Monday, June 22, 2015

Characters Welcome

{Yesterday we honored fathers, and in honor of a very special father,my son-in-law, 
Emily's husband, and more importantly, Jonah's and
soon-to-arrive new baby's father, we are pleased to share his
reflections on the importance of the strong characters in our stories.}

Most readers have encountered a story that seems to have everything going for it. If the tale is a thriller there are a host of interesting---no mind bending---no mind blowing plot twists. Or if it's a serious drama, the death scene is a tear jerker. The story is as original as anything can be under the sun, with a brilliant setting and intelligent style. The one thing the story lacks is engaging characters. Everything else is top notch, and maybe it even has a though provoking message, but this imaginary work can never be truly wonderful, as characters are what enliven a story.

Writers and storytellers agree that to weave a good story, a breathing story, there have to be living characters. A character cannot be written just to fit a thesis. All the plot developments and interesting ideas fall flat if the characters are flat.

Think back to stories that have endured. The tales that captured our imaginations. Some writers excel at all facets of storytelling, like Steinbeck. East of Eden is a masterpiece in style, story, and characters. Or C.S. Lewis, who could authentically craft fantasy, science fiction, and myth. These writers know how to create characters, and these characters are alive. They change and grow or are stubborn and wither, or they do both at different times in the story. Characters can also make what may seem a bland story or simplistic story, pop with energy and display the wonder of even the mundane life. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is not an undisputed masterpiece, but the characters of the Father and the Boy are masterful. Characters make a story.

This should be no surprise. Scripture, The Story, is full of characters.

-Abraham: cowardly, brave, sly, honest, and faithful Patriarch. 

-David: humble, courageous, murdering, cheating, repenting, and God fearing King.

-Nebuchadnezzar: pagan, arrogant, insecure, mad, grass-eating, and, eventually, Yahweh praising King of Babylon.

All characters in Scripture are contrasted with THE Character, Christ. The God-Man. Fallen humans image Christ, despite their failings, or image the anti-Christ. This is why we need, and should yearn for, full characters. It is through the highs and lows of characters that we see ourselves. A reader or listener cannot learn nearly as much from a cardboard cut-out or a caricature as they can from a living character that faces and responds to situations in a human way. We see our own anger and hotheadedness in bold through the life of Joab; We see our own fear in the hesitancy of Moses; we see the love and sacrifice and strength we strive for in the life of Jesus.

So we must seek to continue this tradition of character creation in the stories we read and the stories we encounter with our children. The character of Lord Voldemort gives a stark example of the unbridled seeking of domination, while Neville Longbottom displays the inheritance of the meek. The angry obsession of Captain Ahab is a vivid warning to readers. The humble leadership of Aragorn is a strong encouragement.

We have a high calling, as curators of story. We pick up where those before have left off. And we must seek out stories that point to the one who is both Character and Author.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words and glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Love the words" breathing story!
    Thanks for the reminder of East of Eden. Mako was reading it with his son two years ago and mentioned it at the Childlight Conference.

    1. Thanks, Bonnie. East of Eden is a Favorite. The chapter where the twins are named is one of the best sections of literature I have read.

  3. Thank you for including a Harry Potter reference here. I just finished book 7 for the first time (it took me 14 years to forgive J.K. Rowling for book 4 and finish the series--and then, only at my 11yo son's behest), and I was blown away by the Christological imagery in that book and the way that love and self-sacrifice defeat evil and destruction. A kid could do (a lot) worse than to have Harry and Neville and Hermione for literary friends.