I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God uses those with the gift of words to spread a message of hope and healing to a weary world. For my part, I find that I do that best when I write a story. There’s something mystical and magical about cooperating with the Creator in fashioning my fictional world, filling it with characters, setting the story in motion and letting it take me where it will. It leaves me contemplating the nature of the God who said, “Let there be light!” and then breathed life into the chaos of the universe to set the whole of humanity on a path toward eternity. Now, I don’t mean to compare myself with God, but I will say that the process of writing a story does help me to appreciate the perfection of God’s plan and the meticulous care that He exercises in bringing it to completion.
Story writing mirrors that power in so many ways; and for that reason, I develop a deep emotional attachment to each and every story I create. My characters are a part of who I am, for I’ve fashioned them in my own image and likeness and breathed my own life into them. They reflect my personality, my past experiences, and my future hopes. But, unlike my heavenly Father, my characters also represent my faults and failings, my insecurities and instabilities, and every little longing and striving that is working itself out in my own life. Their tears have been shed by my eyes; their laughter resembles my own; and I find a deep and lasting sense of satisfaction in bringing them through their journeys and guiding them by my keyboard to the fulfillment of the purposes for which they were created.
It is not without its costs, however. While the Lord of the Universe remains the same yesterday, today and forever, I continue to grow and develop one stumbling step at a time. These characters spill out of my innermost self, and they demand unwavering honesty from me. They refuse to be written in a way contrary to who they are and who they are becoming. So, try as I might to water down their personalities or mitigate their actions, they remain true to themselves and true to the overall purpose of the story. Because of them I find myself standing in a place of complete vulnerability. If my story is to remain true to itself – and I desire that with every fiber of my being – I must expose myself through my characters and allow them be all that they are. Otherwise, the story falls short and the characters become ghosts that never truly take on permanent form.
But therein lies the most exciting part of the whole endeavor! In that vulnerability, as I open up the treasure chest of hidden hurts and joyful expectations in my heart, I invite the reader to enter into the insanity that is me: that inner madness and eternal beauty that combine to express who I am and how I see the universe. I give a life to each character in the story: a personality and a set of values and desires that set each one on a journey that works itself out as the story unfolds. Now I confess that I don’t know how this process works for every other writer. I remember going to a seminar on writing and listening while the speaker outlined the process for creating the “perfect story.” As she went over her list of dos and don’ts for novel writing, I found myself unable to check off any of her boxes. We were told to write the entire story without stopping; but I laughed, for my writing was so disjointed and random and open-hearted that to follow that path would have driven me crazy! She talked about outlining the plot before even starting, editing the story as one unit at the end and finding a professional to critique the project (one of the services she also happened to offer!). With each new step in her process I found myself feeling more and more like my writing had evolved out of some insane alternate universe and would never be acceptable to the normal humans on this planet. The fact that she told me never to publish the project into which I was currently pouring my heart and soul, while still offering to critique my writing (apparently to “save it”) didn’t help matters either.
I’ll tell you that the cast of characters from that particular novel were quite pleased that I beat a hasty retreat from her little self-centered world of conventional wisdom. Had I chosen to stay and listen to her advice, they would never have come to life over the airwaves of the radio station where I worked, and they would never have touched a single heart! Somehow, despite my failure to follow the “professional guidance” I had received, the story made its way to its exciting conclusion and the characters fulfilled their purposes and completed their journeys; and it all took place through my strangely wonderful, randomly beautiful way of writing the story from beginning to end.
I have a deep love for the characters in my stories. When I find them going in a direction that puts them in harm’s way or brings them to a sorrowful place, I mourn with them. When they triumph over adversity and discover new insights about themselves, I rejoice with them too. I’ve fallen in love with heroines, raged against enemies and encouraged major characters to continue their journeys to the end. It’s an awesome responsibility and an incredibly transforming experience for the writer to take on the task of bringing the family of characters within a story to life, shaping their inner emotional worlds, their actions and their aspirations, and weaving them into the story that they help to shape. For it is in carrying out this powerful artistic path that we are transformed as well.
Writers really need to embrace their own brand of Multiple Personality Disorder and press on boldly in whatever fashion their imaginative minds chose to drive their stories. If methodical methods are your thing, I say be as compulsively creative as you need to be! If you jump around from scene to scene, allowing your characters to correct your deviations along the path of your story, then leap with all the joy you can muster, knowing that in the end you’ll get there just the same. Make friends with the people you bring to life, love them as you would love those in the “real” world – for they represent a reality that exists on a level that is wonderful and wild and fascinating and free! If it feels like playing God – and it sure does for me – just make sure you pray over your creation with the same kind of love that our Father pours out over His. In the end, you’ll accomplish wondrous things as you draw your readers into your world and connect them to their personal stories and their own inner family as well!