I don’t know about you, but the older I get the harder it is to recognize the woman in the mirror. I still feel sixteen on the inside, but as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning…my body says I’m fifty and climbing. That first look in the mirror each day is another reminder that the days of pimples and proms have been replaced with age spots and AARP.
But here’s the good news—well, sorta good news. I know myself better than ever. The ancient Greeks would applaud my achievement. “Gnothi seauton”—know thyself—was inscribed on the walls of the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi as one of humankind’s highest callings. Well, if they would have just waited until they were fifty, they would have figured themselves out.
After fifty years of living with me, I get very few surprises…or so I thought until recently.
Just Trying to Write a Book
I’m going to write a few paragraphs that will seem like a digression, but stick with me—I promise to land the plane after circling the runway a while…
Until a few weeks ago, I was struggling mightily with my rough draft of book #6, Miriam. I’ve never experienced writer’s block before, but I assume it would feel something like that. My characters were flat. The biblical story was magnificent, but my historical retelling was ho-hum at best.
On one of my writers’ email loops, another author threw out the following confession and question: “I kind of stink at getting to the emotional junk in a book. Anyone have a craft book recommendation that helped with this?”
I could have written the same confession and question, so I watched with eagle eyes as the answers started rolling in. Since I’m basically a lazy person (I told you I knew myself), one suggestion for character development templates really appealed to me. Not just because it meant filling out a “form” instead of reading a whole book, but because of the guy who’d developed the templates.
Long story short…this same guy, Jeff Gerke, taught me how to plot Love in a Broken Vessel. Jeff taught an amazing strategy to balance a strong plot with deep and moving characters in his book, Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction, and I highly recommend it for any authors out there.
What’s the Big Deal About Templates?
I downloaded the Templates (CLICK HERE if you’d like to read more about them) and realized it would take me four hours to fill out one template for a single character. Yes, FOUR HOURS. If you’ve read my books, you know how many characters I have. I almost chalked-off the $12 investment as a donation to the college fund for Jeff’s kids.
But I’m so glad I persevered.
By the time I’d worked through templates on my four main characters (yep, it took sixteen hours), I knew those characters better than I knew myself!
Here’s a sampling of the questions on these templates that helped me form my characters’ physical traits, personality, speech habits, love languages, and motivations:
- To what degree does this character understand and dwell in God’s unconditional approval and favor?
- What is this character’s primary self-rewarding behavior of choice s/he turns to when feeling in need of sympathy, self-medication, or reward?
- How seriously has this wrong thinking—and the self-rewarding behavior of choice used to salve it—impacted this character’s life in the past? How is it affecting him/her right now?
- What is this character’s primary redeeming quality or strength?
- What is this character’s primary dark quality or weakness?
- What is this character’s primary fear?
- What is this character’s primary life struggle?
- What is this character’s primary goal in life?
- What’s the first impression this character gives off?
- What other things do they find out about this character the more they get to know him/her?
- What examples of romantic love, both positive and negative, did s/he have growing up? How do those examples influence now?
- How easy or difficult does this person make it for a significant other to love him or her? To face problems with him or her? To coexist day to day with him or her?
- When faced with the possibility of something s/he fears, does this person turn to violence or silence?
- When trying to persuade, does this person appeal to reason, fair play, peer pressure, some authority, intimidation, or something else?
Why Do You Care?
I know a few of you out there are fiction writers and would benefit from this information to develop characters in your own stories, but I would never write a blog post for such a small sampling of my audience.
So why write this post? (I’m about to land the plane.)
Because these questions and others from Jeff’s Character Development Templates caused me to search my own heart. As I said before, when I finished creating the characters for my book, I felt as if I knew them better than myself—and perhaps I did.
These questions were so searching, so deep–and yet I hadn’t asked myself these questions before. I hadn’t contemplated these character-forming concepts that perhaps God has used while shaping me.
When Paul pleads with the Roman church to offer themselves as living sacrifices, he also says this:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3
We are to think of ourselves. Of course, there’s always danger in extremes. Too much self-assessment is narcissistic but too little is just as unhealthy. But keep reading. Paul’s next words describe how the Body of Christ is made up of many members, and then he lists several spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to members of a Body as He sees fit.
Our God creates people with FAR more care than I build characters for my stories! He chooses physical traits, personality, speech habits, love language, and motivations and then places them together in a church, giving them specific spiritual gifts to build up one another. I believe Paul instructs us to “think of ourselves with sober judgement” for many reasons–but one of them is to build up the Body of Christ.
Get To Know Thyself
Why not get quiet before the Lord and let Him help us answer some of those questions that expose the shadowed places in our hearts? Let me encourage you to use Jeff’s character templates as a tool for your devotional time.
Read Psalm 139 before you start. Only the Creator, the One who knit you together in your mother’s womb, knows the answers to some of these questions. You’ll need His help, but I believe you’ll discover marvelous things about your story.
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:1,23-24
- I had not contemplated these character-forming concepts that perhaps God used while shaping me.
- Extremes are dangerous. Too much self-assessment is narcissistic; too little is unhealthy.
- You will need God to reveal both the shadowy and marvelous things about your inner story.
- Which of the sample questions from Jeff’s template most intrigued you?