characters over the first nine chapters.

To Describe or Not to Describe

New writers make the mistake of dumping all description of characters and a lot of their backstory into the beginning. Not only does this slow the story or grind it to a halt, it also removes almost all of the interest in the characters. Readers like to get to know characters over the course of the story.

Opposite to this problem is the one where the characters are barely described or not at all. I’ve found this practice much more common in current books In books offering writing advice, I’ve read that authors don’t need to provide descriptions of characters because readers can build an image from the characters’ actions and conversations. In the case of the main character, they also use his or her thoughts and feelings.

Maybe some readers can do that, but I can’t. I began a romantic suspense novel that opened with three male and three female characters. The author provided names and that was it. Their actions were standard cop scenarios. Because my imagination had so little to go on, the characters were either fuzzy or kept morphing. Well into the story, I received a few crumbs of description for the main characters but by that time, I didn’t care and quit reading. The characters never seemed more than names on a page. If I couldn’t see them as real people, I couldn’t relate to them.

Use Real Life as Guide

So what’s enough description but not too much when introducing characters? One way to approach it is to think about what you notice about a person when you first meet him or her. I pick up on the obvious, such as gender, skin tone, hair color and style, and build. As I speak to him or her, I noticed smaller details like eye color, facial features and idiosyncrasies of speech and mannerisms.

Now I can’t include all of that for every characters. So I distill descriptions to what I call the 1-2 punch. I select the two to three most important features of a character, especially those that will set him or her apart from other characters. Then, if I can come up with it, I try to include a punch–a vivid comparison that sums up the character’s appearance.

When I introduced Rae’s youngest brother, Micah, I sprinkled in description as Rae and their father talk to him. I first mention that he’s a first-grader. Then I mention how “his strawberry blond hair glowed peach in the light from the ceiling fixture”. The punch is the last line of the paragraph: “How could I turn down a request from someone who was as cute as a Christmas elf?”

If the character appears again, I can add finer details like mannerisms.

What do you prefer? No description, some descriptions, or detailed descriptions of characters?

When a Character Takes Over

If you let your imagination soar during NaNoWriMo, you run the risk of a character hijacking your story. Maybe you’ve read about other writers who have had characters appear out of nowhere, fully formed, as if someone has air-dropped them into their brains. Don’t let it worry you. When a character takes over, you may find yourself with a much better story. That was my experience while writing my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow.

My main character nineteen-year-old Rae Riley has just discovered who her father is and is getting to know her sprawling, extended family. Her thirty-seven-year-old father Mal has an eighty-year-old grandfather. A former lineman, Mal is built like a grizzly bear, and since he shares his name with his grandfather–Walter Reuel Malinowski–I wanted them to share physical characteristics too. Personally, I didn’t know any big elderly men who looked like former football players. Usually, I have to see a character as clearly as I do people in reality to feel comfortable writing about them, I had to have some person to fill the spot in my story, at least temporarily, so I picked Clint Eastwood because I knew he was a tall man and I’d seen photos of him in his eighties.

I began writing. Next thing I knew, Walter was in charge.

Every scene he was in he took center stage. As I wrote dialogue, I felt more like I was taking dictation than imagining the conversation. (Yes, we writers hear voices in our heads, but we know they’re not real. Most of the time.)

As I wrote, Walter’s appearance changed. The Clint Eastwood looks disappeared. The man I saw in my mind was as broad and intimidating as a tank with deep-set eyes and aggressively square jaw. And this change was not conscious thinking on my part. He transformed without me realizing it.

What’s more, he was fun to write. His blunt, harsh, mean personality was such a contrast to Rae and Mal. But I knew he was more than just a bully and enjoyed exploring all the facets of his character. I worked him into more scenes and the book benefited from his larger presence. But I had to remember that ,while important, Walter was still a minor character. If I didn’t keep tight control of him–something he would swear no one could do–he’d run amok and change my entire novel.

I wasn’t the only one who Walter won over. Two of my beta readers singled him out as one of their favorite characters. I’m looking forward to including him in my next mystery.

For more tips on writing characters, click here.

Who are some minor characters that you love?

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