Believable character change

For Christmas, I love making sugar cookies with cookie cutters. It’s fun to slather colored powdered-sugar frosting for that extra layer of sweetness over those recognizable holiday shapes.

ChristmasCookie2Even though frosted differently, those cookies all look the same. There’s not a lot of difference between my cookies and the ones my kids create. And they taste exactly the same—sweet perfection.

One of the challenges we face as writers is creating characters who don’t look like all the others. Characters who aren’t stamped out of the same dough everyone else is using.

God changes lives—just not mine

I was reminded of this during a recent sermon. Our pastor at Springs Community Church, Eric Carpenter, had just begun a series called “Practical Atheist,” focusing on Christians who believe in God, but live as if He doesn’t exist. (Based on Craig Groeschel’s book, Christian Atheist.)

At the beginning of the sermon Carpenter said, “It’s like when we say we believe in a God who forgives, but refuse to accept His forgiveness personally or refuse to forgive others. We believe in a God who changes lives, but don’t believe we can change in meaningful, deep, abiding ways.”

That’s when I thought of the characters in my current manuscript.

Are they cookie-cutter Christians, cruising through life with a few bumps and scratches that are easily covered by a new layer of “holiness” frosting? Or are they authentic Christians even while living real, flawed lives?

And if they aren’t, what would my book be like if they were?

Creating misery

My characters—and yours—need to suffer, and not just a little. I need to find each one’s core weakness and exploit it. Then exploit it again and again and again.

ChristmasCookie1We need to find the point in each character where they’re a practical atheist—where they don’t fully trust God or haven’t completely made Jesus their Lord, even though they outwardly claim otherwise. And then we need to make them miserable in that exact area.

When we do that, we can help the character—and the reader—find their way back to God or more fully turn their weakness over to His strength.

And that’s when our characters step out of the cookie cutter and start to live and breathe. That’s when the story we’re telling becomes transformational—for the author and for the reader.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

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