Character Creation (Edited)

While creating characters for my upcoming novel, The Quest for the Armor, Part 1, I discovered I had difficulty defining and establishing the main character's nemeses and supporting characters. Simply stated, in a novel designed for Christian young adults, how evil could the characters be without crossing the line? And what level of angst, or personality flaws, could I incorporate into the characters without alienating the Christian audience?

As with all character development, the stories "likability" rests on the reader's face value acceptance of the nemeses. If I soften them up, made them too predictable or sterotypical, then my audience would be lost by the end of the first chapter. I recall reading a popular fantasy fiction series in which the author did a great job developing the lead and supporting cast. Their distinct personalities and characteristics were flawless, engaging and exciting. Somehow the author had even managed to bestow upon the young hero unbelievable warrior capabilities that, in light of the plot and supporting characteristics, were not only believeable but equally engaging.

Then, the helium slowly leaked out of the balloon of anticipation as I was introduced to the lamest villain in history. The characterization of the villain and his chronies was so typical, dry and, for lack of a better word, corny, that I gave up by chapter 5.

Therefore, the trick seemed to be finding an acceptable template, so to speak, of conflicted and confused characters to utilize their distinct traits in an effort to enhance their strength and vulnerability, while making them a very real threat to the main characters very existence. I also wanted to encode the basic principles about lifes inevitable conflict with evil, and the power to overcome and achieve through the Holy Spirit. What better template for character confusion and conflict, battle and success, than the Bible?

The obvious nemesis with whom I am very familiar, and who is presented in the short story The Marks, in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness, is Queen Jezebel. Treachery marked her life. The Bible records her actions in detail: uplifting her god, Melkart (Baal) over the God of Israel, ruthlessly hunting the prophet Elijah, slaughtering God's priests and people, plotting and encouraging murder so that her husband, King Ahab, can fulfill his hearts desire. Her actions bestow plenty of freedom to establish a ruthless nemesis.

I wanted more depth, however, more levels of confusion, so to speak, for one of the supporting characters who is both the main character's grandmother and unknown nemesis. It is obviously a tricky relationship, she loves her granddaughter, yet she went to the other side long ago. I worried that an evil grandmother might be too much for the Christian market, therefore I studied the life of Jezebel's daugher, Athaliah. A fascinating study in the spiritual deposits left by the parent, or generational curses if you will, Athaliah becomes the only female ruler of Judah, because she slaughtered her own grandchildren to claim the throne.

Regarding personal conflict and deceit to cover one's own sin, I turned to the life of David and Bathsheba, of course. The text regarding David's planned murder and the ramifications that played out on the heads of his children makes for interesting character development. Similarly, the palpable torment of Tamar, the daughter who was raped by his eldest son, creates an interesting character framework. She covered herself with the cloth of shame and spent her life a ruined woman living in her brother's house. Her destruction was so damaging that Absolom, her brother, began to seethe with hatred toward his father, sought to dethrone David and eventually lost his own life. The unraveling of their lives and their tormented reactions span the gamut and allow a broad swath of creative character development.

To develop deception, I recalled the story of Esther and the plot of Hamas. I also studied the life of both David's sons, Absolom and Adonijah, who attempted to overthrow him. Both struggled to achieve power by divisive and manipulative means and met an awful end, Absolom hanging by his hair from a tree with arrows sticking out of his chest and Adonijah ordered to death after attempting to manipulate Solomon. For a warrior of savage ruthlessness, I turned to Nebuchadnezzar's ruthless destruction of Jerusalem and the Egyptian King Necho's rule of Jerusalem from afar and the harsh suffering his rule brought on the land.

Finally, there is always the vain ruler, who received a high position because of his birthright, but is foolish to his very core. Obviously, King Ahab of Israel, Jezebel's foolish husband, fits the bill for this. The scene where he wines and moans for a desired vineyard is almost laughable. Similarly, we see him employing childish tactics to pursuade King Jehoshophat of Judah to enter war and when the prophet Micaiah first warns him not to attend the war he is arrested. Ahab's insecurities and weakness are evident throughout the scene. Similarly, King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who, after being unable to maintain a united nation, which had been foretold, and losing a large section of the nation to Israel, came under subjogation to Egypt. Egypt confiscated the vast riches stored in Solomon's temple as well as the heavy gold shields. In an unbelievable display of vanity and weakness, Rehoboam replaced the shields with fakes, bronze instead of gold, which were carried to and from the temple, presumably to keep his secret hidden.

