1. Nathan Bernacki

    Nathan Bernacki New Member

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    How to write a Christian character that doesn't fit into cliches?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Nathan Bernacki, Jan 24, 2023.

    One of my characters for my fantasy story is a Christian, but contrary to how Christians are portrayed in fantasy fiction, this character isn't going to be an antagonist, but at the same time, I don't want her to be a stereotype, meaning that I don't want her to constantly quote Bible verses or annoy people by pointing out how certain activities don't fit in with Christian morals.

    And before you ask, her basic story arc is she discovers the main character's interest in pagan religions and his deal with a deity that she perceives as unholy and demonic, but she eventually comes to accept that just because there is a God, it doesn't mean that God is the only positive spiritual force in the universe.

    I know that might sound a bit contradictory, but that's the best way I can describe the arc at the moment.

    So how do I write a Christian character that's religious, but comes off as a human being first and foremost?
     
  2. Madman

    Madman Life is Sacred Contributor

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    I have a shocker for you. Christians, most of them that I know, are human. Write them like any other human, just add their religion as a something they turn to when things get tough?

    Note, I am not a Christian, but know many of them, they do not harass me with their religion and are just decent human beings.
     
  3. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think if you wanted an arc like that, you'd have to write in her questioning the foundations of her own faith. The truth is, given you seem to not know any Christians personally and probably are not Christian yourself, should you be attempting to write something so intimate about her faith? I mean, you can - I'm not into censoring what people can write and all - but at the same time, there's some weight behind the idea of how some stories "belong" to certain groups and should by and large come only from them. Like how it's pretty frowned upon to start writing about a character's struggle with being gay if the author themselves are not gay, etc.

    Like, you cannot really still say you follow the Christian doctrine AND believe God isn't the only positive spiritual force. The two things are literally mutually exclusive if you were to refer back to the Bible. (Angels are messengers and the truth is, worshipping even angels is, according to Christian doctrine, idolatry. I can't honestly think of any other spiritual force that could remotely fit your idea) Of course you can make it that she deviates and creates her own brand of Christianity, as people in real life certainly do, but this is a very, very messy and complex kettle of fish that would be hard even for me to write - and I was raised in church lol (still practising and I'm raising my kids in the faith. My sister is a vicar in the Church of England and my mum is a retired pastor and both of my parents have preached in churches). I question whether you can approach this subject with all the nuance and care it requires considering where you're starting with this...

    Also, European Christians vs American Evangelical Christians - there's a MASSIVE difference in their approach and there's such a thing as "Christian culture" and they vary a lot depending on country. I have experience with British and international churches, as well as some knowledge of Chinese churches, and also some knowledge of American missionary culture (can't stand it lol - esp when I worked in a Christian international school once. I lasted 3 months).

    Like, I'm not sure you're even asking the right question here. If you're serious about this, get to grips with which sort of Christian you're gonna base your character on, what the Christian doctrine actually says and what the secondary issues are that divide the denominations, and then come back with a much more specific question. Otherwise, I can't begin to think how I'd answer you... This is a massive topic.
     
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  4. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
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    I've seen this done so many times in characiture. I know a lot of Christians and have never seen anyone ever approximating the Christian loony that shows up in print again and again. They always seem to be a bible-thumper hypocrit or a crypto-cultist, always some sort of frocked villain. Those seem to be the only two Christian characters. It gets tiresome. I ran out of patience with that years ago.

    Understand that Christian does not mean saint. We all exist on a spectrum of failure and a good Christian should understand that. You shouldn't write that character as a cartoonish extreme. You want to waver right in the middle.

    My instinct would be to make such a character suspicious of the MC but still generous. This is the number one charitous group, after all. They want to help. So the character tries to be supporting and listen, but the MC can sense their uncomfortableness with certain subjects. Any talk of alternative faiths being equal is not going to fly with a Christian. Then you have that character have his/her own little arc where they save the day quietly. I wouldn't have them accept the other faith and certainly not profess it (eh, I guess I don't know your story though, anything's possible in fiction). I would have their quiet assistance be what is noticed.

    I feel it's okay to write anything. All subjects are open to all authors. As long as you're not faking a memoir, writing non-fiction work where you're pretending to be something you're not. To me that's the only thing verboten.

    You know, one of my flash pieces here is about a Christian doubting his faith and encountering paganism. In the end he accepts that he's not as flawed as he thought and re-embraces his old purpose. It's a fun theme with many possibilities. I should write that story from flash to short but no one would print it. Maybe I'll do it anyway. Sometimes we just write for ourselves.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2023
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  5. jej_jones

    jej_jones Member

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    My wife and I are devout Christians and even we roll our eyes at how Christians are portrayed in movies and books. We're typically there for comic relief it seems. Even in faith-based movies, which are notoriously bad. One of the characters (sister of the protag) in a book I'm about to write is a Christian and my plan is to mention she went to church and muttered a prayer from time to time. It's not the focal point of my story like it likely will be yours, but nothing about it will be thrown in anyone's face.
     
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    In my novel Flank Hawk, there is a strong Christian character that joins the main character on a journey. He appears in the plot about 1/2 way through the book (which is set in a post-apocalyptic future). Also accompanying the main chracter is a lycanthrope, which is a point of friciton.

