Your Character's Spiritual Journey

Lynn Squire's original post appeared on July 13, 2010. Used with permission.

If you are writing Christian fiction your protagonist, at the very least, should demonstrate some sort of spiritual journey. This is more than just mentioning God now and again. This requires raising some question of faith that drives the character in search of a deeper relationship with God--or perhaps, for the villain or a minor character, away from God.

In preparation for composing a novel, I write three journeys for the hero and any character whose journey affects the protagonist.
1.     The 'hero's journey' as it pertains to plot;
2.     The character's 'inner journey';
3.     The 'spiritual journey,' which is closely linked to the inner journey.
For details on the hero's journey and the inner journey refer to by Christopher Vogler.

The spiritual journey, while similar to the character's inner journey, is a separate with unique steps based on the Christian faith and where that character is with respect to this faith. Here is a simple overview:
1.     What the character currently believes about God and his relationship with the Almighty;
2.     A disturbance that shakes the character's current way of thinking;
3.     The character refuses to see the faults in his belief system;
4.     Events and people force him to take a serious look and consider a change;
5.     The character takes a step to 'test the water' of this change;
6.     The character vacillates between throwing himself into the change and holding on to his former belief system;
7.     A course of events challenge his old beliefs;
8.     A 'life and death' type situation necessitates that he implements the change in his faith;
9.     Consequences of the change of faith that requires his steadfastness;
10.   A climatic event that tests his steadfastness;
11.   The life and death decision to stay the course of his new faith or retreat to his old beliefs;
12.   Living in the victory of his new faith (or return to his old beliefs).
Does this have to be a conversion journey? No. However, that is usually the simplest choice for a writer to write. It might be something as complex as a Calvinist moving away from his beliefs or a Puritan moving away from the rigidity and bondage of law (for example, Susannah in Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit).

The key difference between the inner journey and the spiritual journey is the inner journey holds the 'me-factor' while the spiritual journey holds the 'God-factor.'

The inner journey focuses on the character's need to change based on to how he sees himself in relation to the world.

The spiritual journey focuses on how the character sees himself in relation to how God see's him and what the character will do with that understanding. The journey becomes God-directed rather than character-directed. It may or may not be a part of the character's inner journey. The character may have separate internal issues. For example, developing courage to face an abusive husband that is different than her journey to discover God's grace. In such a situation, her inner journey might be the channel for her spiritual one. In essence, God becomes a character within the story that your hero must interact with, and those interactions will shape your hero.

By charting these three journeys I am able to round out my character. The plot points will align with the inner and spiritual journeys to create sympathetic characters who make choices consistent with the situations they face. These choices reflect their personalities and demonstrate their story objectives. I still need to shape the personality of the character, through dress, gestures, voice, etc., to give believability. However, I have the points framed in such a way that the scenes (in the shape of goal, conflict, and disaster) provide opportunity to show the character's personality and how it affects his decisions. That, of course, is a subject of discussion for another day.