This is a subject close to my passion and my heart, and I confess, it was very hard for me to put this blog together. Much of this is a process that I am still learning about. Let me tell you about the fantasy novel that I am co-writing with Tracy Buckler.
Our novel is an idea that has been stirring in our brains and experimented with on paper for seven or eight years. It didn’t start as a book; it started as two friends writing together a very episodic and never ending story that went wherever our whims led. It fell blatantly into the fantasy genre with dragons and faeries and elves and magic and a whole slew of things our minds created. But we left out God.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to do so. It just happened. It’s another world, right? So we can’t talk about God. And we certainly can’t make up a God—wouldn’t that be wrong? What right could we have to do that? So it was a Godless world.
Or so we thought.
But we’re Christians, and being Christians, Christianness slipped into our writing. Themes of redemption, forgiveness, morality, and sacrifice abounded, themes that made little sense in a world without a deity. People in our world question existence; it is human nature to desire truth and look for answers, to know where these values come from. So why wouldn’t the people in the world of your book do the same?
God is such an ingrained part of our lives, that my co-writer and I put him there, unseen, supplying the moral compass that guided our characters, all the while not acknowledging him. So when we began to consider a more serious route for our story, a more bookish route, we regrouped. We made a huge decision: We decided!
To leave it the way it was.
We came across another problem. One of our characters reached a critical point that could not be corrected without a God. Now, there are many stories out there with themes like, as long as you have friends, you can do anything! Replace friends with anything: family, love, dreams, courage. The list goes on, and secular stories get away with it all the time. I’ve learned that friends are great, but they are not enough. Family is wonderful, but they cannot wholly satisfy you. Only God can truly sustain you. Why would we expect it to be different for our characters?
Have you ever known someone in your life that was not a Christian and was going through something extremely difficult? And when they’re telling you about this problem, you just want to start yelling that God is the answer, but you don’t say anything because you know they won’t accept it? But you feel lost because there’s nothing else you could possibly suggest, nothing that could come close to bringing the healing that they needed? That’s what happened with our character.
So we finished the draft, and then we sat down and had a long, long discussion about what we were going to do. We added a spiritual aspect to our book that reflects the nature and characteristics of our God. Now, I’m not going to give it away because I feel that it is really beautiful, and I hope that one day you might read about it for yourself. But what I want you to understand is that there wasn’t anything scary or wrong about it after all. It was actually the most natural thing that could happen in our book.
The beauty of language is that it’s tied so closely to culture. This, of course, means that our language is filled with problems when it comes to science fiction or fantasy worlds because we have phrases like “What on Earth?” or “Oh, my God!” which suddenly don’t apply if you’re not actually on Earth or haven’t established a deity. These phrases, statements, exclamations, and, yes, expletives are excellent opportunities to insert the belief system of your world. And suddenly, your world is that much more real to the reader because you’re developing its culture.
The message I am trying to communicate here is that as impossible as it is for a race of people to not wonder at the meaning of life, the source of existence, it is equally impossible for a Christian writer to ignore God. How could we? He is our inspiration, the reason we write to begin with! And if we are not honoring him with our writing, then there’s a problem. That’s not to say that there is one end all, be all solution to every book. In fact, if we had left our story the way it was, it would have been okay. What we did ultimately made it better, but each story is different, and there are different ways to point to God. As a writer, it’s something you, and God, have to decide. How you do that is a matter of the calling you feel for your story.
This is a subject with a lot of controversy and a long history full of both negative and positive precedents. As such, I will continue this in later posts where I will discuss examples of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, objections Christians have to the genres and opposing arguments, examples of existing powerful religious themes, suggestions for incorporating God into your work, and perhaps more. As I said before, this is very much a process that I am still going through and learning about, and I would love to hear any thoughts, opinions, or questions any of you might have. You can contact us through our Facebook, Twitter, or website. I look forward to continuing this topic with all of you.
By Rachelle Clifford
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Image credtis in order of appearance: jannoon028, xedos4, num_skyman, Stuart Miles.