Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: character development

Cast of Characters

peppermint candy

Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope focus on the lives of two people, but the cast of supporting characters is large. From family members and friends to co-workers and customers, the list of people waltzing through the pages of my books is long. It has to be. You can’t tell a person’s story accurately without acknowledging the people they come in contact with. It’s these interactions that give readers insight into who our main characters are at their core.

While you may not need to name the guy at the movie theater who takes a ticket or the girl who hands your main character their sweet tea in the drive through, a short glimpse of some of the lesser seen characters adds depth and realism to the story. To discover a slice of a character’s past helps readers understand and relate to the main character on a deeper level.

In Faith’s Journey, Katie returns to the church from her childhood. In the pews she sees the people who play a part in her memories from attending as a child. Not every person is named, but a few snapshots let the reader have a more intimate view of Katie’s life growing up in a country church in southern Illinois.

Naming and writing the characters becomes a challenge at times. None of my characters are real. They are the products of my imagination, but there are times when real life has given inspiration. When naming my main character, I chose a name I love dearly, the name of my great-grandmother. Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan and I spent many days together when I was a little girl. She taught me to embroider, quilt, and a few other sewing related crafts. She told me stories of when she was a little girl. I loved my granny, and I wanted to name this character after her.

However, Katie McGowan is not my great-grandma. Katie’s choices, reactions, and personality in my books is nothing like the person I knew growing up. She looks nothing like my great-grandma. I’ve simply honored her with the same name.

I also knew a Cal growing up. I don’t believe the man I knew ever had the blessing of being a father in his life, but he was the type of man who would be a father to many who needed one. He isn’t the character in my book, but he’s the type of person I wanted in Katie’s life. Cal was the perfect name for Katie’s father who she adores.

Sometimes it’s a familiar action that makes it between the pages. Growing up, there was a couple I loved to sit with through Sunday services. My mother never minded as long as I was quiet. The man always had a peppermint in his pocket, and I always ended up with it. The memory is a sweet one that I’ve learned is similar to the experience of many who grew up in country churches. Though the character doesn’t return for any other scenes, I gave Katie a similar memory as she surveys the familiar faces in the pews upon her return to her home church.

One of my favorite characters to write was Gigi B. Readers can meet her in Grasping Hope and see her again in Relentless Love when it releases in June 2020. Of all of the characters I’ve written, she is the one most closely inspired by someone in my life. I have an adopted aunt, really my mom’s best friend I’ve been close to my whole life. She’s not nearly as old as Gigi B, and she doesn’t quite have Gigi B’s flair for the dramatic. But I’ve always seen her as stylish and funny and sassy and wise. It’s a unique combination that picked me up when I wrestled with my first broken heart as a teenager, and it was that type of person Katie needed in her life as well.

Gigi B’s life experiences and the words she speaks in my books are all her own. They aren’t life memories placed inside the pages of fiction. But who the character is to the ones she loves is a picture of who my aunt is to me and, I’m sure, other in her life.

By the Book: Creating a great cast of fictional characters adds realism and depth to a story. The characters in your own life do the same for you. They provide comforting memories for the future, encouragement for today, and, sometimes, even challenge us to grow in faith. Just as they are characters in your life, you are a character in theirs. Measure each day’s interactions using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to determine whether or not you’re allowing God’s love to flow through you to the characters He brings into your life.

Eustace Clarence Scrubb

dawn treader“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Wow. Could there be a better opening line and character description? Immediately readers, even the children for whom the story is meant, will be able to identify the Eustace’s in their lives. With one sentence the “nails on the chalkboard” existence of Eustace is firmly planted in our minds.

C.S. Lewis draws us in with the first pages of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and he continues to lead us through the misadventures of Eustace. We can understand the sentiments of Lucy and Edmond as they deal with his attitude of superiority, and we find it too easy to give in to the idea that he gets what he deserves as things fail to go in his favor. He tries our patience just as he does the same to every creature on the Dawn Treader.

