I’ve never liked it when authors joke about torturing their characters, and the other day I saw something that made me realize why.
In a Facebook group I lurk in, someone had posted a meme that went something like this:
AUTHORS: “Look at my character, I love them so much.”
ALSO AUTHORS: “Now watch me break them like a light stick. Look at them burn.”
I rolled my eyes and started to scroll away . . . then froze when I saw the top comment.
Someone had commented saying that they had always envisioned God like this: in other words, distantly cruel and even sadistic. They thought this joke was an accurate and realistic portrayal of God.
This comment broke my heart, and it made me realize why authors making jokes about torturing their characters bothers me so much.
I firmly believe that Christian writers shouldn’t just be striving for excellence in our stories but in our entire attitude towards the writing process. And one way to do that is to stop joking about making your characters suffer. Here’s why.
First of all, let’s clarify something.
No suffering is ever funny.
As someone who’s suffered daily pain for the last eight years, I can testify that there is nothing amusing about it. Thank God, He has helped me preserve my humor through the pain, but the pain itself is not funny. It is something I struggle with daily and, during my lowest points, my flesh tries to challenge the kindness of God and ask, “Why is He letting me suffer?”
Christians and non-Christians alike are bombarded with the temptation to doubt God’s goodness every day. When confronted with suffering, many people’s first reaction is to question God. We, the characters on this Earthly stage, turn in despair and confusion towards the Divine Author and ask “Why did this happen? You must not care.”
While this challenge can, and should, be answered through Scripture, Christian authors can still be stepping into the breach of this question through the power of storytelling. Believing authors should be representing the kindness of a loving Creator, showing through our writing that suffering has a purpose and that God does not delight in seeing us weep.
But, instead, we have jokes like the one above.
Look at that person’s comment again; let it sink in for a minute.
Now ask yourself this question: how many people view God this way because of writers?
When we make jokes about making our characters suffer, we can be planting seeds of doubt in people’s hearts.
Yes, I’m mature enough to separate the truth from the joke, but not everyone else is, and we should be mindful of that because authors, in a sense, represent the Great Author. And this is not how God writes our stories.
God doesn’t sit down in the morning and look over His cast of characters with an evil smile and say, “Who do I get to torture today?” It’s an unimaginably disrespectful and false image.
Christ writes our stories with care, with compassion, with forethought and foresight. He doesn’t discipline us to torment us, but to refine us. Yes, sometimes God allows the consequences of a fallen world to touch us (sickness, war, and so forth) but that is part of a bigger plan—it is the incentive pushing us back to trust and submission when we wander from our devotion.
But God never laughs over your suffering. He doesn’t elbow the angels and say, “Watch me ruin this one.” He is the Mender, not the Breaker.
The now-accepted trope of authors being repressed killers who are creating purely for the enjoyment of imparting suffering to their characters and readers might be largely a joke, but it’s a joke in poor taste, and it has created a toxic standard as more and more authors rush to chime in.
I have a good sense of humor, but I simply don’t understand the reasoning behind this jest. Why would you create something solely for the purpose of tormenting it? Why would you create something only to destroy it? That’s what Satan does. Satan will manipulate situations and mold people to make dreams and hopes and scenarios that he can then kick apart like a pile of blocks. And then he laughs.
I truly feel that there is a devilish bent to these “torture your characters and laugh” jokes, and I think it’s fair to ask . . .
Why are Christian writers emulating Satan, instead of Christ?
Rather than reinforce the doubt that pervades human hearts with tasteless jokes about creators enjoying the suffering of their creation, let us write stories radiating with mercy and compassion, stories where the readers can clearly see a greater plan at work in the lives of the characters: a plan for good and not for evil.
I fail constantly in how I represent Christ and I’m not the best writer in the world and never will be. But this one thing I can say about myself: I do not, in any way, enjoy making my characters suffer. I respect my readers and my characters too much to stoop to enjoying tormenting either of them.
Little human incidents like bumping into annoying people, missing an appointment, stubbing their toe, getting a cold—I smile or chuckle writing these, because they’re the daily little embarrassments, flubs, and miscommunications that keep us (or our characters) humble.
But when my characters are truly suffering, I suffer too. I have cried many tears over the main character in my series and have been in pain as I crafted his character arc. I have hated his suffering, but injected it into the story with love and care, because I knew it’s necessary. Any suffering is in my books for a specific reason. As the omnipresent creator, I can see the beautiful end I have planned for my characters, and I can see what is needed to bring them to that point.
I don’t enjoy making my character suffer: I’m trying to make them grow because I know they would suffer more if they were left exactly as they are.
I do this to try to be an imitator of what Christ does for his children. Through my writing and my attitude, it is my hope that I might reflect even a fraction of this truth: whether you acknowledge Christ or not, He is reaching out to you, working through circumstances in your life to whisper to you, holding out His hand so that when the pain causes you to fall, you might fall in His direction and into His arms.
By striving to be a thoughtful and empathetic author, I hope to reflect—even a little—the great care of the Divine Author. And that is why I don’t think Christian authors should make jokes about torturing our characters.
14 thoughts on “Why Christian Authors Should Stop Joking About Torturing Their Characters”
THISSSSSS! I’ve been thinking and feeling this for so long but never got around to actually writing is, and you said it all perfectly. THANK YOU, Alli!!
Aw, thank you, Katja!
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Thank you for expressing exactly what I was feeling but couldn’t quite name!
Aw, thank you, Rebekah. It was my pleasure. This is something I feel really strongly about though WHY I did was not clear until recently.
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Wow. This is an absolutely new perspective for me! I’ve never really jumped on the bandwagon of joking about torturing my characters (maybe when I was younger? can’t remember), but I’ve never thought very hard about it either. I definitely put my characters through a lot, but it’s from a mindset of “I want them to grow in this particular way and this is what will get them there.” (And like you, it hurts me to see them hurting.) That ties into suffering having a purpose, and how God allows suffering because He can bring greater good out of it.
Yes, exactly! There’s a difference between putting your character through trials to make them grow and laughing over the fact that you’re going to physically torture them. Thanks for reading and commenting!
This is amazing. Yes. Preach! We are created in God’s image, and, as Christians, every part of our lives ought to reflect that image – including our attitudes toward our own created works. The process of writing characters’ lives should very much reflect the process of God in working in us – and His truly loving heart for us.
Thank you, Erika!
Yes, I completely agree! We are mimicing God the Father, and we should be cognizant and conscientious about that.
Wow, never heard anyone push back on this, but I’m for it. Another piece of writing advice that always bothered me was “if you need to shake things up, kill off a character. Especially without a reason or before they’ve reached their goals/purpose.” I cringe so much because it’s like reinforcing in your written world that life and death is meaningless and that there is no purpose to life.
Thank you, Chris!
I’ve seen that to and I didn’t like it either but I could never articulate why until just now – when I saw your comment! That is SUCH a good way of summarizing that piece of advice. It really does give that implication!
Such a beautiful and profound post. Authors joking about torturing their characters always made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t explain why. Now I know 🙂
Aw, thank you very much! So glad it could it speak to you! ❤
Wow, this is such a good point!
Thank you for reading the post!