Saturday, November 19, 2011

Do You Believe It?

One of the biggest pitfalls I think every fiction author faces is that of writing what they don't truly believe.

I see it happen all the time. I struggle with the issue regularly. After all, we are just trying to tell a "fun story," aren't we? We certainly don't want to come across as moralizing or legalistic! I know I don't, and I know I struggle with falling into that trap.

But there's a flip-side to every coin. How often, for the sake of "just telling a story," do we find ourselves writing things that don't reflect our actual beliefs?

Here's a classic example of what I'm talking about: How often do we say (both in secular and Christian fiction) that it's the inside of a person that counts, not the superficial exterior? Pretty often. But how often is that what we actually write?

While there are exceptions to the rule, almost every romance novel I have read depends on the extraordinary hotness of the heroine and the incredible muscle-tone of the hero to create the romance. To create the tension. Even to define the character. (Can he even be a hero without toned abs? Can she be an interesting character without a stunning figure and violet eyes?) We write them as super-models, movie stars, demigods, and yet we expect people to believe that it's the inside that counts.

Oh, I've heard people say that "attraction matters" and that's why they spend so much time describing the hotness of their various characters in order to create a "realistic" romance. Now, I'm not going to argue that point! Absolutely, attraction matters. I think my husband is adorable, and I enjoy his good looks!

But is he a movie star? Does he look like (Insert Your Favorite Romantic Lead: here)? He is very attractive to me, but was it body-builder muscle tone that drew me to him?


It all comes down to writing what you believe. And what most people believe is that attraction is important, but that attraction can stem from a lot of sources and is highly subjective. After all, plain people are just as capable of passionate romance as the superstars! Don't you think it's possible a man might be romantic even if he has skinny shoulders and is a bit soft around the middle? Can't a girl with crooked teeth and a bit of weight on her be someone's dream come true?

I don't write romance books, so this has not been an issue for me at this point. (The heroine of my last novel is a goblin. So yeah. We kind of have to love who she is and not what she looks like.) But I have found myself running into other situations where I could write what I don't believe for the sake of easy storytelling.

Best personal example: I once outlined and planned out in detail a novel in which the main character earned forgiveness by a noble act. I planned to have this character, who was pretty messed up, atone for his own sin.

But I don't believe that.

I don’t believe that a good deed cancels out a bad deed. I don't believe in karma, and I don't believe that if we do something wrong, we can then do something right to make it all better. Some wounds we inflict cannot be fixed, no matter how many "good deeds" we might do to make up for it. Forgiveness is not something that can be earned by our merit. Forgiveness is something that must be offered without our deserving it. Forgiveness is an act of ultimate grace.

So I scrapped that story idea, and wrote what I truly believed. I wrote a story in which the hero strives to fix his mistakes but realizes that he cannot. It was a harder story to write. And it was a true story that reflected what I believed.

But I could have just as easily written my fun adventure story, let my hero earn his own forgiveness, and said, "Hey! I'm not trying to mean anything here! It's just a fun story!"

The problem is, stories often take on a message or meaning whether you intend it or not. And we Christian writers have to be SO careful that when we are writing, we are reflecting what we hold true. That we are bathing every project in prayer, seeking God's glory and not our own. Yes, we are just telling a "good story," and it is meant for entertainment. But as soon as you take the label "Christian," your writing comes under a much closer scrutiny.

Let me finish by saying that I don't believe every book written by a Christian needs to have a "good Christian moral" tagged onto it. I think every book needs to have something to say, or it's only so much babble. But what you are trying to say doesn't need to be summarized in a little moral message, and not every little twist of your tale needs to have some deep, allegorical significance.

At its heart, however, a novel must reveal what an author believes, be that author Christian or non-Christian. Fiction is about entertainment, yes. But it's also about communication. What are you communicating through your work?


Faith said...

Wonderful post.

Galadriel said...

Interesting concept to consider.

Angie said...

Great post :)

Rebecca said...

This is what I SO appreciate about your writing. . .you don't compromise on your beliefs while still creating a fantastic plot and bunch of characters that I can either fall in love with or loathe with all of my being. Thank you!!!

Eszter said...

To be honest, I was a little surprised that Rose was a goblin. She had such a good heart and sassy spirit. It only made sense to think that she was beautiful. But you know what? I'm glad you made her a goblin. It makes the story so much better and what you had to say stood out. I applaud you on that! The journey up a hill that is full of obstacles is hard and you find yourself struggling. But then, as you get to the top, you find out that it was totally worth it. Plus, you feel proud that you were able to do it without taking any shortcuts. I'm so glad you didn't take any shortcuts!