When an author so completely gives us an image of his or her characters, it’s easy for them to become real to us. Suspending our disbelief to accept Narnia and Aslan and dragons as real is only natural. But a great description is only the beginning.

In a well-told story, readers get to know the characters. They get to see beyond the actions and outward appearances to who the characters are at their core. C.S. Lewis describes this occurrence in another quote from Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

“‘In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.'”

There is more to a star than what is is made of. There is more to a character than their looks and behaviors. It is an author’s job to give their characters souls. In doing so, readers are able to enjoy a fully formed person as complex as the ones sitting beside them while they read.

But in a well-told story the characters evolve through their failures and triumphs. This is not to say they become perfect versions of themselves. Readers don’t want perfection. They want a better understanding of reality. Even in fantasy, there has to be something for the reader to connect to. If readers see themselves in the characters then they also need to see attainable hope. We won’t reach perfection, and I find it frustrating to read about someone who always does the right thing. I want to see the one who tries and fails and gets up to try again. It makes a character work. It made Eustace Clarence Scrubb work.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

It had begun. It was not finished. And we can appreciate this in the characters we read about. Sometimes it is more difficult to appreciate in the real world with the people affecting our day to day lives. We sit in church and judge the one who tried and failed or the one who is traveling at a snail’s pace in their journey of faith. We place people on a pedestal of perfection that no man since Jesus has been able to attain. We hold them to this impossible standard and crucify them when they fall. Just like we did with Eustace at the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we fight pleasure at their circumstances when they seem to get what they deserve.

But often we fail to let ourselves relate to them. We color over our own failures. In Jesus’ words, we “look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye”. (Matthew 7:3) When we realize we are all Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and we almost deserve it, we find patience we didn’t know we possessed. We find empathy that desires to see those we previously rooted against become the people God created them to be. We learn how to come along beside our brothers and sisters to encourage each other to continue to grow in faith. We stop taking note of every failure and choose to look at God’s cure in them that has already begun.

Right Stuff Wednesday:Adventuring with Alice and the Pevensie Children

alice“It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

Think about the life of your favorite book character. What draws you to that person? Do you see a bit of yourself in them? Can you relate to their struggles? Or do you find a challenge to be more than you are as you consider their life?

Whatever draws you to them, one thing is certain. The best characters grow throughout their story. It’s story writing 101. Your character develops as your story progresses. A stagnant character is more than likely a boring character.

The same circumstances will change each character in a different way. Consider the four Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They faced the same circumstances, but their own personalities shaped how they saw those experiences and their reactions. The end result was four children growing in ways unique to them.

This personalizing of the character’s responses and their individual growth may be part of what draws us to one character over another. I may relate to and learn from Lucy while you may aspire to be like Peter. Of course, maybe you’ve felt like you had to prove yourself and come up on the failing end one too many times. If so, Edmund’s journey from failure to redemption may be the most inspiring part of the story for you.

To see a beloved character revert to behaviors they’ve previously grown out of can break a reader’s heart. We want more for the characters we love. They’ve changed. We know they have, and we know it is pointless for them to return to the more immature version of themselves. Who they were yesterday has no place in their today. They’re different now.

As frustrating and heartbreaking as it can be for a reader to see this happen in the fictional world an author has created, it’s worse when we see it in our own families. The consequences in a book end with the last chapter. The consequences in the real world can continue for generations. Especially as a spouse or parent, watching our loved ones fall into old patterns of behavior hurts. Seeing the pain they inflict on themselves can cause our own emotions to bounce between disbelief, anger, disappointment, and hurt.

If it’s this way for us, imagine what it’s like for God. We are His creation. When we accept God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are reconciled to God. But He doesn’t stop at offering us a Savior and saved relationship. God adopts us into His family. He makes us His children. And He doesn’t leave us unchanged.

Scripture is filled with examples of the need to grow as believers. We’re compared to babies as we start our faith walks, but we’re encouraged to learn and grow into spiritual adulthood. We’re instructed to be dead to sin and our old self and alive to God. We’re told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God tells us we are new creations and the old us has passed away.

