It's become the fashion, among authors in Christian circles, to say, "I'm not a Christian Writer; I'm a writer who is a Christian." There's good enough reason for this: to pin the label on an author changes the way people view his book. Correctly or not, it alters expectations. In some ways it raises them: this book will likely uphold Christian Values. In other ways, it lowers them: the writing will likely display weaknesses common to Christian fiction. One can draw a short line from the first expectation to the second: the felt obligation to present a positive witness so easily stifles a writer's abilily to paint the darkness dark, to draw three dimensional heroes with real faults and three dimensional villains with real virtues.
But I set myself one rule when I first began to write fiction, that actually improved my writing, though my purpose at first had more to do with behaving Christianly toward my readers. Or rather, toward my reader: at first, I thought only of the one woman whose story had provided the outline for Dara, my main character in To Dance In the Desert. Would this woman recognize herself in Dara? And if so, would she feel that I'd treated her badly, by misjudging her motivations, or minimizing the experiences that had led her to act as she had done?
As I progressed, I realized that Dara had changed enough in the writing that the woman on whom she was based would never recognize herself in the story, but by this time I understood that other woman or men might well see themselves in my characters. When I held that mirror up to show them their faces, I wanted to do it kindly, with love.
That went for Finis too, that legalistic, worst-nightmare of a self-help preacher. If some minister heard his own voice in the cadence of Finis' sales pitch, he must sense the same understanding and grace that each one of us needs.
This morning I discussed with a friend the rare insight a parent has into the core personality of her grown child, because she was there early to see what caused him joy, what made his eyes tear and his shoulders curl in around his heart.
I believe we should have that same insight into our characters - especially the less positive ones. Not only does that uphold the golden rule, but it rounds out the writing as well, adds a complexity that both rings true and offers insight to the reader.
To illustrate, here is a picture that has fascinated and troubled me since I first saw it several years ago. A beautiful, sweet-faced boy, who loved to play cowboys and Indians, whose childhood ambition was to be a priest. What was his name? Adolf Hitler.
What happened to this child? What was he thinking, as the photographer took his picture? What was done to him as he grew, and why did it affect him one way, and not another?
We all come out of the box as children, beautiful, with joys and vulnerabilities. To quote Marcus Zusak in The Book Thief, "I am haunted by humans."
Please Lord, let my readers be, as well.