Character Development in Life and Fiction

Recently I read this blog on The Story Mavens: It was written by a friend of mine who has had quite a bit of success in her career as a writer. It’s basically about developing all your characters, even the “bad guys”. My (other world fantasy) novel takes place in a society where slavery is essential to their way of life, the worship of country and self is prevalent, and severe military training is enforced on very young boys. It’s a harsh place, but there are still families who love each other, compassion, art, rich history, and good things, even among the oppressors. Because that’s how real life is.

While I was trying to get to know the “bad guys” in my novel as whole characters (i.e. not just evil villains), my four year old started asking me questions about good guys and bad guys. She’s been watching Justice League with my husband for a while now, and the concept of bad guys on t.v. is normally that there is nothing good about them, that they are just pure evil, especially in cartoons. She was asking me about real life bad guys and if we should “get them”, meaning (I guess) beat them up Green Lantern style and either throw them in jail or shoot them into space.

While I did tell her that when people do bad things, there are consequences, like jail or getting hurt or in her case time outs or being grounded from her iPod or whatever, I also told her that Jesus loves everyone, and so when another kid hits her or yells at her or takes something from her, while that kid’s mommy might have consequences for them, she should remember that Jesus loves them and therefore so should we. I told her that love doesn’t mean that we tolerate the actions of “bad guys”, but rather love is showing them care and hoping that Jesus changes their hearts.

As is the case often, my conversation with my four year old made me take a look at myself. How many times do I forget that Jesus loves the bad guys and wants their hearts to change, for them to become loving people who live for His glory? How often do I forget that they have families who love them? That they are somebody’s brother, sister, son or daughter, husband or wife? That when someone is killed in a police shooting or put in jail for life or put on death row, that while those may be their consequence and might possibly be necessary, someone is grieving them while the whole world is hating them? Maybe, just maybe, instead of celebrating their downfall, even if it is deserved and just, I should mourn the condition of the human heart. Maybe I should mourn the condition of my own heart and be grateful for the grace and forgiveness and the change of heart I receive from Jesus Christ.

As a writer, my characters have to be realistic. They can’t be purely good or purely evil. Because real people aren’t that way. They are complex and multi-layered.

As just a person – a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend – who loves Jesus, I hope that I can see people, all people, with compassion and grace and forgiveness. I hope I mourn sin and pray for the sinner, and thank God that He is saving me every day from my own sin.


2 thoughts on “Character Development in Life and Fiction

  1. Excellent point!

    I can’t vet every single claim on this site, but even the people who we typically think of as completely evil were often just doing what they thought was right and actually didn’t just do evil stuff! I don’t suppose it makes up for anything, but in a novel it makes the character way more interesting.

  2. Interesting article. Hitler left this world with the legacy of being a “bad guy” and rightly so, but it would be inaccurate to assume he was sitting in a dark corner every night rubbing his hands together maniacally laughing to himself (“Muahaha”) and figuring out how he could destroy the world. In his own twisted, sinful, crazy way he did think he was doing the right thing. It honestly scares me to death to see how much one’s sinful nature can distort one’s belief of right and wrong.

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