Christians and the Creative Writing Process, Part 3
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:9-10 (NASB)
What about Characters?
Personally, Characters remind me of God’s love for His people.
On the surface, this idea might sound silly. It’s kind of cliché, kind of true that writers have a special attachment to their characters, but all the same the idea I’m about to expound upon may sound weird to some people. How can fictional people remind us of God’s love for his very real people? Well, it might be a stretch, and maybe it only means something to me personally, but hopefully I can explain what I mean.
Let me start by explaining my relationship to character development. First, while I believe I develop my characters fairly well, I frequently struggle to show characterization and make my characters appear as vividly on the page as they do in my mind. I’ve hopefully improved in this area over the years through research and practice, but to this day, plots tend to come easier to me than characters. Second, I’m also not the type of writer who “talks” with my characters all the time or participates in character lounges (where a bunch of writers gather and have their characters interact in a particular scenario). However, most of my characters have existed for a long time. Through writing various scenes and inventing several potential plotlines for them, I’ve spent a lot of time with the same fictional people in my stories. Some were invented at least 10 ago; others appeared more recently (high school/early college era, but still four or more years ago). That’s a long time to have the same characters with all their various personalities exist in my subconscious and creative thoughts. So, even though I struggle at times with executing three-dimensional characters on the page, I know each of my created people fairly well.
And—weird as it may sound—I love them. Or, more accurately put, I have a fondness for them. Of course, I don’t care for them as much as I love the real, nonfictional people in my life. All the same, there’s a strange affection for my made-up people. Sure, some of my characters are terrible humans. Others tend to be annoying and I would probably not get along with them if they were real. Several have a very different worldview than myself. Some are villains, some reluctant heroes—there’s a wild and wide spectrum of individuals on my character roster. But they’re people I created. I know what shaped their early lives. I know the hard lessons they’ll learn in the course of their stories, the challenges they’ll face, who they are deep down, what they fear, what they want. I laugh at their jokes. I imagine them in humorous, non-canon scenarios and know how they’d respond in each situation. I know them.
This feeling of affection I have for my characters—in the smallest, most miniscule sliver of insight, makes me consider how God views us, His beloved people who He created. He loves us. While I know how I feel about my characters is far, far from the same depth and ways that God loves us, thinking about my characters still prompts me to reflect on the love of God for His people in a deeper way.
You see, I personally struggle to rest in the Truth that God loves us because He’s God and we’re His creations. He loves us just because He does. At times, that fact is really unfathomable to me. Frequently, I think that I have to be perfect, do the right thing all of the time, and never mess up in order for God to keep loving me. I try and earn His favor, His salvation, His love. But that’s not a Biblically correct ideology. He loves us not because of what we do for Him (He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him! He’s God), but because He chooses to love us and He created us. We’re His beloved children. And we don’t have to earn that at all, nor can we lose that love. Christ already paid the penalty, and He offers grace and love freely to us. It’s the marvelous truth of the Gospel: God’s unconditional love and compassion for His people.
Am I reminded of this truth in my relationships with real people? At times, yes—when I’m shown grace from others when I fail, or when I’m refreshed through my caring community of friends and family. But at other times with people—sadly far too often—love becomes conditional for me. I think I have to earn the favor of others. I’m a people-pleaser. I want to appear good and loyal in the eyes of others. I crave friendship and want friends so I’m not alone, rather than wanting a friends I can encourage and exhort in the Gospel. Because of the broken ways I love people (either believing I have to please them to receive their love in return, or pursuing their love because of my own desires instead of wanting to love them well), I often have a skewed perception of God’s love for us. So my relationships with people don’t always point me to the truth of God’s unconditional love.
Now, while the “love” I have for my fictional characters is nowhere near the same amount and manifestation of love I have for my family, friends, and others, it still consistently prompts me to think on the truth of God’s unconditional love. Why? Why the lesser “fondness” for made-up individuals and not the deeper, truer love for real people?
Because there’s no expectations from my characters, either from them or that I’m putting on them. There’s nothing they can do for me. I don’t need to perform for them. I created them and I know them. That’s enough.
And that no-strings-attached, minimal affection I feel for my characters—it’s a very, very dim mirror that all the same reflects the light of the deeper, truer, perfect love of God for us, His beloved. It reminds me that God doesn’t need me to prove myself over and over again—He loves me because He’s chosen me. He doesn’t need me, but He invites me to partake in His mission all the same. It’s crazy and amazing all at once. In spite of the ways I fail, He still loves me. He loves you, too, in the same way.
So, let us rest in the assurance that God’s love is unconditional, mindful that His grace was costly to Him yet freely given to us. What a wonderful truth, and one that I must remind myself of daily. God loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.