Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unloved Characters

Sometimes there are things you know, and then there are things that you confirm by doing, and I can certainly confirm, now, that a writer, a story-teller, an artist, might craft something solely to exorcise his or her own "demons." (Or, you know, zombies or whatever.) But here's something else I discovered through the whole NaNoWriMo project:

If the author doesn't care about the characters, nothing is going to happen to them.

I suppose it's not really a coincidence that right before NaNoWriMo started I read Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (Or is it A Million Years in a Thousand Miles? Or something else? I can never remember. The book was better than the title.) Miller (or maybe his friend Jordan, actually: chapter eight, page 48) defines story as "a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

He makes the point that conflict is a necessary part of story, and if God is telling The Story, and He wants it to be a good Story, then there's going to be conflict. He even kind of implies or maybe even states outright that at least some of the time God puts the conflict right in there.

It's maybe a little presumptuous to imagine that every life experience I have can turn into a point-by-point analogy about God. On the other hand, even though I don't agree with the Milk Guy that image-of-God necessitates that God actually behave exactly like human beings (or that we always behave exactly like God), I do think it means that we can learn things about God through our experiences and even our reactions or those of others.

So, while I was writing the Story That Shall Likely Never See the Light of Day (oh wait--that's kind of all my stories except Trees), it finally dawned on me that if God is really a storyteller, it's not very likely that this story is just His way of working out His own issues. And I'll tell you why.

I do believe there is something cathartic about storytelling and that you can process what you are going through by telling a story. But if that's all it is--if it's just a psychological-healing exercise--if there's no actual story being unearthed in its own right, as Stephen King describes it, it's kind of rubbish. It ends up like the "story" I wrote during NaNoWriMo--boring. If I don't care about the characters (which I discovered I didn't last month), I can't be bothered . . . or even think how to . . . find out what they want or what conflict they need to overcome to get it. I don't know them, who they are, what they like, even if I'm writing from their points of view. Their personalities change from one day to the next, not because they are developing as characters but because they are subject to my allegory which, it turns out, isn't a very good one. In a sense, we (the characters and I, too) are slaves to the story, but since it is a lame story, we're all just stuck and bored. In the end the whole thing--characters, story and author--
grind to a screeching halt.

If you're in a frame of mind which makes you think God's writing you a lousy story, you might wish for it to grind to a screeching halt, or think that it already has done, but whatever got you to that point, though painful, was probably not boring, and just might have affected your character a little bit. And I will also posit that it doesn't mean God hates you, or that He is indifferent to you. To hate a character, I feel, requires too much energy and the author might then just as well become indifferent to him or her. And indifference, as I've said, does not elicit conflict or suffering--or peace, either. It elicits boredom and lack of resolution.

I'm not trying to justify God in this particular post, nor am I trying to minimise anybody's pain, because what do I really know about it? I am saying that, from the perspective of "creates worlds," I think it's pretty unlikely that all this creation is, is a cosmic attempt to sort out the psychological convolutions of the Divine. I thought it was unlikely before, in theory. Now I think it in practice.

A few more writerly thoughts on this still to come.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

This post brought to mind this really interesting poem I've heard recited at poetry readings a couple times, by a sort-of regular at poet's asylum.
The poet (or the speaker of the poem, whatever) takes on the idea of poetry as therapy... In an interesting, and touchy way. He essentially says, "Look, if you need therapy, go get therapy. People are too important to squander their lives by seeking out healing in half-baked ways that are more exhibitionistic than healing."

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