Today we have the privilege of hearing from author Cheri Swalwell! When asked how fictional characters can inspire real life readers, here’s what she says:
When I was growing up, I didn’t set out to be a writer. My goal, according to a second-grade assignment was to be a stay-at-home mom. I introduce myself as a Christ-follower, wife, mother, writer and speaker, in that order. Marriage and family have always been my passion. I originally set out to be a child psychologist, but God had other plans that included writing.
Looking back, I see how God was nurturing that purpose years earlier, beginning in grade school. Creating stories in my head was how I passed the time and kept myself from being bored. It was the perfect way to spend my two-hour bus ride, kept me company on family vacations while zooming down the highway, and made mundane chores at home more exciting.
The characters in my stories became my friends and I immersed myself in their lives, creating elaborate scenarios and drama for as long as I could remember. I might have been the youngest child in a Type A personality family, but with my stories, I was in charge. I may not call myself a writer, but I can talk for hours with someone about my imaginary friends: Holly, Jace, Simone and the community of Green Pines.
Up until 2011, my characters and my stories were something to keep me company while hanging clothes on the line, mowing our many acres of yard, or while drifting off to sleep at night. It wasn’t a ministry and I certainly wouldn’t have considered it my calling. Until one day when God said “finish your story.” I took a step of faith that day and haven’t looked back since.
Because God called me to be a writer, and because everything I do in life is to bring Him glory, He is the One who directs the path my books take. I write a loose outline and then begin putting words on the pages, knowing God will take the story in the direction He chooses. Writing that way makes it fun because it’s as though I’m experiencing the story for the first time along with my readers.
For instance, in my current series, The Redemption of Green Pines, it started as a stand alone novel, Journey Back Home, with Holly as a secondary character that I couldn’t decide if people should love or hate. However, when I finished writing it, I realized she had her own story to tell. I didn’t know what it was yet, but I knew I needed to find out, and so would my readers.
That led to a prequel, Adventure’s Invitation, in which Holly’s story is told and readers find out her motives are much more altruistic than originally thought in Journey Back Home. After writing Adventure’s Invitation and realizing how Christ-centered Holly truly was, she naturally became the “glue that holds everyone together” throughout the series. We all have people like that in our families, don’t we? The ones we know we can turn to for godly wisdom, who host events so family stays connected, and who pray for us regularly.
There are many characteristics of Holly that have naturally become a part of her personality, taken from women I admire in my life. She has a strong sense of knowing her identity in Christ. She chooses to see the best in people, even those who are rough around the edges, and because of the pain in her past, she has an empathy and compassion unlike many who have never experienced loss. She’s far from perfect, but she chooses to live a life surrendered to God which is evident in her actions and reactions.
By writing some scenes my characters experience after funny stories that have happened in our own family (the scene in Journey Back Home when Simone dropped off Olivia? Yup, that really happened to me!), I think readers relate to Holly, Jace and others because they experience some of the same struggles. Sometimes Holly and Jace get it wrong (just like readers) and sometimes they get it right (just like readers) and I believe that gives readers a sense of encouragement and hope. If these flawed characters can be redeemed, God can redeem their lives too.
Fictional characters also have the opportunity to show how to live out our faith using every day, relatable examples. In Road to Freedom, Holly mentors Wynn and teaches her how to find her identity in Christ using the analogy of learning how to ride a bike. In Path of Grace, Holly’s mom mentors Wynn’s sister, Ariana and teaches her all about how to apply grace to herself and to others. When we see Biblical character traits woven throughout a fictional story that captures our attention, it encourages us how easy it is to grow in our faith and adopt some of those characteristics ourselves. Instead of it being a bunch of rules we have to follow, we see how it’s lived out simply on a daily basis and it becomes something we can implement in our own lives.
I believe that a good book will cause someone to think long after turning the last page. That the storyline will linger with them, the characters themselves will be savored and the reader will want to know what happens next.
When God is in the center of writing the book, He will create characters that inspire readers in many ways – growing in their faith, a chance to heal from past hurts, choosing to forgive someone in their past or deciding to think the best of others. Jesus loved to tell parables to teach truth to His disciples. Why wouldn’t He want to be a part of a fiction writer’s life to help inspire people to be more like Him by using fictional characters?
Cheri Swalwell describes herself as a Christ follower first and foremost, wife, mother, writer and speaker. If you want to hear more about the heart she has for marriage, parenting, and relationships from a Christian perspective, feel free to visit her blog or join Hearts Speak with Cheri Swalwell. For a complete list of her books available, visit her website.
Thank you, Cheri! Readers, Cheri has a wonderful set of devotionals as well as her fiction series that she discussed. And check out her podcast, too!