I was working this afternoon on a script for a new play. It was going well, the characters letting me know exactly what they wanted to say, whether or not it was what I’d expected them to say. (That is, by the way, the best part of writing.) Then William spoke up, and it became obvious to me that he needed to pray for another character. I stopped writing.

Praying was exactly what William would do in that situation – no problem there. The problem was this – I’ve always tried to avoid having characters pray out loud in my scripts. It just never sounds right. Despite all my attempts at sincerity, it always sounds hokey, like something I stuck in there because I was trying to make someone sound religious.

But William had to pray. It was integral for the scene. And it was important for it to be sincere.

So I put some thought into it. I can pray sincerely – why was it so hard to write a character praying sincerely? Here’s what I realized – prayer is intensely personal. William is not me. Therefore, any prayer that is my sincere prayer will not sound right coming from William’s mouth. I needed to find William’s sincere prayer. Shouldn’t be any different from writing William’s dialogue – but it is. Prayer is the inner soul of a character laid bare. If there is any misstep, it is immediately obvious.

I wrote something. I’ll probably change it. I probably won’t truly know whether I have it right or not until I hear it coming from the mouth of whoever takes on the character of William. But I learned something interesting. If you truly want to know someone’s soul, listen to him pray. His heart is in those words.