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.