    The two characters are at odds at times, but are both focused on assisting the main character, so they work through it, being themselves. The point is, that each character remained true to who they were, and weren't portrayed as a rigid cardboard cutout. How your Christian character responds depends not only on their faith, but there personality--how they deal with conflict, friendship, loyalty, goals, etc. There are probably lines that the Christian character won't cross, and could be interesting aspects of character development for all sides as the plot moves along.
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    According to your profile you're 24—maybe too young to know anything by the rock band Kansas except maybe Dust in the Wind and Carry On Wayward Son, their biggest hits. Back in the 70's, at least around St. Louis, they were all over the air waves. Great music, and nobody ever susepcted they were a Christian band. They really weren't—they were all Christians, and they were in a progressive rock band, but they were certainly nothing like the ones that call themselves Christian bands, where every song is obviously about God or Jesus. They were first and foremost (artistically) a progressive rock band, and one of the great ones. I don't think they ever mentioned God or faith or Jesus in any of their songs, but if you paid attention you'd realize their songs did tend to have an uplifting quility very different from so many rock songs with dark themes or all about sex, drugs and rebellion. There were a few other bands at the time that were also positive and uplifting without being cheesy about it, like Boston, Chicago (a lot of them were named for their city, weirdly), Styx (which seems counterintuitive, doesn't it?) REO Speedwagon, and Triumph. I don't know if any of the others were composed of largely Christians, but they all wrote songs with positive uplifting messages, and not cheesy obvious ones. It was subtle.

    Basically they weren't activists. Activists are people whose lives are determined by some ideology or faith or something, and they build everything around that and talk about it all the time. But the kind of bands and people I'm thinking about, while they're Christian, don't constantly push it in your face or even talk about it at all, it just shows in their temperament and their behavior. They're just good people, or trying to be good, and like anybody else they fail at times. But they don't make a big deal about that either. You wouldn't know they're Christian at all unless you knew them personally and the subject happened to come up. Some of them have a lot of Christian objects in their house, but if you don't visit then you wouldn't see that. Some of them might occasionally say thing like "God bless" or "Praise Jesus", but that's about the only way you'd know.

    There was a type of worshipper in the Bible called a Pharisee, who made a big deal about being religious, talking about it all the time, but they really didn't live what they talked about, it was all for image and social clout. Virtue signalling as it's called today. I've known a lot of people like that, who make a lot of noise about what good Christians they are but when it comes right down to it, they don't seem to live the real tenets of it. They're just Sunday worshippers.

    I guess what you should think about is what kind of Christian do you want to write about? Someone who talks loudly about it, or one who quietly lives it?
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2023
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  8. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with you there - any time I see an evil Christian character or some murderer who of course turns out to be a Christian doing everything in the name of God, I roll my eyes. Try doing this to any other faith though lol...

    Mind you, I really enjoyed the film Amazing Grace - rather old now but it was a mainstream Hollywood movie about William Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery. I enjoyed the way Wilberforce was portrayed there as a Christian.

    I never finished watching Inside Man, a Netflix thriller with David Tenant, but he plays a vicar. It got too dark for me by end of episode 1, so I stopped, and yes the vicar does indeed commit a crime - but it's not the 2D caricature you normally see. It was done very, very well, to be honest. The theme was "Everyone's a murderer - you just haven't met the right person yet." The vicar ends up imprisoning an innocent woman in his basement because he was trying to protect the confidentiality of a member of his congregation as well as trying to keep his own son from being wrongly accused of being a pedophile. I mean, it wouldn't happen in real life because clergy has the responsibility to report such things to the police at the first instance - they're bound by oath not to keep any criminal offense secret (my sister is a vicar). Nevertheless, the TV show does a very good job of having the character act out of pure human desperation, not for any nefarious reason. An occasion of making one wrong choice and then you end up in too deep. The show has nothing to do with faith as far as I know, but I did find the portrayal refreshing, and I can see a genuine story reason for the character being a vicar as opposed to any other profession (the contrast, of course, of someone who should be above reproach and a pillar of the community who is nonetheless just human after all.)
     
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  9. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    do you know any?
     
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  10. jej_jones

    jej_jones Member

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    That is true. Other faiths are off limits. We've never seen Amazing Grace. It'd be nice to watch a wholesome Christian movie without the cringe of poor acting and tropes.
     
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  11. montecarlo

    montecarlo Contributor Contributor

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    @Nathan Bernacki

    I think step 1 is accepting humans are unbelievably complicated and often are a mess of contradictions. Which makes it easy for critics to accuse anyone they don't like of hypocrisy.

    Try to capture that nuance and contradictions without negative judgment, for all your characters including the religious.
     
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  12. Username Required

    Username Required New Member

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    This is the thread that helped me decide to join the group, because I saw that Christians are welcome here.

    I’m glad you want to write Christians as real people and not as comic-book villains. However, as a Christian, I would say such a person as you describe is losing faith. The concept of God taught throughout Scripture is as the only positive spiritual force in existence. Indeed, it says explicitly that all the gods of the nations (of pagan peoples) are devils. (Some translations say idols, but idol worship is explicitly condemned throughout Scripture.) One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” That doesn’t mean we see all unbelievers as evil, but it does mean that such a change would be out of character unless the Christian character is losing faith.

    What if you research Christianity in books and interviews? I know I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about my faith.

    By the way, this kind of thing is why I prefer to write what I know rather than research.
     
  13. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Ouch. If she's a Christian, the only way she's going to accept that this "deity" is any force for positive spiritual good is if she finds out it's really some kind of being (like an angel) that submits to God and doesn't claim any deity for itself. Otherwise, she's lost her Christianity. "No other gods" is the first rule.

    But that may not answer your question. One way to do what you're thinking of is have her Christianity make life inconvenient for her. (Note I said, "for her." It's not about making life inconvenient for other people.) Like, there may be activities that don't fit in with Christian morals and she suffers in her relationships or career because she has to refrain from them, even though they might look attractive. Or she gives in and things screw up in her life because her weakness gets her into messes she knew she should keep out of.

    You can also have her be a positive influence who's patient in suffering, willing to laugh at herself, and is always ready to encourage others. Which is how Christians should be.
     
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  14. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That's the sort of thing I might publish with my little company, if I thought I could bring anything to the table for it.
     
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