I always have some form of pain/suffering in my books. Why? Probably to make them relatable – I don’t know a single person who has not endured some form of suffering over the course of life. I have noticed a pattern in my stories that my favorite characters end up being the ones who endure the most and harshest suffering. Interestingly, C. S. Lewis noticed this same pattern of God; he said in The Screwtape Letters that God’s “special favorites” go through longer and deeper hard times than anyone else.
Why is this?
I’ve wondered a lot about this recently, why I do this to my favorite characters and why they are my favorite characters. Here are my conclusions:
- My favorite characters are those with the most inner character. They are diamonds on the inside. But diamonds are only formed through intense heat and pressure. In the same way, my best characters cannot show their true colors unless they are put into situations that would crumble anyone lesser. The hardships and trials and pain I give to them fictionally prove what they’re made of. A lionhearted man does not stand out from the others in times of peace and security. When danger threatens and others run, then his courage shines forth. I delight in bringing out the best of my characters. Sometimes I cry when they’re hurting (yes, I know they’re fiction), yet my heart swells with pride and affection for them.
- This is really part two of reason #1, or perhaps the flip side of the same coin. Trials refine my characters. They might harbor selfishness, laziness, or other unfavorable qualities, but hardships have a penchant for stripping away what does not matter and shifting the sufferer closer to the things that really matter the most. Again, this brings out the diamond within, shapes it, carves out its facets so in light it sparkles the brightest. When my characters start out as jerks (a few of them do), I can have great patience with them and even shake my head in amusement at their badness – because I know what’s coming. Because I know whom they’ll become. Because I see the diamond within even before it’s fully formed or revealed.
These revelations are eye-opening when I think about the hardships I endure in life or that others I love endure. What if God’s reasons for our hardships are the same as mine as an author for my fictional characters? We often take hardships to mean God’s unfavorable toward us, that we’ve done something wrong, or that He’s checked out and isn’t taking care of us anymore. But what if it’s the opposite that’s true?
When my fictional characters face hardships, I’m very specific in what they endure and what they don’t. I know my characters. I formed them in my imagination. I’m writing them. I know what they can endure and what they can’t. I know what hardships will break them and make them malleable or which ones will destroy them so that they’ll never recover or so that they’ll become people I don’t want them to be. I know which is which, and I specifically choose the former while protecting my characters from the latter. In the end, they’re exactly who I mean them to be. I don’t rush the process. I don’t fret during the way. I know where I’m taking them, how long it will take, and each necessary step. I’m very intentional. No pain they endure is pointless.
If I take such care for fictional people who do not and never will actually exist, how much more does God take care toward us, whom He loves enough to die for us?