God’s word also warns us that we will battle the old self. Paul speaks of wanting to do the things that please God but finding himself doing the opposite. We are not slaves to sin anymore, but there are times we live like we are. We are human, and we fail. We revert to old patterns. We forget who we are and whose we are. We slide back into the old self, and we pay the price. Our witness is weakened and our relationship with God becomes strained. Those are just spiritual effects. Depending on what we slip back to, there can be physical consequences for us and those we love.

How must God feel when He sees us revert to our old selves? He knows more completely than any earthly parent the harm those ways cause. He knows how much better the path He sets out for our lives is for us. He wants His best for us and sees us choose the refuse of our old lives over and over again. Can you imagine the disappointment and hurt that must cause?

But also consider the joy when we choose to be who we are today instead of trying to be who we were yesterday? Nothing brings me greater happiness than seeing my children learn from mistakes and grow into more of who God designed them to be. Through grace and mercy, failure is not once and for all. They can find forgiveness and turn away from the person they were yesterday. When they do, my mother’s heart celebrates. God’s joy is more complete than my own, and it isn’t reserved for our children. It’s meant for His children and that includes me and you.

Like Alice we need to understand that being who we were yesterday is not an option. We need to keep changing and growing.  In stories it’s called character development. For us? I’d have to say it’s character development too.

 

 

Full of Character: Your Characters and Character

Over the last several weeks I’ve used Full of Character Mondays to showcase the characters other authors find compelling. Some have chosen real people from biographies. Some have chosen to take their inspiration from characters created in the minds of authors they enjoy. Whether real people or the products of someone’s imagination, the characters we love can challenge, encourage, or inspire us. Sometimes a single character can do all three.

While they’re busy showing us who or how we want to be in our own lives or telling us how to avoid the pitfalls they’ve become prey to, these people tug on our emotions. Even those who don’t exist outside the pages of their books have the power to make us both laugh and cry with them. For the time we lose ourselves in the pages of their books, we allow ourselves to treat them as if their stories are real. We allow them to impact us. That’s why they touch us in this way.

If people from the past who we’ve never met and people who aren’t even real can touch us in this way, how much more power to touch others is contained in each of us. Think of those in your life who have left a lasting impression on your life. Was it their kindness that moved you? Their strength and faith in times of testing? Or was it the joy they passed on to everyone around them?

What part of their character stood out so distinctly that it reached into your life and changed you?

Now think about your own life. When other people look at the story of your life what do they see? If we’re honest with ourselves this can be a scary question. There are times in my life that what others would see would be the last thing I would want them to see. In the most difficult times in my life, I’m not sure they would have seen strength, faith, or peace. Instead, would they have seen exhaustion or anger or even depression?

I wish with all of my heart that I could say otherwise, but I’m afraid I can’t. When we read characters’ stories, we get to see the whole picture. We don’t have to wonder why they act out. In fact, because we’ve seen the root of their pains we can even understand where their behaviors are coming from. We see what they overcome, and the character they portray in the end has even more impact.

Often, when people look into the story of our lives it is only for a few short chapters. They see only the part that directly touches their lives. It’s sad. When they see only the beginning or middle of story, they don’t get to see the finished product. They don’t get to experience the end results of how our circumstances shape our character for others to see. They miss the part that should have the biggest impact.

It’s a lesson we should remember when we consider the people who come into our lives. We may not be present for the beginning of their story. We may not see the circumstances working in their lives. We only get to glimpse the rough stuff of the character building process. We see the results of the refining fire they’re going through. And what we see at that time may be ugly. But it’s important to remember it may not be the end of their story.

We don’t have to like or excuse people’s bad behavior, but we aren’t powerless either. We can pray for them to grow through whatever circumstance is trying to shape them. We can pray for God’s truth to guide them into the character He desires them to exhibit. And sometimes, God can even use us to come alongside them for a time to help encourage them in the way they should go. We may never see the end result of their struggle, but we can pray that God uses their current situation to bring about such a strong, godly character in them that those who come into their story at a later time can see the beauty of their character and be touched by it

Main Character Development

apple-464182_960_720Things we know about fairy tales:

  1. If there’s a step-mother, she’s evil.
  2. The prince ends up with the girl whether he’s done anything to deserve her or not.
  3. Good always wins.
  4. The good one is always very, VERY good. Like making friends with woodland creatures and

earning the help of fairy god-mothers kind of good.

