On authors and The Author

Today I was writing my upcoming post on eucatastrophe for the Pages Unbound Tolkien reading event, when I remembered this little piece I wrote back in April, 2007.  Wow, yes, sophomore year of college!  I’m still really pleased with it, and thus bring it back for an encore performance, as it were.  (As an added bit of trivia, this was written before I’d read about eucatastrophe or any of those wonderful essays on stories by Tolkien or Lewis. Clearly I was tending in that direction, though.  A month later, I took the English class that changed my life: it was on “Fairy Stories from Shakespeare to Lewis and Tolkien,” and we did read the essays on the virtues of fairy tales and imaginative literature which have shaped my desire to become a literature professor.)

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Last night, or rather, this morning, I was thinking about how I like to joke about how my characters complain about the various things I put them through.  I noted that the things that seem painful and difficult to them are only temporary,  and that in the end, I always make sure things work out well.  In the midst of the tale, things may not seem to be working out for their good, but that’s because my characters can’t see the entire plot, as I do.

I realized that this is much the same way our own human lives run.  God is our Author, Who has promised to work all things to the good for those who love Him.  Sometimes in the middle of the story, when things are going badly, it seems like there can’t be a happy ending, but that’s because we can’t see where the story is meant to go.  We may not even get what seems a happy ending on this earth, but this is only the prologue to the Real Story.

The thought struck me then that as a human author, I do put my characters in bad situations because strife is necessary make an entertaining story.  How can we be sure that God doesn’t let bad things into our own stories purely for His entertainment?

Well, He wrote Himself into our story, into all the pains and struggles we have to deal with every day.  Not only that, but He allowed Himself to die a horrible death on the cross.  Because He loved us, because he wanted to show us just how much we each mean to Him.

I don’t think I could do that for any of my creations.   I don’t mean merely writing myself as a character within one of my own stories while I stay safe behind my computer screen.  I mean the kind of physical immersion into the written world that is the fanfic writer’s dream.  Oh, I wouldn’t mind at all truly living one of my stories if I got a cushy life with fun perks like magical powers or special recognition.  But I’m not sure I’d be willing to enter my worlds as a common man, unrecognized as the author who knows and cares about each of my characters, to be finally accused of heresy, mocked, and killed.  And if I did, why would I?  Not to make a fun story for me.  No, I could do that just fine without incurring any personal harm, thanks.  If I did choose to enter my world in such a manner, I’d only do so because I wanted to prove to my creations that yes, they are important to me and that I really do love them despite all seeming evidence to the contrary.  And you know, if I were willing to enter their story like that, subjecting myself to everything they experience, I don’t think I’d be likely to mess around with their lives just for fun.

I know I’ve heard God’s love described to me in those terms before, but it never really sunk in until I was considering the scenario of trying to convince my own characters that I do love them and that they don’t exist purely to be tormented for my own entertainment.  Now, from a writers point of view, I can’t say that there isn’t some truth in that.  As I said before, if I didn’t give them troubles, I wouldn’t have much to write about.  But at the same time, I do cherish them all simply because they’re individuals, children I’ve created and love because they’re all special.  Through my relationship to them, I think I’ve caught a glimpse of God’s relationship to me, His child and creation.

And I hope that somehow, through my role as author, I can reflect and honor my Author.

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5 thoughts on “On authors and The Author

  1. “I don’t think I could do that for any of my creations.” This brought me to a full stop. You are very, very right…

    There is something else that occurred to me while I read this, and that has occurred to me before in my own writing. I realize that I am likely preaching to the choir, but it is helpful to me to see ideas in print, and to have thoughtful people to converse with. 🙂

    It is a question of why struggles and suffering make a good plot.

    I tend to hold conversations with my characters in my head as I way to flesh things out and understand them. In “conversing” with Kethe, a much-abused and astoundingly angst-free character, the topic of suffering as a means of growth came up.

    I know that, in some ways, the “it builds character” argument has been overused, and even misused. Saying to someone who has suffered or is suffering “look how much you’ve grown in the process!” will likely, and rightfully, get one punched in the face. That strife and pain can shape and strengthen us is a realization that has to come from a sufferer rather than being impressed upon one, but it is nevertheless true.

    Yes, struggles and conflict make for good plots, but there is more to it than simple entertainment, aye? I do not put my characters through their challenges merely for the sake of entertainment, I put them through it for the sake of growth. And it’s growth that makes a plot truly extraordinary, isn’t it? I suggest that the reason we find conflict and strife entertaining in a story is because we instinctively recognize it as a vehicle for growth. We want to see characters overcome something. We want to see them grow.

    Your argument applies as equally to this, of course. Even if human suffering is “for our own good” Christ’s mission on earth has the same effect. But conflict as a means for character development adds another aspect both to a human author’s relationship to her characters and God’s relationship to us.

    • That’s an excellent point, and one I actually hadn’t articulated well to myself. So, thanks very much for sharing!

      There probably are some voyeuristic readers out there, but yes, you’re right that it’s not the affliction, as such, that is satisfying in a narrative, but rather what the character makes of it. Also, does it seem fair to say that, as a reader, you’re more willing to forgive an author for character “abuse” if the character comes out of it stronger in some way? To take an example of the opposite effect, I have read (and mostly enjoyed) a few books by sci-fi author Joan Vinge. However, she can be ruthless to her characters, taking them completely apart. But she’s not so good at putting them back together, and this bothers me.

      • Yes, I feel much the same way… a character broken can teach us something, but a character broken and then healed stronger than before teaches us much more, and an author who is good at the breaking and not so good at the healing would bother me as well. It seems, to me, to show only a half understanding of human nature. I am tempted to blame current social norms that tell us we are fragile, but perhaps that is unfair of me.
        In any case, I can sum up my opinion with I ❤ Saul Tigh. I don't know if you are familiar with the new Battlestar Galactica or not (I have full nerd credentials on file) but if you aren't, Saul is a deeply flawed and frustrating character whom I hated for most of the show until they broke him so completely that I never expected him to recover. And then, not only did he recover, he became someone I LIKED. Now I love him retroactively throughout the series,even if I do want to smack him sometimes.

      • Yes, I have recently started watching Battlestar with some friends. We’re not very far in yet, though. Maybe five or six episodes. I’m enjoying it so far, though it can be kind of emotionally hard to watch, with so much bleak that happens!

  2. It is not easy to watch, that is for sure. My first run through was harrowing, as my friend who watched it with me has a much higher tolerance than I do.
    I have to pace myself, or I burn out, but for all that, I love it. It strikes a balance between not pulling punches, and not drowning hope. It’s mostly brilliantly written, too, in my opinion. There are few shows that maintain such a large number of rich, human, and most of all dynamic characters throughout a series. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

    Oh, and the soundtracks just get better and better… I own them all, and listen to them frequently.

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