Finally, a great character of foolishness, who I can't wait to later utilize is Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar who used the fine vessels his father had stripped from the temple of Jerusalem for a meal in which he continuously blasphemed and praised other "earthly" gods. Can't you just picture the glorious meal, with he and his guests laying on fine mats before the most splendidly decorated feast laughing at the God of Israel and a nation scorned.?Now, imagine him in a drunken stupor, amidst his wives and concubines. He glances up at the wall to see the fingers of a man's hand writing on the plaster of the wall, in an unknown language. He completely loses his royal cool and indifference, Daniel 5:6 states:

Then the king's countenance was changes, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his kneew smote one against another.

His knees actually started knocking!! What a remarkable character, what a priceless reaction. All of which can be incorporated in the development of a conceited foolhearted character, who is later stunned by the results of his own ridiculous behavior.

I discovered so many fitting tales, some I of which I had never heard before, when I relied on the Word. With these examples, I had leeway to expand or minimize the character's personalities, reactions, and situations, all within the rubric of our beliefs and guidelines. The biblical stories shaped the characters of The Quest for the Armor, and, I hope, has created an enjoyable read.


Strength in Weakness

by Andrea Graham

I, like many, struggle with the huge pressure exerted on us to measure success by the numbers-oriented, if not dollar-signs-oriented, measures the world uses.

Let me start by laying it all out. I am not effective, and I am not wise. I am not the sharpest debater, and shun apologetics. I am weak, foolish, lazy, prone to self doubt, gullible, easily tossed about by the winds of emotion. I lack confidence, self-esteem, endurance, and patience, especially with faults in others. I am not good at making friends, indeed, I’ve lived in Boise about three years now, and still wouldn’t know who to call in an emergency, other than 9-1-1 and the Church office, who would send whoever happened to not be too busy. I find it difficult to trust in God, let alone man. I’m prone to coveting, especially babies. Take the worst traits of the extrovert, combine them with the worst traits of the introvert, and you’ve got my temperament. Only in terms of overcorrecting, am I Queen. When I’m not being bossy, manipulative, and controling, or just obstinately opinionated and all too eager to share my beliefs, I’m huddling in the corner, terrified to speak at all.

In school, I was not the popular child, the smartest child, the prettiest, or the most athletic. You want to find who I was, slip out to playground. See the little red haired girl, the only one, sitting alone on the bench, watching all the other children? See her pretending she doesn’t care as her classmates tear her to shreds, mistaking freckles as a symptom of the AIDS virus (it was the eighties, coodies had a new name). That little girl, that was me. I had no friends, until a friend of my mom’s took us to church, where I met a Man who wanted to be the friend of a rejected little girl. His name was Jesus. He was a King and God Himself. He was my only friend, the only person I knew beyond doubt cared about me. To this day, He bears the scars to prove it.

With that in mind, let’s remember what the Lord said at the end of first chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, starting in verse twenty-six:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish
things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of
the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in
His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from
God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written,
“He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”

Let me propose a question we need to ask ourselves. This is entirely between you and the Lord. We say with our lips we glory in the Lord, but do we honor him in our hearts? Yes? Good! That's important, because, at least for me, the heart has a way of ending up on paper whether I intend it to or not. Too often, though, I find myself relying on my knowledge, and slipping into worldly thinking, all the while patting myself on the back for my cleverness. True, the Bible says, "be wise as serpents," but are we using God's wisdom, or the widom of man, which God, speaking through Paul, declares foolishness? I can't answer that for you personally, but I'm sure we can all think of such in a world where even Christian publishers balk at putting the name "Jesus" on the cover. Let's consider what Paul had to say about wisdom:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or
of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know
anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in
weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were
not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit
and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the
power of God.

