Women In Combat: We Need More Strong Female Characters – Part 2

This post is a collaboration of thoughts from the KP Team, building off of part 1.

How should the Christian writer handle the prospect of female characters in combat? 

Strong Female Characters Part 2

Strength comes down to how well someone or something fulfills the purpose it was created for. Men and women were created to fulfill different roles, each reflecting one-half of God’s character. A woman doesn’t need to pick up the sword, or express military prowess to be strong.

Does this mean we can’t depict women in combat? Not at all!

As writers, we need to draw a careful distinction between aspects of the story that are there just because it reflects reality, and aspects that we’re trying to glorify.  In the context of whether not we should write stories with women in combat, this distinction can become pretty crucial.  There is nothing wrong with writing about “gung-ho, beat-’em-up female characters taking part in combat” necessarily. To the extent that our culture is moving in that direction, those sorts of people do exist in real life to some extent.  The real question then, is whether or not we present it in a positive light in our stories. Gender roles and gender callings are a tricky subject to wade through, especially in light of a culture that’s very hostile to drawing any distinction between men and women.  It therefore becomes imperative to focus on biblical commands to guide us through these discussions, and not on cultural standards.

The real question then becomes, “should we be glorifying women in combat?”

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Portraying Reality in Your Story

portraying reality pin“Write what you know.”

The infamous adage, while looking good on paper, can be increasingly difficult to use well when put in practice. For writers of speculative fiction, it can look downright ridiculous. After all, when you’re writing a story about a bunch of halflings fighting past legions of orcs and black riders in order to destroy a piece of jewelry—is there even a point of listening to this adage? While the saying may appear maddening and out-of-place at first glance, it may not actually be saying what you think its saying. Fully understanding this adage requires one to first understand what’s real.

What’s really real.

Sure, you can point to the particular geographic oddities of the spinning globe that we call earth, the chance interactions between different sentient beings living on the globe, and the different events that those beings experience, and call all of that real. I wouldn’t disagree with that; there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But leaving our discussion of reality merely at that point tends to miss the greater reality that surrounds the world that we live in.

Loyalty, justice, evil, mercy, suffering. You can’t taste, smell, touch, hear, or see any of these essences per se. But we all know what they are. All of these things are real, and they are real in a much more stable sense than the physical world. We can imagine a world where, say, Greenland didn’t exist, or we had a seventh continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We can imagine a world where America was colonized by Europeans centuries before Columbus, or the Byzantine Empire wasn’t conquered in 1453.

But to imagine a world without love, or where justice didn’t exist?

That isn’t merely tinkering with a world’s mechanics. That would require changing the nature of who God is in such a world.

The physical world is real, and it’s valuable and important. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a form of Gnosticism. But there are also distinctive characteristics of mercy, of love, and of righteousness that are the same yesterday, today, and forever. And they are that way because they reflect the unchanging God in Heaven.

What does your experience have to do with a group of rebels fleeing from bounty hunters in the black vacuum of space? A lot more than you might think. You may have no experience fighting against bounty hunters that are threatening the rebel’s existence, or with how technology could allow such a chase to happen in space. But you do know about human nature. You know how people act when they’re angry, how they relate to friends, and how they react to unexpected news. You further know that there’s not one definitive answer for each of the previous three situations; different people handle the same event differently. As a Christian, you know about the transforming nature of love, the rewards of humility, and the joy that only comes through suffering.

“Well, that’s all good,” you might be saying, “but what does it have to do with writing?” Everything. Until you know the true nature of reality, you can’t portray reality accurately in your writing.

One of your foremost goals in writing ought to be to portray reality accurately. I’d venture to say that trying to accomplish this is more important than focusing on the message that you’re trying to get across in your book. Why? Because as Augustine pointed out nearly two millennia ago, all truth is God’s truth. There is no truth about reality that we can discover that runs against who God is and what God has said. Instead, creation declares the glory of God, as Psalm 19 attests.

When we’re trying to portray reality accurately, we can’t help but infuse a message in our story. We can’t help it because God did it first when he made the universe—with all creation testifying to His truth. All of morality points to Christ. And so when we attempt to duplicate that higher reality in our work, we can’t help but bring all the messages with it.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. It’s fairly easy to agree that we ought to attempt to accurately portray reality in our story. But when we sit down and try to write it out, we often come across a problem: we don’t fully understand the higher reality, and thus it’s hard to incorporate it into our story.

The solution? If we’re going to better understand the higher reality, we need to earnestly look at it and examine it if we’re going to try to replicate it in our novels. There are multiple ways to do this, some less obvious than others. Looking to the Bible is, hopefully, a pretty clear choice. The book of Proverbs in particular has a lot to say about what happens to those who indulge in such-and-such behavior. Hatred causes strife. The wise receive blessing. The wicked will be brought to ruin. There are so many themes and stories in Proverbs that are mentioned, one after another, as examples of how God generally deals with man. Many of these themes are already common motifs in fiction writing. And there are so many others that can be developed.

