Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sanitized Characters


If you missed it or didn't find it interesting, I encourage you to check out last week's posts on the book Lost Mission. At least for those of us on the blog tour, there was a lot of deep discussion over themes brought up from the book.

A couple of posts got me thinking about our characters when writing fiction. One reviewer didn't like the book because they thought some characters were promoting paganism. Now, this is more of a thematic issue they had with the book, but I commented on their post that the book wasn't promoting paganism, but that the characters were acting according to who they were. The blogger didn't agree with my assessment, and we agreed to disagree.

Another blogger wanted a character to turn to her Bible to get guidance and figure out what should be done. Certainly it would be ideal if everyone did that, and it would have made sense since the character was devout. I know I dive deeper into my Bible when in trouble, but it may not have served the story and the climiax that was building.

After these two comments came up, it got me thinking that perhaps in Christian fiction we subconsciously want the characters we read about to be "sanitized". I'm not saying these two commenters wanted this specifically, but my impression was maybe we do want this a little more than we realize.

Of course the type of book is going to drive what type of characters populate it. Lost Mission focused on five characters, four of whom would be considered devout, so I wouldn't expect rough behavior or language. Still, I think authors can struggle with making a character authentic due to a fear of offending a CBA reader.

There's also been some blog discussion about the homogenized Christianity seen in a lot of Christian fiction. The believers tend to be from a Protestant, non-denominational "Bible" type church, without distinctive doctrines such as speaking in tongues, high liturgical services, or other significant identifiers (that don't break the core orthodoxy of the Trinity, the Bible, salvation, etc.). Catholics or people who may be a little less mainstream don't make it as the examples of a Christian character.

I think this goes back to market forces. The CBA market (it used to stand for Christian Booksellers Association, but now is a term for the specific niche fiction one typically finds in an Evangelical bookstore) is particular and doesn't like certain feathers ruffled. We can have serial killers in CBA fiction, as long as they don't cuss and sleep around. We also don't want the Pew Wars extend into our fiction.

Now the clean-mouthed assassin is a blatant example, but I wonder if we expect too much from our CBA characters. Authors know they have a certain audience to please, and perhaps the edges are knocked off a bit. As I flail away at my work in progress, I did a character bio sheet to help me know my heroine better. One questioned asked about sexual experience. My first instinct is to say, "No, she has been chaste." Unfortunately, in our modern world it would be unrealistic to have an attractive, secular college student be a virgin, so I have to concede that she has had premarital sex. It likely won't come up in the story, so I get a dodge there, but I think my initial reaction is telling.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    First time I've read this blog, but it brought up my "past life" when I used to devour long fantasy novels in hs and college. I agree about the problem with sanitizing Christian fiction. A wise church librarian introduced me to Stephen Lawhead, a Christian author. Several patrons of the church library had asked that his fantasy/sci fi novels be removed because they were rather graphic in portraying pagan practices. For a teen hooked on Anne McCaffery, Terry Brooks, Stephen King, and various other secular authors...they were a good transition into excellent Christian fiction. Proved at a time when I needed it that Christianity can be a pursuit of excellence in all areas. Thanks for the thoughts. J Haley