In my WIP, I have a divine, omniscient character comparable to Lewis' Aslan, though he is not a Lion. He is a central, if little-seen, character in the story, but he is agonizingly difficult to write.
I've seen several writers use divine beings in their works to varying degrees of success. I would say Lewis is the most successful, while David Eddings' gods aren't so much. I've even studied John Milton's portrayal of God in Paradise Lost, and I believe even he fell short. I think that if you try to create a perfect being and then make even the tiniest error, you lose the reader for good.
Anyone have ideas on how to effectively create such a character without losing the reader's suspension of disbelief? Or know another example of writer who either did or did not succeed in writing such a character?
Yes. Check out Lois McMaster Bujold's THE CURSE OF CHALION and especially PALADIN OF SOULS.
Well-defined religious system. In the second book, two of the gods even make personal appearances, one of them repeatedly. Not so much in the first, but to get the full effect of the religious system, who the gods are, and thier limitations, I recommend reading them both in order.
This is something I still struggle with in DREAMER'S ROSE, where one of the principal characters is a god. Seems he's not very relatable.
"Please do not pay attention to the man behind the curtain!"
My opinion is: less is more.
Better to have messengers, prophets, angels, and avatars then have someone say, "Hi. I'm G-d. What's happening?"--unless you are spoofing. The exception may be "gods"--beings who have power or skills or knowledge greater than the average character but are not identifiable to your reader as the G-d of their Sunday school.
Furthermore, any character without weakness or imperfection is inevitably flat and cannot be relatable to your reader (schizophrenics with delusions of grandeur excluded).
Having said this...G-d does appear briefly in my novel THE KABBALIST, at least in His Imminance--actually a feminine form known as the Shekinah in Jewish mysticism. I do not have her speak, however. From a mortal standpoint, Her Presence is too overwhelming, and only feelings and impressions can be experienced. Actual communications are imparted by messengers, such as malakhim (angels).
even though I have been staying away from most of these discussions for a while this one caught my attention since, possibly since I am a Christian, I have made a half way subconscious study of gods in stories.
With that said I think it depends on what type of god your character is. If he is like Aslan than he should be wise, powerful, caring, but yet not afraid of rising his voice or even adding a bit of discipline to the seat of the problem. These type of God archetypes can be hard to do because its almost like they are too perfect. You don't want them to have flaws but at the same time not sweetly perfect know it all-s either. Maybe have him keep something secret or give answers that are more of a hint than a complete answer.
And it also depends on if all the other characters know he's "God" or if he is keeping that a secret. Does he always appear the same or in different guises? That will influence how he interacts with the other characters too.
And David Weber's fantasy series has a number of gods that evidently put in an appearance at times. One character is also more than he seems so he might be a god. I just read a Urban Fantasy where the main character is one of the old pagan gods in disguise but she hide it through out the story, except for a few hints here and there. But in her case she was pretty much human by actions, emotions and personality.
It really does depend on whether you are trying to show God, the One God, the Creator, or a god, a member of a pantheon. If the latter, you want to look at the Greek/Roman gods. It is the most comprehensive pantheon of any ancient mythology, and it is good to know where you overlap and where you deviate. Jennifer Fallon did a good job at creating a unique pantheon with her Hythrun Chronicles. Her gods and goddesses do show up as actual characters, and she did a good job with them.
If you are trying for something closer to the Judeo-Christian God like Aslan, the Bible is the perfect reference. I am a Christian and speak from that perspective. I have always heard/been taught/believe that God is so far outside our understanding that the only way we can describe him is with metaphors. We tend to describe aspects of him in the only ways that we can understand: God the Father, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, the King of kings, etc. As such it would only be our imperfect understanding that is “flat”, as God Himself remains more complex than we can fathom. I have also heard that for a mortal to behold the full Glory of God would cause instant death. (The same was also said of Zeus.)
Where all this leads is what Dr. Bob said, “less is more.” You can show an aspect of God and have your characters know that it is not the whole. Even if he appears before them and speaks to them, they won’t fully get it. We’re still trying to figure out some of what Christ meant 2000 years later. Also don’t forget that free will is his gift to us. Without free will all the rules change. You can’t have a good God (or god) who operates in any way counter to free will. That doesn’t mean that he can’t act boldly, see Paul on the road to Damascus, but it was still his choice to follow God after his eyes were opened.
Other than that I would say to ask for crits from both believers and non-believers. Ask them if anything seems “off”.
Oh, and don’t forget about Tolkien! He was a master of both. He had Ilúvatar, the Creator, and the Valar who were very much a pantheon of “gods” although he never used the words god or goddess. The Silmarillion was the “Bible” of Middle Earth.
I think in order to write a god like character convincingly, you must focus on the affect the Character has on others playing around him. Aslan works because the reader feels how much Lucy loves and revers him, and because all the characters react to him a little bit differently. Edmund with guilt, Peter with a bit of skepticism, they followed by duty toward, and Susan with a combination of all three.
I think another way to go about this is to focus on one likable mortal character's perception and relationship with the Character. Then that mortal's flaws and doubts and faith is easy to buy.
I think when creating a religion for a story, you don't actually want to create a religion. Your purpose isn't to convince your reader that your created religion is believable or correct. Your job as a writer is to create a faith, which influences the mortal characters motivation's and actions.
I think you could write a story where people worshiped a piece of toast. No one would care how the piece of bread reached divinity, however they could care about the believer that started burning down bakeries in the toast's name. ~Sheena
Perfection is difficult, but I would disagree with Dr. Bob about the inevitability of flatness.
I think we assume perfection really means "robotically disinterested." As in "oh, you an flawed human don't understand this? Well of course, you don't understand...you're a flawed human...how can I possibly explain this...for that matter why would a I bother...you are to us as to an ameoba..."
There was a movie once about Michaelangelo painting the Sistene Chapel. The pope comes in one night late at night while Mike is away and is staring at the Chapel's central scene. Mike comes up and the Pope asks him "Is this how you see Him? Not angry, not vengeful?" And Mike replies "The act of creation is an act of love."
I believe this is true, when I'm writing, in a sense I love all my characters. Even the villains I want the best for...but having their own "freewill" they are the villains. But I don't write my stories because I don't care what way it goes, I want a good outcome.
So I think whether the God is part of creation or the Origin of Creation is the far more important part than perfection. I mean, if the Creator is perfect, how would the characters even be able to judge it? They can't look at the present because the Creator sees the future and the past and knows them better than they do themselves.
So if you write a god Character who is part of creation, then they are free to be flawed, pulled by varying passions and ignorance, striving for good or evil, hoping or dreading some greater power that they are also subject to, and thus not flat.
Or, if you write a God character who is the origin, then it's really a picture of you, you as the real Creator of their world desire such and such and it is the desire that makes you not flat. You are invested in the outcome, you must care about every creature. You're not "oh, I through some words on a page and I'm working at it hard, but I really don't care so if my characters don't really live...if their lives have no meaning, it doesn't affect me."
Perhaps that's rambling, but this obviously encompasses larger thoughts than a writing excercise.