June 2021 Featured Article

Idealized Reality…what?

It’s been nine years since I first began writing, and June is release month for my debut novel, Shattered Guilt. I can’t believe it’s here, and celebrating Father’s Day this month, makes me wish my dad were here to share in the excitement. We shared dreams together, but writing was not one of mine when he was alive. Yet, way back then, he was overjoyed when a short family memory I wrote, was published in a Christian Perpetual Calendar. That was eons ago, and my head is still spinning over the steep learning curve I embarked on once I got serious about writing. I’m still climbing that roller coaster.

Looking back on my old pages, I chuckle at my characters. I think they are my favorite part of writing. I’d begin with some snippet of a personality in mind. More often than not, it was someone I knew, and it evolved from there. But when I studied how to write, I realized that my good guys were really good, and my bad guys were really bad. When I learned that my heroine needed flaws, the thought made me squirm. I came to discover that I’d created characters out of my idealized reality. My characters were like Mary Poppins. Practically perfect in every way. Not human.

Consequently, I left out the other side of humanity—fallen man. Somehow I missed the notion that when writing Christian Fiction, it’s about God at work in our lives. He’s the focus. The story is not just about a man or woman overcoming trials. I’m forever reminded of that in my daily quiet times. I begin, with my sins past and present looming, but when I’m bathed in God’s love through His Word, my shortcomings fade away. He is forever at work in my life. How could I forget that? His grace slays me to humble gratefulness.

Idealized reality.

Here’s an example. The first draft of Shattered Guilt was not about Melanie, the current main character, the mom. It was about Lacey, her teenage daughter. At the time that I wrote it, my youngest daughter was fifteen, and when she read the first few chapters, she came to me and said, “Mom, it’s me. Isn’t it?”  She rolled her eyes. “Don’t you like it?” I asked her. She did. My daughter found it amusing, a little embarrassing, but she liked it. Of course, she would. There were no flaws to speak of!  Funny physical antics, but an impeccable character, especially for a teenager.

Another case in point. When I wrote about Melanie’s father, I drew from my dad. His wisdom, love, and his adventurous spirit. This wonderful man is depicted initially in Shattered Guilt—just a brief mention. But, as the years went on, and I wrote Melanie’s backstory and a prelude novelette, Revived Hope, (scheduled for a November release) the dad had to be authentic. In digging up his past, I had to show his faults.

Here’s a little backstory, not in the book.

Charlene giggled. “He’s cute, sis!” She elbowed her sister, but suddenly her eyes grew wide as her gaze focused across the room. “Is that one of the Ridley girls?” She raised a chin and nodded towards the pregnant waitress. “When did that happen?”

            “She probably doesn’t even know who the father is.” Their dad spoke abruptly. He stared straight at Melanie with hard eyes. “If you don’t watch it, that could be you.”

            “Whoa! Whoa! Dad, that’s pretty harsh. Melanie hasn’t even been on a date yet.”

Harsh is right! But overprotective fathers often are, and Melanie’s was no different.

Because I live my life in idealized reality, I usually write that way at first. Then I go back and insert my character’s misgivings and imperfections. Even still, I tend to see the best in those I love the most, making excuses for their faults, but all the while begging God to draw them to Him. It’s because He has been so gracious to me in forgiving my transgressions. When I’m remembering this, it’s easier to put in the flaws vital to the growth, the arc of my character’s development. To trust God, so to speak, and then we can see … Him at work.

So, idealized reality? I made that up, but I kind of like it, and what better time to utilize it than in the month of June, when we celebrate Father’s Day. I always remember the good things about my dad. He was sometimes ideal but always real. I hope that you enjoy the good memories of your dad. And if that was or is difficult, set your eyes on God, the good, good father. Explore the depths of His love for you. He left a whole pile of love letters to remind you.

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