But we shouldn’t merely stop with the Bible. We’ve been placed smack-dab in the middle of the greatest story of all time, written by the Master Storyteller Himself, and it seems like we ought to be taking cues from it. We live in the most multi-layered, complex, exciting plot that could ever be imagined—one that blows all other stories out of the water because of its Author. Do we want to know how this higher reality interacts with man? Look at history. See how they have acted—how God has responded—and how the entire narrative fits together. What should we do in order to portray reality accurately in our story?

Look at who God is—his character, his works, and how he relates to man. Examine what he shows us concerning the nature of the world in the Bible, and then see how these principles unfold themselves throughout history. We’re living in the midst of the greatest narrative ever written.

Write what you know. You know a lot more than you think you do. So study the world that God has gifted us with, learn about His character and about reality, and then, with that knowledge, write it out. Your world may have different continents, different races, different people, different timelines, or it might be pretty identical to the world we live in. But whatever the case, it still is under that fundamental reality. So write what you know.

And know what you write about.

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.

Reality And Fantasy: Finding the Right Blend

Using your own life experiences to make your stories more real and fantastic at the same time.

By Lissy Jones

My mother always tells me the same thing whenever I write – “Write what you know”. I can’t stress this enough. Allow me to explain this with a simple example. Which is easier to write if you are a suburban Christian teenager – a story set in New York City about a young urban professional or a story about a suburban Christian teenager? Now, you may have a sibling that is a young urban professional in NYC, and that will make it easier to write the former, but generally, the latter is always going to be easiest for you to write. Think about it. You know the people in your neighborhood, you know what it’s like to be a teen, and it’s your life. I write my best fiction when it’s almost non-fiction. Having part of your personal story in your writing is like having climbing gear while climbing a mountain, versus free-hand climbing. It’s easier, and much less dangerous.

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But, my friends, writing direct biographies of our lives could be boring.  I know that I love writing partly because of the other world it transports me to – a world that I create. It’s only human to want to create things, as we are created in the image of the Creator. And when I’m writing what seems to be a narrative of my own boring (in my opinion) life, I tend to get bored. I have yet to write anything based directly on my life that is longer than a short story. And now, we are presented with a dilemma. So how do we fix that? Well, there are three ways. First, recognize the balance in writing. Second, learn to make reality fantasy. Third, research any topics you aren’t familiar with.

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Writing, like life, is a balance. It’s a delightful concoction with the perfect ratios of reality to fantasy. Every writer must be able to dream a little. I’m almost 100% sure C.S. Lewis didn’t possess a magical wardrobe that transported him to another world inhabited by talking animals. Yet, he spins a tale so real, the books have lasted years! So, what’s the magic ratio? In all honesty, friend, it varies. “The Chronicles of Narnia” requires more fantasy than, say, “The Grapes of Wrath.” A good writer is able to recognize exactly how much fantasy/reality he or she needs to add to the story. It’s like cooking – add a dash of reality to taste. If you reach the point where you read over your work and it sounds very “fake”, maybe reconsider some elements of your story, and make them closer to home. If you’re a girl who loves reading and writing, an illiterate boy who has just immigrated to America might be too hard to try to relate to. I like to play it safe and always have my main character be a girl, like me. Always have something in common with your character. A good way to do this is to make a chart comparing you and your character’s homes, families, personalities, and situations. This can help you see what you can change to get more in common. If, on the other hand, your story sounds like an autobiography, expand your mind a bit and add in some spice – perhaps you’ve always secretly wished you played piano from birth. Add that in! Also, consider changing one big piece of your character’s background. If you come from a two-parent household, making your character live with a single parent in a divorced or widowed family can add a fresh take on things.

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Mental Tourists

How inviting is your story world? Make your book a place readers want to sit down in and stay awhile.

 

Originally published in Sep/Oct issue. Vol.2Issue.5

By Hannah Mills

 

Pendleton Indiana.  It has a small downtown reminiscent of the idealistic Small Town U.S.A., antique shops, old houses, a handful of churches, a few restaurants, and Gathering Grounds Coffee. While I don’t live here, I frequent this town a lot. The coffee shop is one of my favorite hangouts. My little corner of the world.

You wouldn’t think that this town is much to talk about. But on one of the coffee shop’s old brick walls is hanging a map of the world, and scattered over the map are a bunch of straight pins. The pins mark where out-of-towners are visiting from. There are two pins marking Australia, one in South Africa, several throughout Europe, and one or more in almost every state in America, to name a few.

So many people pass through this town, people from everywhere around the world. It strikes me as strange, this little coffee bar in this little town being a stopping point for people all over the globe. Indiana isn’t a notable state, our main claim to fame being the Indianapolis 500. Yet people still come here, and not just to Indianapolis or our other cities, but our farmlands and small towns.

All these people, experiencing my little corner of the world.

In writing, the same thing happens. You have your mind, your story-world, and when you allow other people to read your writing, it’s like travelers visiting a foreign place. It doesn’t have to be the next Narnia to attract visitors, just like Pendleton doesn’t have to be a junior Chicago.

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