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


The Christian Imagination


Christian ImaginationJack reads selected passages 

from his favorite books

Unscripted. Unrehearsed. Unedited.


The Christian Imagination
“Authors, Authority, and the Humble Reader”
Peter J. Leithart, 2002. 


Madeleine L’Engle on the reader: The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life. Creative involvement: that’s the basic difference between reading a book and watching TV.  (from Walking on Water)


Works of fiction present a world to us. In some sorts of fiction, like fantasy or science fiction, the world of the novel is a world quite completely different from the world of our experience. In many cases, of course, the world presented is much like our own world. Paris and London were really cities in the late 18th century, the Bastille really did fall, severed heads really were mounted on pikes and paraded through the streets of Paris — these are not figments of Dickens’s imagination. But even the novel that strives for historical accuracy invites us to enter a world different from our own. Danton and Robespierre really existed, but Lucy Manette and Sidney Carton did not, and the world of A Tale of Two Cities is different from ours precisely because it is a world peopled by the likes of Sidney Carton and Lucy Manette.

No matter what the difference between the real and fictional worlds, reading intelligently requires a humble acceptance of the world of the novel. It is a poor reader, and a proud one, who throws aside A Tale of Two Cities with the sneering complaint that “It’s unrealistic. Sidney Carton never went to the guillotine.” A “suspension of disbelief” is elementary in reading fiction, but it is rarely recognized as an act of humility. In part, that is due to the dour connotations that “humility” has in contemporary usage, but here those connotations are completely out of place. As G. K. Chesterton said, humility makes a small, and that means that everything around us becomes large and astounding and magnificent. Humility before the world that the author presents means that we allow him to set the rules, but it also gives reading an element of play. Across the centuries, Dickens says to us, “I’ll pretend Jerry Cruncher was real if you will.” By opening the book and beginning to read, we are saying, “Let me play too.” To read well, we must become as little children.

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