Usually my 4th grade son’s writing assignments involve heroes with super powers. They throw grenades, dodge bullets and never make mistakes.
This week as we worked on a character sketch I insisted that he only write about “real life” 4th grade issues. His character “Bo” needed to have a real problem that he would solve during the story.
“His problem is that he eats shrapnel and it turns into gold,” he suggested.
“Absolutely not. What’s a problem that boys your age have? Maybe he’s not good in sports, maybe he doesn’t have friends, or maybe he’s afraid of something.”
The thought of writing about a less than perfect 9-year-old boy terrified him. Then his eyes lit up. “I know, I’ll write about a girl. Then it’ll be easy to come up with problems.”
I know how he feels.
Like my son, I squirm when I delve into the spiritual weaknesses of my heroines. No one would get past chapter one if I created a character with all the ugliness I’m capable of. If I scratched away all the excuses and extenuating circumstances and revealed her heart, people would throw the book away.
And I understand that. We read as an escape and we want to be inspired by people who are getting it right, or at least they are completely reformed by the conclusion.
So we have our list of “safe” Christian sins that are allowed in our characters – pride, stubbornness, fear. But even those present as mere quirks and rarely do they hurt anyone besides the protagonist – with whom we are completely sympathetic.
I understand the desire to write about someone who’s nothing like me. I’m comfortable finding that perfect flaw that is endearing and easily overlooked. You know… one that really doesn’t require forgiveness. The one that Jesus didn’t need to die for.
And I’m realizing that this post has less to do with writing and more with being honest with ourselves. Are there really permissible flaws? Are there really areas of self we’re allowed to protect from pruning?
Is the problem that Christian fiction doesn’t deal with serious sin, or is the problem that Christians don’t deal with every sin seriously? What character traits are unacceptable in a fictional hero? What flaws do we excuse in ourselves?