[Welcome to the fourth entry in my ‘Introducing’ series, where we take an in-depth sneak peek at the main characters of Celestial. No need to worry. No plot spoilers here!]
Who is Akela?
In Celestial, my main character, Captain Jediah, is assigned a courier for his undercover mission, and out of all messenger angels, God chooses Akela for the job - despite him being a little bit of a chatty goofball.
Chatty? That’s a bit counter-productive for a stealth mission.
True enough, but somebody’s gotta make sure the other angels on the job don’t take themselves too seriously. Lord knows we ourselves get uptight over nothing too at times.
So Akela is simply the comic relief.
No. One thing I dislike is a character who offers nothing to a story besides a few chuckles. Characters like that can be entertaining and a breath of fresh air and all, but they’re also easily erasable. You can cut them out and nothing significant would be lost. Personally, I believe primary characters should add commentary to their story’s themes just with their existence alone. Celestial’s story is centered on what’s the core to being a Christian. Each of my angel’s personal arcs were written to provide commentary to this question - including Akela.
Okay. What point is Akela’s character supposed to make then?
I honestly think it’s better for readers to simply experience it, but to water it down for this preview’s sake, Akela’s personality (while designed to balance out Celestial’s grim portions with levity) was written to counter-argue the assumption that being a mature Christ follower equals a dull, rule-regulated existence - or that the ‘straight and narrow’ means no room for fun, zest, or silliness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sadly, our culture has conditioned most people to see our faith that way. It certainly isn’t helped by Christians who grouch over every little perceived bad thing. However, going overboard with huge shindigs to prove ourselves a fun crew to unsaved people is no better either. Usually such events just wind up looking every bit as self-indulgent as the rest of the fallen world. There’s a tricky balance to this we often miss. God wants us to be set apart but not as stuck up wet blankets. My character, Akela, being the quirky yet faithful angel that he is, is my way of showcasing the kind of colorful life a person of faith could live - no sacrificing of holiness or morals required.
Still, writing a lighthearted character isn’t too hard, right?
Wrong. Oh, so wrong. I mentioned this in my ‘107 Facts about Celestial’ blog. (Click here to check it out if you already haven’t.) Akela was hands down the hardest character for me to write. First of all, optimistic/comedic characters are a double edged sword. They can be a huge asset to a story and one of the most likable characters if done right, or they can get real annoying real quick. Second, with his chipper personality and his ability to travel at light-speed, I didn’t want Akela becoming a carbon copy of the Flash. He needed his own uniqueness. Third, I needed to find reasonable limits to his super speed. I couldn’t have him solving every demonic conflict in a blink, after all, nor could I make him so ineffectual that he’s essentially useless. Fourth, as mentioned earlier, I wanted him to be more than just comic relief. So yeah. Writing Akela was really really REALLY challenging for me from day one.
So how did you manage him?
By God’s empowerment and infinite grace, simply put.
True enough, but what method(s) helped you write Akela?
Well, first off, I closely studied other peppy characters that were endearing to most audiences. This prominently included Michelangelo (2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Impulse (Young Justice), Olaf (Frozen), Pinkie Pie (2012 My Little Pony), and most especially Po (Kung Fu Panda series) and Joy (Inside Out). Each character’s charm is unique, but the common thread that I discovered separated these lovable oddballs from others was not in their silly moments but in their quiet moments. You see, perpetual optimism tends to leave an insincere, selfish impression. Disliked comedic characters are either blissfully unaware or actively dismissive of any misery. On the otherhand, comedic characters that show a wide range of emotions from calm, to insecure, to sadness express genuine heart. They live life to the fullest but not at others’ expense. They desire everyone’s happiness and not just their own. It’s an outward instead of inward focus. Once I started keeping that in mind, giving my off-beat Akela a layer of thoughtful tenderness was easier and a welcome addition to his persona - along with all the other hidden layers I set him up with.
So do you think you nailed Akela’s character?
I certainly hope so. It’ll be up to the personal tastes of my readers to decide. Still, once Celestial is out, I pray Akela will not only be considered an equally important character but also a reminder of the kind of happiness God desires for His people. If my angel of death, Alameth, represents God’s just and terrible power toward present-day wickedness; Akela represents the memory of the perfect world God first made long ago and the utopian future Christians will one day inherit.
I hope you liked this article! Please consider liking, sharing, and leaving a comment! Celestial comes out on May 12th next Thursday, so find and preorder it on Amazon, Goodreads, Applebooks, and Barnes & Noble; and please consider subscribing for my free, non-spammy newsletter below! Thank you!