Dear Authors: Your Characters Tell Us Something, Whether Intended or Not

A lot of people say our country is obsessed with entertainment.  That’s true.  There’s a particular focus, however, on fiction.  There’s a local store that I like to visit that sells books, movies, cds, comics, the whole shebang.  I was browsing there today, and it occurred to me while I was thumbing through Batman comics that I was surrounded by stories.  The comics, movies, and books tell us stories through the eyes of characters that can do amazing (or ordinary) things.  With each new pop culture craze comes a new set of these characters.  The earliest one I was old enough to remember well and participate in was Harry Potter (yeah I know, I’m young).  Then it was Twilight (*gag*), and now it’s the Hunger Games.  While thinking about these stories, it also reminded me that all-invisible word that seems to elude our attention more and more these days: worldview.

I’m an aspiring author myself.  I wrote my first book when I was about fifteen years old, although I threw it out because I didn’t think it was original enough.  I’m currently finishing up the first draft of another book, and I have several others in the development stages.  I like stories.  I like characters.  I like new and exciting worlds.  However, as a fellow aspiring author, I want to give a  warning to fellow writers everywhere.  Your characters tell us things.

Our country’s obsession is with stories, not with worldviews.  Yet we receive worldviews whether we want to or not, and whether the author intends it or not.  I’m talking to you because of the latter.  I’ve griped and complained about the irresponsibility of the reading public quite enough; it’s time to direct a scrutinizing eye at those of us who create.

A while back a friend of mine who is a Christian filmmaker wrote an article about his experience in film school (which you can read about here).  In that, he said that he and his fellow students were called “culture changers.”  That was very eye-opening to me when I read it and has stuck with me since.  Filmmakers are culture changers and so are writers.  The question is how are we changing the culture?  How are we influencing it?  Because there is not a single work of fiction on God’s green Earth that is neutral.  Not a single one.  Rest assured, we will influence people, the only question is whether it will be towards or away from God.

Let’s look at a positive example of this, because I tend to be pretty grumpy when talking about this.  Harry Potter is a tale full of vibrant and exciting magical possibilities.  The message is overall a pretty simple one.  J.K. Rowling envisions a world where love will triumph over evil.  That in and of itself is a worldview very harmonious with the Christian worldview.  It brings people closer to the Christian mindset.  In fact, the task to kill Voldemort is not one of revenge despite the obvious motivation for it to be so; it is the task of ridding evil in and of itself.  In fact, Ron reminds Harry that it’s not all about him, he’s worried for his own family as well.  They all need Harry to succeed.

As a negative example, take Twilight.  All quality arguments aside, it’s a very dangerous story.  Not because of vampires, werewolves, or imprinting (ick), but because of the series’ view of love.  Love is not a commitment, but a feeling that you can’t help, put in descriptions more fitting of a drug addiction than a loving and committed relationship.

So, I ask you, what do your characters say?  Because it may be easier to get published if you compromise, but at what price?  Are you willing to negatively influence people for the sake of a good story?

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1

Writers are teachers, my friends.  We have the potential to reach a far greater audience than any oral instructor could hope to.  We are teaching with every page, every keystroke.

So what are you teaching?

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