With the surge of Christian organizations and family advocate groups finding funds to make a difference on screen, the number of requests I’ve received for conducting screenwriting workshops is on the rise. The most requested lesson is how to write a secular quality story with a moral message without preaching.
There are several answers that work well, but the most important goes against what organizations are willing to stand behind or support financially. Great story requires a change in the main character, protagonist or hero. It requires the audience to see a flaw in the person that by the end of the movie is used as a strength, is overcome, or turned into a strength.
While everyone of faith has moved through this process, as their sinful nature is transformed into a godly one, most organizations don’t want to present the sinful character. Courageous is a perfect example of a story that has a good protagonist turn into a great protagonist, avoiding the wretched corruption in the protagonist’s life that requires some form of redemption.
The things that make great secular movies excellent is redemption. Most audience embraced films have some form of redemption or growth from bad to good in the protagonist’s life. And what better film company to handle such a story in a life changing way than a Christian based company. Yet, most avoid showing anything sinful for fear of leading their audience astray.
Many filmmakers lose sight of the fact that they can take the audience on a journey and walk them from a point of weakness or sin to a place of redemption based on growth, change, or grace. They understand the transformation better than any secular writer, but few will take the risk of creating a story that shows the negative. Therefore, they create a hero that goes from good to great, hoping it will capture the audience with their message.
The Bible on the other hand is filled with sin being transformed by grace. There are battle scenes, peeping Toms, lust, lying, stealing, murder, arrogance, and other forms of detestable acts easily portrayed visually. However, no one questions the Bible about causing others to sin because of the stories, as each story also demonstrates the consequences and it’s related grace filled redemption.
I’m a firm believer that showing life as it is, followed by the appropriate consequences and the redeeming value available through God, will draw those who struggle in life into an unconditional love that heals. It’s too bad that most Christian and family writers do not agree, or if they do agree, cannot find support for those types of stories.
The audience wants to know that they are not alone in the human condition of making mistakes or sinning. Hollywood does a great job of demonstrating to the audience that “everyone is doing it” and they aren’t alone in it. But, who is demonstrating the consequences and opportunities for redemption from that fallen state? Who is helping the next generation learn how to make decisions by showing them the process through flawed characters who learn the hard way?
Christian films will skyrocket to success when the writer addresses the human condition in an honest way. Our country is filled with real people struggling with real problems that need real answers. People want the truth and preachers are quickly moving to new pulpit styles that are authentic and transparent, so isn’t it time for Christian writers and filmmakers to do the same?