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Writing Inspirational Novels With Flawed Characters

Novelist Vanessa Miller shares why her brand of Christian fiction catches some readers off guard and how writing inspirational novels should start with flawed characters.

So, what happens when readers run into flawed characters in inspirational fiction? Do they put the book down and call it blasphemy? I hope not, because I have made a career of telling inspirational stories with thieves, liars, even killers. Oh my.

(20 Ways to Write Characters Better.)

A Netgalley reviewer recently wrote these words when reviewing my novel, Something Good, “After reading the first 50 pages of Something Good I had to recheck the synopsis to see if I requested the right book. It surprised me that this is in fact a Christian fiction book.”

Not only did the reviewer go on to say that she loved the book, but she recommended that others read my brand of Christian fiction. That review made me smile. Even though she didn’t realize it, she confirmed that I had accomplished what I had set out to do way back when I penned my first novel featuring a flawed character: Show readers the truth of humanity and then allow them to see God’s redemptive power at work as the characters navigate through their situations.

Writing Inspirational Novels With Flawed Characters

In 1994, when I started attending Revival Center Ministries in Dayton, Ohio, Pastor Willie E. Mitchell would stand behind his pulpit and preach a word that would cause men and women to rush down to the altar with tears in their eyes, wanting desperately to change their lives… to be redeemed. My pastor has since gone home to be with the Lord, but I still remember his ability to cause men and women to yearn for something different.

The blessing of redemption, made me want to write about flawed people who desired to change, who desired to be better. As I began writing Christian fiction, I knew I would need to carve out my own path because the people in the books that I read in this genre in the late 90s were too perfect for me. I remember thinking, “I don’t know anyone like this.”

It wasn’t until I discovered books like Francine Rivers’, Redeeming Love, The Mark of the Lion series and the Lineage of Grace series that I realized there was a place for flawed characters in Christian fiction. I am ever grateful to Francine Rivers for her ability to write about people who weren’t pure and wholesome when the reader first meets them. Her characters’ actions showed us that we all do, truly need a savior to help us turn our lives around.

Before I wrote this article, I reached out to my readers to ask why they put up with the flawed characters I write about. One of my readers, Kenya, said she enjoyed reading about flawed characters because, “when characters are too perfect it seems fictional and difficult to relate to.”

Irene told me that she loved rooting for flawed characters to have a Come to Jesus moment, repent and then make things right. My agent, Natasha Kern, shared that she loved reading flawed characters “because they seem like us or people we know who are overcomers of adversity. And life has plenty of that.”

In Something Good, I address mental health issues, distracted driving, being an unwed mother, and marital issues just to name a few. The three women in the book are all flawed in some way. But a prayer for something good becomes the catalyst that turns their situations around and helps them shake off a few of the flaws that defined them.

Learn More About Something Good, by Vanessa Miller

Something Good, by Vanessa Miller

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I fell in love with Trish, Marquita, Alexis, and the idea of hope that this story brings to the reader. It felt as if each character sat down next to me and poured their heart out as I wrote their story. Trish told me about her strong faith in a God who could move mountains… even her mountain. Marquita told me about the sorrows of growing up in an unstable family. Alexis told me about all the secrets she had to keep in order to live this perfect life her husband demanded.

One of my early readers of Something Good told me she enjoyed reading about these flawed characters because, “We are all flawed. So, reading about flawed characters and seeing God’s redemption gives us a sense of hope for ourselves.”

In all the years I’ve lived on earth, what I have discovered is this thing called hope is important. According to an article I recently read on Healthline.com, the body may be able to survive from 8-21 days without food or water. But how long do you think we can survive without HOPE?

In my opinion, the inspirational/Christian genre should bring hope to its readers. But before I can bring hope, I must show the reader the hopelessness of the situation. I must show the flaws of the character. Then as the reader takes the journey with the character and begins to see the changes in the character and the hope that is brought forth through the changes made, that is when the reader breathes a deep sigh of relief and tells themselves that if God can help that character, then He will help them as well.

My first book, Former Rain, released in 2003. Since then, I have written about 50 books. I strive to touch the heart and soul of my readers and bring them hope with each book that I write.

*****

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