At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Believable Characters > Characters With Belief

As informative as Dick Cheney might be in reacting to the Iran nuke deal right now, I have to say there's other things I'd rather do.

A blog post seems about right.

I've spent a good bit of time updating email lists and writing book promos for the release of my upcoming sequel in the Cameron Ballack Mysteries, The Broken Cross, and all that has caused me to recall some reactions to my first book, Litany of Secrets. I'll mention one tonight and then another in a couple days.

One came from the father of a student. It was in a conversation of several clustered assertions and questions. Jim was the first one to ask me if I had been greatly influenced by British crime fiction, and so of course, I pled guilty (thank you, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, and James Runcie). Then the conversation turned to characters, specifically Cameron Ballack himself, and Jim's confession came rushing out.

"You know," he said, "as the story went along, I both understood why Ballack was a skeptic, given his situation. But I was so sure that he would come to a moment of faith at some point in the story."

Interesting, I thought, wondering if this was the "Why-an-agnostic-for-your-protagonist" talk or the "Is-this-a-Christian-novel-or-not" talk. But Jim went on.

"Yet as the story went on," he continued, "I thought, 'No, that wouldn't be good. It would be too soon. And a conversion doesn't have to happen. In fact, I felt that if Ballack came to some point of saving faith at any point, it might ruin his character."

Wow, I thought, amazed at how much Jim's thoughts echoed my own as I have mapped out that novel. I don't think that has to do with the idea that Christians are less enjoyable, less well-rounded, or less vibrant individuals than the general least I hope not. However...

1. Forcing a condition of spiritual regeneration on a character (especially a main character) means treading in dangerous territory. Some authors can manage a "faith turn" and shepherd their character through the book very well (Witness Glynn Young's work in Dancing Priest), but this takes an author who can walk that tightrope well. To make someone flip the switch and become a Christian for the principle of having a stock Christian beacon as a character does an injustice to the story. 

2. It's more important to have believable characters in your story than to have characters who believe the Christian faith. That sounds tragic to some ears, but it's true. In penning Cameron Ballack as a wheelchair-bound detective, I was taking a risk, committing a considerable stretch as it was. The fact that so many places are handicapped-accessible now makes a disabled sleuth more credible, but I want to keep Ballack's character as realistic as possible. This means having the rough edges some detectives have, but also asking the questions and having many resistances to easy answers that many people might have.

3. I'm a Christian, but my job is not to mirror the Christian story, or to have my novels be allegories of the Christian life (Besides, John Bunyan already did yeoman's work on that with Pilgrim's Progress). The truth is, the fabric of creation, ruin, redemption, and restoration is woven in human experience. The stories we tell in books and movies tends to follow this arc anyway. All I have to do is write a great story, and the connections to our human experience should take care of themselves.

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