Previous Parts to the Strong Characters discussion are:
http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2014/11/definition-of-sf-what-is-science.html -- which is about science fiction romance and Strong Characters.
And we've discussed what editors mean by calling for manuscripts with "strong characters" (not big muscles, either).
Here are some entries where we discussed Characters from many angles.
And this one recent one about sexual harassment
So, with the understanding that strength of character is invisible, and thus must be DEPICTED -- shown via something visible, a symbol, or dialog, or mode of dress, or something more subtle such as responses to provocations -- we understand that the "strength" referred to by editors is all about the story, not the plot.
You can have strong characters in Action Romance -- bulging muscles, or not. But you can showcase the strength of a character in any genre -- the wimpish looking Geek in a science lab, the UPS delivery woman, the counter clerk, the person answering tech chat calls, or the kid born without a foot who becomes an Olympic Champion skier.
Strength of Character is about vision - imagination mostly - the ability to see what the results of success at a sequence of endeavors will be, and to assess whether those results are desirable enough to be worth the cost.
How much of yourself - your inner self where you seem to be real to yourself - should you invest in achieving something external (such as Olympic Gold, the CEO's office, the Presidency?)
The Strong Character has a good, solid (if perhaps erroneous) assessment of their own inner resources, their own emotional stability and balance under duress, and their own personal view of reality.
A devoutly religious person may be a Strong Character with serene conviction in their idea of God. These ideas can range from the most benign Christian view to the most savage destroyer-of-world, or one who demands destructive acts of followers.
Whatever the religion's portrait of Supernal Forces in charge of Destiny (I'm assuming you've studied Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology, Mythology in General, maybe Assyrian and Egyptian and possible some of the Oriental ideas), the "Strong Character" will not just believe, not just cling white-knuckled, not just sacrifice himself idealistically -- but will study, know, understand and adhere to that religion's view for reasons.
Those reasons may seem perfectly rational to the Strong Character, so you as the writer must portray the Strong Character's reasons in a way that convinces your reader (all of your readers, no matter their personal opinion of religion) that this Strong Character is Righteous.
If your novel's Theme is about Religion, or the structure of the universe as discovered by science, or the nature of humanity (as opposed to Aliens evolved on another planet), you have a big problem convincing the whole spectrum of readerships that this Strong Character is Righteous.
Ponder the Depiction Series for ideas of how to show-don't-tell that a religion you make up for your Aliens is righteous.
Now consider the currently extant theory that Atheism is actually a Religion, or at least a "religious belief."
Study Anthropology and Psychology, and you may find how the human brain and mind has a "place" -- like a compartment -- a structural space designed specifically for "belief."
It is a survival trait, or so most people think, to be able to accept and integrate a diversity of facts, some of which contradict each other, and act in ways that stake your life on a set of such unproven, assumed, or acquired-from-others facts.
Some think that the most potent survival trait of humans is the need to "fit in" -- to become part of a human group (Tribe, Club, Nation, Culture) by adopting the predominant belief, wearing it as badge of honor, fraternal lapel pin, declaring membership in the Group.
"Blending in" is one of the primary lessons learned (often the hard way) in High School. In dress, accent, mannerisms, and taking "sides" (clique joining), teens learn to become one of the Group - whereupon the Group defends them and makes them feel safe.
This basic mechanism becomes internalized throughout life, and becomes the "default" behavior (if it was successful in High School) the person goes to under duress - during crisis situations.
Strong Characters usually have "default" behavior patterns that have been successful for them in the past, and that apply to a wide variety of situations.
The Atheist will reject any course of action proposed by a Religious person applying the tenets of Religion to a problem. ("Turn the other cheek" seems ridiculous to the Atheist).
The Religious person will reject any course of action proposed by an Atheist who is applying the tenets of "God is a Delusion" to a problem. ("Nobody's going to help you; you're on your own" seems ridiculous to the Religious person).
There have been many TV shows and films about passivist religions such as the Quakers being provoked into hitting back. That is almost a cliche by now.
But what about the heroic Atheist, the go-it-alone, it's all up to me, Character who is "provoked" into not-hitting-back?
What would it take to make an Atheist who is being attacked (physically, socially, psychologically) look at the attacker and see the attacker's torment?