Wow. How did Paul accomplish so much? He sounds about as marketing-savy here as me. Guess that gives us hope, doesn't it? He continues, though:

However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

So we need to rely on God? I suppose we already knew that, those tacky bracelets made sure of it. But I spend way too much time trying to pretend I'm not shaking in my boots, so I opened with my own version of Paul's why-not-to-hire-me-as-a-public-speaker query above, taking in consideration Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 12:6-10:

For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the
truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be
or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to
buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with
the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace
is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore
most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may
rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs,
in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am

A challenging passage, in a world that compels us to boast of ourselves! Yet scripture teaches we’re strongest when we’re weak. Why? Because when we think we’re strong, we rely on our own strength and instead of His, and he is by far stronger, wiser, funnier, more clever, than any of us could ever hope to be. So when I rely on my own limited strength, I cut myself off from a much greater strength. And in my weakness, his strength comes with an added bonus, as in Isaiah 55:11, He promises His word will not return to him void. I guess that's why it's better to try and fail than to not try at all. Like the sower, we scatter our seed, never knowing where and when it will take root. Thanks be to God, that He can speak through one as weak and foolish as I.

Let me leave you with a few more words from the Apostle Paul to meditate on.

1 Cor 3:18-20:

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age,
let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is
foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own
craftiness”; and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are

1 Cor 4:10-16:

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you
are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we
both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And
we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the
world, the offscouring of all things until now.
I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.
For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not
have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
Therefore I urge you, imitate me.


Why do you write?

For the past couple of months, I've found myself up against that horrid brick wall that every writer dreads facing: Writer's Block. I've struggled with my own blank brain cells and that "other" bane of a writer's existence commonly known as "real life". Between this 'rock and a hard place' I'm feeling drained, fatigued, and just downright empty.

Ever feel that way?

Nothing makes sense. All the notes I've made for my various projects might as well be written in Greek. Times like these cause me to wonder why I am so committed to writing in the first place. Self-doubt, like any enemy attack, always hits when we are at our most vulnerable, never -- EVER -- when we are strong enough to laugh in its face.

So why DO we write? Unless your name is Stephen King or Danielle Steele, you are most likely NOT writing for the money! Considering the amount of time it takes from conception of the "idea", to research, to execution of the plot, to review, rewrite, correct, rewrite again, then submit to a publisher, more corrections, and finally to market and distribute ----- well, this is probably one of the least paid positions one can aspire to!

Is it for fame? Again, there are ALOT of folks out there writing and marketing their books. I'd love to believe that all of us will land on the best seller list in the next couple of years. But competition is heavy. Maybe we will; maybe we won't. The only One Who knows the answer to that particular question is God, and He doesn't usually tell us too much in advance! (After all, if He let us in on what tomorrow holds, we might not have the courage to get out of bed in the morning...)

I've always loved to write stories. From the time I was old enough to hold a No. 2 pencil, I amused myself by writing adventures. My first literary ventures came about when my Dad was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany in the mid-60's. No television, few friends when we first arrived, and a nasty case of strep throat (acquired aboard ship while crossing the Atlantic) kept me in quarantine for quite some time. So -- I wrote! Humble beginnings, and certainly nothing I'll ever allow to be seen! But God nurtured that little seed which blooms today in my heart.

I shelved my novelistic impulses for many years, reserved the pencils for book reports and pen pal correspondence, and Mom kept those early stories locked safely away with her Mother's Day cards and paper doily Valentines. I had all but forgotten that childish dream until the late '80's. My family had settled in Denver, Colorado. Every year, Denver hosts a huge Sunday School Convention, which encompasses every facet of lay ministry and covers any and every denomination. I signed up for various classes. To this day, I don't remember any of them --- except one. The "Writing for Publication" class caught my eye, but I shook my head and told myself that it would be a waste of my time. I headed for another class in that time slot, only to be met by a note on the door saying "class cancelled". Consulting my list, I chose another class --- and found the same note on THAT door. Rolling my eyes, I grumbled, "Alright, alright, Lord. You don't have to cancel the entire conference to get my attention. I don't know WHY You're insisting, but I'll go."

That was it. I was hooked.

