Inspiring Heroes Inspire Readers

Strength for the Quest

(Note: This post first appeared on Sherri Wilson Johnson’s blog, on March 22, 2012. It was my part of a blog exchange. You can read her post here.)


Emma Woodhouse
Jane Eyre
Robin Hood
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy
Atticus Finch
Romeo and Juliet
Sherlock Holmes

You’ve shared their adventures. Shared their pain. And even though in your heart of hearts you know they’re not real, they feel like friends.

Every year Margaret Mitchell gets the highest compliment an author can receive when Atlanta tourists walk into the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and ask for directions to the graves of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. 

How do authors do it, clothe fictional characters in flesh and blood? 

Creating characters is an act of inspiration. The word inspire means, “to breathe life into.” So how does an author do that? He follows the same recipe the Creator used when He fashioned man—

“And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

An author begins with dust of the ground attributes:

Physical description,
Hard-wiring his character with a personality type.

Then, the author breathes life into his creation with motivation and intangibles:  

Giving him hopes and dreams,
Setting obstacles and opposing characters in his path,
Placing doubts in his mind,
Forcing him to change,
Making him face his greatest fear.

To make a hero, the author adds: 

Cleverness and resourcefulness,
A special talent or insight,
And a wound to make him human. 

Finally, the author places the character in a scene with other characters and sets them in motion. It’s an anxious moment, even for the author, to see how the hero will handle himself. Bestselling author Terri Blackstock expressed this anxiety at a writers’ conference when she asked the other authors, “Do you pray for your characters?” 

How do authors know if their creation has truly come to life?

They know they’ve succeeded if at the end of the book the reader suffers mild depression upon realizing they will no longer be spending time with the characters of the story.  

As magical as this seems, it gets better. 

If authors do their jobs well, there comes a moment when the reader is no longer reading the story, but living it; a dramatic moment of realization when the truth of the story crystallizes and — with a sharp intake of breath — the reader discovers something about himself. His life is changed. His sights are elevated. His resolve strengthens. He is a better person for having read the story. 

Not only has the author breathed life into his characters, he’s breathed new life into his reader. 

This is inspirational fiction at its finest. 

Because Life Is More Than A Journey


An Interview With Jack Cavanaugh


Jack Cavanaugh Talks About Revival, Christian Fiction, Family

By Randall Murphree
June 22, 2006

(AgapePress) – Novelist Jack Cavanaugh is co-author with Dr. Bill Bright of “The Great Awakenings” series from Howard Publishing. Randall Murphree interviewed Cavanaugh for insights regarding that series and other subjects as well.

AgapePress: How did your path cross Bill Bright’s path? Coincidence or providence?

Jack Cavanaugh: A desire for national revival brought Dr. Bright and me together. He was wanting to collaborate with a novelist on the topic of significant historical revivals in American history. Having already written an American history series, I had always wanted to write novels set during times of revival. When Dr. Bright and I met, it became apparent to us that God had brought us together in answer to both our prayers.

For two days we prayed side by side on our knees and talked about history and story plot ideas, all the while knowing that unless God intervened in dramatic fashion, Dr. Bright would not live long enough to see the release of the first book. This four-novel series, “The Great Awakenings,” is God’s answer to our prayers.

AP: What is the potential of fiction to encourage and challenge believers? To reach the lost?

JC: Stories have the ability to reach people on several levels: intellectual, visual, and emotional. This triple punch is a powerful method of teaching spiritual truth. A well-told story contains a lesson that helps us to see things clearly and motivates us to embody the truth in our own lives. I have witnessed the power of stories — first as a preacher, now as a writer — to teach that God’s ways are always best.

People who would never step foot in a church to hear me preach will read my novels. As a novelist, my ministry has expanded geographically beyond the local pastorate to a ministry that spans the globe. And because it’s the printed word, my ministry will continue beyond my lifetime.

AP: How well is Christian fiction doing as a means of spreading the Gospel?

JC: Novels are uniquely suited to spread the Gospel message. In real life, things happen that don’t make sense. Not so in novels. In a story, everything has to make sense; a character’s motivation has to be believable, a character’s actions always have consequences. What a perfect fit for the Christian message that teaches we will all give an account for our actions.

One of the standard themes of fiction is good vs. evil. How many stories — both secular and Christian — have explored this theme? Again, we have a perfect fit for the Christian message. Isn’t the belief that good will triumph over evil the core of our preaching? This standard theme in fiction mirrors what the Bible has been telling us for centuries.

AP: What are the problems you see with Christian fiction? How about encouraging signs?

JC: At present, the problem I see is in the area of quality of fiction. I include myself in this assessment. In times past, Christian writers were often among the greatest writers of their time — Milton, for example. His epic poem Paradise Lost is a masterpiece.

We’re in a rebirth of Christian fiction. When I first wanted to write fiction 25 years ago, Christian publishers told me flatly that it doesn’t sell. Things have changed. Consequently, we’re in the infancy of a re-emergence of Christian fiction. It’s going to take time to grow quality Christian novelists. Think of it in terms of another art form — music. A person doesn’t become a violin virtuoso overnight. The same holds true with Christian fiction. There’s some good Christian fiction being produced today, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. In time, I think we’re going to see some real masterpieces.

AP: From your own work, what are your favorite titles?

JC: That’s like asking which of my three children is my favorite. I’m not sure I can give you favorite titles, but I can give you some memories attached to various titles. The Puritans will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first novel. Beyond the Sacred Page was my troubled child, born out of personal heath problems, but is one of my strongest stories. Postmarked Heaven is different from all the others, a fictional devotional book, not a novel. “Songs in the Night” series are my triplets, one story in three volumes. Death Watch is my first contemporary suspense. And “The Great Awakenings” series is special to me because I was privileged to co-author with a man who has had a tremendous impact on 20th-century Christianity.

AP: Who are some of your role models, mentors or favorite writers in Christian fiction?

JC: My mentors are largely historical. Some people learn by doing, others learn by listening, I learn by reading. My library is probably my most precious possession. Most recently I have been learning how to communicate spiritual truth through fiction by studying the works of Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy) and John Milton (Paradise Lost). I know that sounds like boring English Lit classes, but you have to remember that in their day, these works were bestsellers. These writers knew their audiences, worked their craft, and produced epic stories that were not only popular in their day, but have proven to be of value over hundreds of years. As a writer, that’s my goal — to produce popular fiction that stands the test of time.

AP: What are a few of your favorite Christian novels?

JC: I’m indebted to Brock and Bodie Thoene for blazing the historical fiction trail in the Christian market, and to Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness for expanding the market. Since I write historical fiction and am now branching out to the supernatural suspense genre, it makes sense that these authors are counted among my favorites.

AP: Tell us a little about your family.

JC: I met Marni at Azusa Pacific College where we fell in love. We were engaged for two years before we got married and then waited five years before we had children. I say this because I believe that those early years with just the two of us were formative in a relationship that is still happy 34 years later.

We have three children, all grown now. All of them are talented artistically. Elizabeth, 26, lives in Iowa and is a gifted writer; expect to see a novel from her within the next couple of years. Keri, 24, is a police dispatcher with a wonderful singing voice; she does musical theater here in San Diego. And Sam, 22, lives in Los Angeles, works at Disneyland as the Mad Hatter by day and performs in musical theater productions at night.

AP: What are some of your family’s favorite activities together?

JC: Laughing. Both my immediate family and extended family spend a good deal of time laughing. We get together for holidays and birthdays. Brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, all of us get along famously. We play games, and there is always a lot of laughing.

Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.