What would it take to make an Atheist Strong Character - absolutely convinced Atheism is correct, not a blind-religious-superstition - flip to an understanding of reality wherein their fate, destiny, and future rests in a decision made by The Creator of The Universe Who is assessing their Devotion to the Creator's purpose?
We all know the maxim that a battle plan does not survive the first contact with the enemy.
We all have heard the adage that there are no atheists in a foxhole.
There are interactions (human-to-human or perhaps one day Alien-to-Human) during which "anything can happen and usually does."
The outcome of any such wild, pure-chance, situation often reveals the Master Theme of a novel or series of novels -- I've called it "Poetic Justice."
Scan the headlines any day, glance through Facebook for YouTube videos, and you'll find many examples of Poetic Justice.
It is not usually easy to see in real life -- how things come out the way they "ought" to come out, Justly and Beautifully.
But every once in a while, you can see Poetic Justice in the outcome of a real world situation.
The job of a writer is to reveal that Poetry inside and underneath everything in this real world. That is what artists do -- show the reality behind what we "believe" is real.
Examining the nature of "belief" and our subjective assessment of "reality" is what science fiction writers do. Take some humans, ram them up nose-to-nose with some truly alien Aliens, scrunch them together hard, and crack some skulls -- find the Poetry behind reality.
That's what Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek and the non-Emotion of Vulcans. Roddenberry was a "Humanist" and so created a lot of stories where the Enterprise met what seemed to be a Supernatural or God, and revealed the mundane truth behind that illusion.
Subsequent producers have taken a more atheistic stance.
Set yourself the problem of creating a commentary on your target audience's "belief" system (or lack of system), and then take a Strong Character with settled convictions and change that Character's view of Reality in such a way that the Character naturally changes response to a Situation.
That is the thematic material of a series of novels.
In a Comic or Graphic Novel (maybe most Games) such changes take place in the blink of an eye when presented with concrete evidence. We all wish life were that easy.
Romance makes a Character suffer while changing their basic view of Nature and their Self Image.
Marriage is a process of changing self-images (of both parties), a learning process, often called "learning to love."
What would make an Atheist pray?
Remember why we cry at weddings:
Consider Romance, ripening to true love, becoming marriage, and then some horrible threat to the life of one partner which the other can do nothing about.
Now consider all those years of growing together. How many instances of Poetic Justice have occurred? Are there enough strange outcomes to tricky situations for the one left in a helpless position to connect them and "see" a "Finger of God" moving their lives poetically, with purpose and Divine Love?
What sort of person could or would put "two and two together" and break down and address a foreign deity -- maybe a Catholic praying to Allah, or a human praying to some Alien's deity?
The point here is not to pick out the correct vision of the Creator, but to Depict how humans assess reality and act on their assessment, even if their assessment is not their own.
In Comics or even Film, it is usually depicted as one, singular Event and the person totally abandons their former view of the universe to embrace a new one.
In good drama, in Romance novels, in Science Fiction Series, it is never that simple.
There is the saying, "You have to have been there."
This refers to the tiny, baby steps, experience after experience, that adds up to a Poetic Justice outcome too vast to put into words, or even think about consciously.
Epiphany works that way -- it is the last step in a long series of steps that lead to what seems to onlookers a "sudden" change.
But it is rarely sudden. What would it take for a Strong Character Atheist to have that final epiphany and appeal to a Deity?
The Stronger the Character, the more novels it takes.
Notice how long the TV Series "X-Files" (yes, a fabulous Strong Character Meets Strong Character Romance) took to get ideas and evidence, proof, and belief all in line?
How many different explanations were adopted along the way?
Bringing an Atheist to prayer is a long process.
Breaking a Devout person's belief is usually swift sudden and unexpected. For example, the undeserved death of a loved one, absolutely no justice to it, despite real, genuine prayer filled with begging. And the person "blames" God, or comes to think others are correct, and there is nobody Listening.
Atheists are usually harder to convince. Are they stronger?
THEME: Atheists Are Stronger In Their Belief Because They Are Correct.
Try it. See if you can write it, then construct the biography that would set the Atheist up for a change of opinion or a Religious person for a glimpse of "The Cold Equations" of a godless mechanism that is reality - where "life" is just an accident of chemical combinations and the sense of "self" is an illustion.