I remember shrieking, crying, laughing, praising, and dancing around the livingroom when I got my first acceptance letter and a check for $20. My first poem sold to a magazine for the Assemblies of God, The Pentecostal Evangel. I'll never forget that feeling. My poetry has always been an intensely personal expression. Sharing it was scary. I felt like I was allowing the world a glimpse into my soul. Then I realized that my soul belongs to Jesus, and if He wanted the world to see inside me --- well, that's His right as my Lord and Savior! If it sounds like it all came easily, I assure you it did NOT! My rejection slips far outweighed the acceptance letters. Someone once said that you know you're a writer when you can wallpaper a room with your rejection notices. Sad but true. But I plowed on for a couple of years and began seeing more and more of my work make it to print. I felt like I had finally found my niche in the Kingdom of God.

Then that "real life" stuff clobbered me, and I don't mean a little slap on the face. I'm talking about knock-down/drag-out warfare, and beaten to a bloody little spiritual pulp. There were several years of parenting difficulties, deaths in our families, frequent moves, stress and division -- and finally divorce. We always think, "...that'll never happen to me." Famous last words. I'll tell you what follows closely on the heels of those words: "What could I possibly have to offer the world? I couldn't even hold my marriage together..."

Don't you ever believe it!

God has proven His diversity --- and His incredible sense of humor! -- over the centuries. If He can use a wanderer's staff, the jawbone of an ass, and a talking donkey, I guess a divorced woman isn't much of a leap! Getting back to my initial question: why do we write? Over the past couple of years, writing has literally saved my sanity, giving me something to focus on besides the pain of a disabling shoulder injury, keeping me from tripping headlong into that pit called self-pity, and exercising a talent that does NOT require physical strength. It has also restored some semblance of value to my life. If I do nothing else in this world, I want to help others see value in their own lives; I want to show people that they are priceless to Almighty God.

Why do you write? Dollar signs? Don't hold your breath! Fame? Fleeting and as illusive as the morning mist.

To give the Lord another tool for His workshop? To help repair the damage souls suffer in this spiritually ravaged world? To hold out hope to weary, defeated people?

Ah, now THERE'S a worthy goal.

Now if someone can just invent a cure for that pesky writer's block....


It's Not the Deus, It's the Machina

"What the deuce is that?"
"Deus. Deus X. Machina. There's a god in this box, you see. Very useful."
"Must be rather small, though."
"Folds up nicely, that's all."

In some ancient plays, the author sometimes wrote himself into a corner: the problems he had conjured up just wouldn't go away. So he would winch a deity onto the set to tidy everything up. This easy way out still shows up (though in different forms) even these days, and it's one of the reasons some people give for dismissing spec-fic in general: some magic or high-tech special effect will solve everything in the end.

So the backlash says, "No deus ex machina." The idea is for characters to solve their own problems--no divine intervention. This certainly closes the door on cheap and easy endings.

But we're Christians, and we have a God who intervenes--sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly. We cannot--must not--throw out the Deus with the machina. And we don't need to.

After all, if our characters work things out themselves, what need do they have of God? I used to have such moral/agnostic storylines, but I tossed them. God is the most important being there is, so any story that doesn't feature him in some way is trivial.

(Some smart aleck is sure to mention Esther. But while God isn't mentioned specifically, the chain of "coincidences" in the narrative points to his involvement. Also, aside from prayer to an unnamed God, what would be the point of their fasting? The reason God isn't mentioned is that he is always arranging things, even when he seems absent--the theme of Esther.)

I've said that there's no need to toss out the Deus. That's because the problem is the machina. It isn't really God tooling around onstage that's annoying (though "Zap! Problem solved!" is); it's the fact that he's airlifted in at the last moment. If God (or a God-replacement) is there from the start, the awkwardness largely disappears. In Star Wars (Episode IV), the Force appears early, so when it partly resolves the final problem, no one cries foul. Likewise, in The Matrix, Trinity's escape from the cops at the beginning lets us know it's not business as usual.

Don't keep God in a box until the last scene. Let him on the stage from the start.

Tune in again next time for "The Opposite of Magic":

"Is... Is that magic?" Alfred stammered.
Laylah's eyes flashed, but her tone remained gentle. "No. It's the opposite of magic. ...I merely proclaim God's will rather than trying to impose my own. That is why this is the opposite of magic."