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Historical Romance Author

The Perfect Flaw

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.┬áIf 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?

 

 

7 Comments

  1. As a young writer working on my first romance novel, this is a question I have agonized over. Is my hero/heroine too sinful? Will a christian publisher even give it the time of day because of the subject it deals with. Should I water it down or make it something that “sinners” (as we all are) can relate to and identify with? I still don’t have all the answers but I have come to the conclusion that I do not want my characters to be flawless, yes some may even have serious sins, but as one of my favorite christian romance writers wrote in one of her books, “What good is God’s mercy if we never have need of it?” (Deeanne Gist) This is what christian fiction is about to me, not being immune from making mistakes yet knowing a Savior who can set us free.

  2. I agree, Shelly. It’s a tough question. There are certain topics we don’t want to touch with our protagonists (especially in romance!). What does that say about how we view people who’ve been delivered?

  3. Very thought-provoking post, Regina. I think we all have our set of “acceptable” sins in our mind, ones that are easy to rationalize probably becuase we fall prey to them ourselves. I think Christian fiction can be an incredibly powerful tool for exposing those seemingly minor flaws for the true sin they are.

    This is what I tried to do in To Win Her Heart. My heroine, Eden, had always been the good girl. She followed the rules, she always put on the right face around others. Yet when she finds herself in situations that make her choose between doing what is truly right instead of what society deems as right, she struggles. She makes mistakes and has to repent, and in the end she realizes that true faith requires sacrifice not just a shiny veneer.

    In our writing, I think small flaws can have even bigger messages than the huge ones because they are more likely to reflect the things we ourselves struggle with. In the same story as I mentioned above, the hero had a dark prodigal past, yet it was the heroine who had biggest spiritual changes to make.

  4. This is a thought provoking post. When I think about this topic in Christian Fiction my mind automatically goes to Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Her book has touched countless lives and has been a favorite of mine for years. She wasn’t afraid to dig deep into the realities and consequences of a heinous sin and because of that her book has been a powerful tool that real people can relate to.

    In my WIP my heroine has experienced a tragic event in her childhood that has left her seeking forgiveness and peace. When I read her voice journal to my husband he asked me to stop because it was heartbreaking to hear. I automatically considered changing it, but then I thought more about it. Why are we afraid to deal with real life sin and pain? Why do we want to sugar coat everything? Our job as a Christian author is to show the lost that there is hope and redemption for everyone. Even the ugliest amongst us (often the person staring at us in the mirror) is just as precious and just as important as the next. The idea, in our lives and in the lives of our fictional characters, is to show that salvation is instantaneous, but refining is a life long process.

  5. Alicia Rasley’s The Story Within Guidebook (rasley.com) has a great section on The Heroic Flaw. You can’t just pick one random flaw – which I tend to do. You must ask where the hero needs to grow and change. She says “The heroic flaw should be the flipside of a heroic strength.” The external plot pushes the hero on his internal journey. In a romance, the heroine and hero propel each other on the journey.
    Great post, Regina!

  6. Karen – Hopefully, that’s how it works. We see a “cute” quirk in a character, and by the end of the book we realize that we can’t excuse a similar flaw in our own lives. And kudos for having Levi deal with a criminal past.

    Gabrielle – “..salvation is instantaneous, but refining is a life long process.” Well said!

    Cathy – Thank you. And your suggestion makes sense for personal use as well. Often our strengths propel us into trouble. Something to consider.

  7. Oh, the little well intentioned white lie. I can’t really tell her that color is a mistake, can I? Ignoring the little voice that urges us to do good when it’s easier, and safer, to stay in our comfort zone.

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