Blogger: Mary Keeley
For the past few weeks Mike Boyle, D.Min, Associate Professor of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute, taught a series, “Discipling for Transformational Leadership,” to our Sunday school class. To help us understand the dynamics involved, he took us through a study of the ways Millennials and Baby Boomers think, their values, and how those came to be. I couldn’t help thinking the insights are beneficial for writers as you develop and understand your characters or structure convincing messages for your nonfiction audience.
Readers connect with characters in their age group who think and react to the up and down roller coaster of the story in ways that are familiar or at least understandable to them. Nonfiction authors, these insights can be valuable for you too as you structure compelling arguments to bring home your points.
While the age group examples in this discussion are contemporary, authors of historical fiction also can learn how your characters’ values were formed by the life and culture of that age group’s formative years. An in-depth study of cultural shifts during the time period of your story will help you to be true to how your characters thought and approached life.
Let’s cover Baby Boomers first. They were coming of age in the 60s and 70s. What are you reminded of when you think of those years? Flower children. Rebellion against authority. The ushering in of the drug culture. Have you heard of Woodstock?
One of the most interesting gaps Professor Boyle filled in for me is how societal values shift like a pendulum. When Baby Boomers grew up and desired to settle down and have families, the pendulum began to swing back in the opposite direction. Remember the widely popular The Way, an edition of The Living Bible, published in 1971 to reach this age group?
As they became Christians and entered the church their presence influenced a change in the culture of the church as well. Regretful of their wild oats sown, they were eager to change their image by following the letter of biblical law to gain respectability and good, upright character. That’s how outward appearance and behaving the right way became all-important to this generation. Over the years the pendulum kept swinging past the middle to the opposite end of the spectrum: legalism.
Millennials are the youngest children of the Baby Boomers. They have grown up watching their parents value their appearance and achievement over attention to them or a sincere concern for the hurting world around them and are unimpressed. But they don’t know the background of how their moms and dads got this way, and their parents aren’t eager to tell them about those wild oats days. The lack of understanding of their parents’ generation has left them disillusioned about that group’s values, which they consider shallow and repressive rather than transparent and relational. It points to natural tensions between these two age groups, including within the church. How might you exploit this tension as you bring redemption and reconciliation to your multi-generational characters?
The pendulum is beginning to swing once again as Millennials push away from legalism. Professor Boyle suggested ways in which this group hopes to affect change in the church:
- They want the church to be more relational, less program driven.
- They want to see more emphasis on transparency, less on appearance.
- They want to see more mutual serving, less top-down mentoring/discipleship.
Does this information affect the way in which you will develop your younger characters in the future? This generation of readers won’t connect with a contemporary character their age, who is a complacent churchgoer following the values of the Baby Boomer generation. Take the time to be sure your characters are true to the values of their generation or your nonfiction book relates to the values of your audience.
Have you thought about how cultural changes affect people’s values and therefore, your characters? How are your characters doing? The church is in the midst of a cultural shift. Are you ready to adjust your approach to your nonfiction book to be sensitive to your audience?
Are your novel’s characters authentic to the values of their age group? Click to Tweet.
Cultural trends affect change in people’s values. Do your characters accurately reflect them? Click to Tweet.