Ernest Mille Hemmingway once said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” It seems on the surface that all writers and possibly the most avid of readers have issues with telling fact from fiction! I assure you, we are completely capable, but we choose not to. Hemmingway’s quote tells us why.
Authors want readers to connect to their stories. If they don’t, the story won’t be read. A reader can be drawn to a plot, but if the people in the story are unrealistic, the reader will find a similarly plotted book with characters they can relate to. The people inhabiting our stories should inspire the same emotions as the people we work with or sit next to on the bus. They should be real in the depths of their emotions, their reasoning, and their actions.
Even the most unbelievable characters can be written in realistic ways. That’s why a hobbit or a faun can capture our attention. We know they don’t exist, but thanks to the talented author, they do for the space of the story. Likewise, the characters that should be believable can become cartoon examples of people. The villain that is nothing but pure evil without reason can turn into the next Snidely Whiplash. He’s bad. That’s obvious. But there’s no substance to him. He’s just a bad guy out doing bad things. The hero that has no struggles, doubts, needs, or failures is not only boring, he’s unattainable. Readers can’t relate to him, because there is no one in their lives that matches that level of perfection.
As writers, we need to pay attention to the people inside our stories. Do they have reasons for their behavior? Are they fleshed out or have they stayed card board cut outs? Readers don’t have to like the person we create, but they do have to be able to see them as relatable and realistic if we want them to keep reading.
Relatable and realistic are good things for Christians to keep in mind as well. We are supposed to show others the love of God and point them to the salvation He offers through Jesus’ death on the cross. But sometimes in our desire to be different for God, we end up putting on a show. We create a Christian caricature of ourselves by covering over our flaws, doubts, and struggles. We paste a smile on our faces when we’d rather be frowning. We say, “Have a blessed day” or “I’ll pray for you” as mindlessly as we put on our socks each morning. It’s not bad to want someone to have a blessed day to pray for others. But when we say them to say them, phrases like these turn us into cartoon copies of what real Christians should be.
While Christians do have an amazing amount of resources at our disposal from peace and joy in trials to the fruit of the Spirit, I haven’t met any yet that are adept at employing them successfully 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But I have met several Christians who would like you to think they’ve got it all together. Upon closer inspection we find that they don’t. The world sees this as well, and it waters down their witness.
So what’s a Christian to do? First we need to be willing to admit our failures and that there are things we don’t understand. We need to be real. If we can say and show the things we believe with sincerity (even if we mess up once in a while), then by all means, live it out. But if we’re only saying things or acting in certain ways because it’s what one expects a good Christian to be like, then we need to stop. We need to admit to ourselves that we’re not quite there yet in whatever way we’re falling short. And after that, we need to be honest enough, real enough to allow others to see our struggle and the path we’re taking to growth.
When the world can see people living their faith genuinely and openly admitting where they’re still growing and learning, the cartoon Christian is erased. A real Christian with a powerful testimony takes its place. The falseness fades away, and an honesty those in the world can respect comes into the light. It’s time to stop letting fear of failure turn us into caricatures of faith. It’s time to be real, living Christians complete with our flaws and a desire to see God work them out of us.
By the Book: Read Luke 18:9-14. Which man was real and which was reduced to a caricature by his attitude and actions? Take an honest look at which one of these men you most see yourself in.