We don’t read fairy tales because they’re full of suspense. The plots are pretty cut and dry. The good one is hated by the evil one without cause. The hated one either tricks the good one creating an issue the good one overcomes or the hated one simply makes life miserable for the good one until something is done to free her from her pain. Something happens and the good ones win while the bad ones get what’s coming to them. Of course, their consequences don’t come from the good ones. They’re too good for that.

It’s become popular in recent years to retell the old stories. Instead of the same old, same old, we get backstory on both the heroes and the villains. In the movie Ever After, we find that the step-mother is jealous of Cinderella and the road to happiness for Cinderella has some potholes. In Maleficent we find there’s more to Maleficent than simply being evil. There are reasons she does what she does. In Snow White and the Huntsman we find that the evil step-mother has abuse in her past that’s helped make her into the evil she is. And in the television show Once Upon a Time, well, I don’t even know where to begin. There are more twists and turns in that one than all the roller coasters at Six Flags. And each twist points to the fact that there’s more to the characters than simply being evil or good. There are hurts and triumphs in their lives. There are losses and mistreatments.

Due to these retellings, familiar characters have taken on new depths. You may not agree with the evil they do, but you can sympathize with the hurts in the villains’ pasts. You may cheer on the heroes, but you can still get frustrated with them as they act less than heroically in sticky situations. What were once flat characters, good is good and bad is bad, are now characters we can more closely relate to. And they don’t stay the same throughout the story like the original fairy tale characters. They grow and learn. They recognize their character flaws and work to minimize them. They develop.

Character development is a vital part of any good story. Just like real life, the things our characters face should push them to change. Sometimes the change is negative. Sometimes losses cut so deeply we begin to react out of pain. But that same pain in someone else can drive them to be a more caring and empathetic individual.  There are even going to be times when your character goes one direction for a while before something nudges them into doing an about face. It depends on your character and your story.

Take time to find out who your character is. An introvert reacts differently than an extrovert to the same situation. They have unique ways of looking at it. Their paths of growth will be one of a kind, created especially for them. Personality, past experience, race, gender, economic status, and geography all play a part in determining who your character is. Get to know them. Knowing what has shaped and what motivates your character will help you know how to develop them through their circumstances. It will allow you to take your characters from predictable and one-sided to realistic and intriguing.

We want to see why the villain became the villain when we read. We like to see that the hero has faults and is working through them. But how often do we take the time to do the same in real life? We should be constantly developing our character. It happens naturally when we interact with our world. Hopefully, we strive to develop it in godly ways. Scripture is full of reminders that we aren’t there yet, but we should be developing the attitudes that Jesus portrayed for us in His life and ministry.

At the same time, we need to recognize others are going through the same process. Instead of putting that preacher or teacher on a pedestal, we need to realize even our spiritual heroes have failures and faults. We shouldn’t idolize anyone, even our mentors. We all make mistakes, and we need to be able to be honest about them both in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.

And the villains in our lives? We need to exhibit patience, love, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit in our dealings with them. More than likely, they didn’t set out to be the villain in our story. No, you may not ever be besties, but you can find a lot of freedom in forgiveness. And understanding the whys sometimes makes offering that forgiveness a little easier. Take a moment to consider some of the things that made their character develop in the direction it did. Let that understanding help free you to react to them in a godly way.

Let’s put away our fairy tale definitions of the people in our lives and start taking the time to see the character development happening each day.

By the Book: Do you tend to see people in your life as only good or bad? Do you try to look beyond to the whys? Are you ever guilty of defining yourself by fairy tale definitions? Why is it important to understand you are not a one-dimensional character?

© 2020 Heather Greer

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