I added the following about how I write in the comments section of yesterday’s post:
The character and plot come from my head, but how I shape them comes from my heart and soul, where the themes that speak to me dwell.
It was a hastily written comment, which is essentially true. I might, if I could edit it, write this instead:
A character and premise spring to mind, and then I think out some basic plot sequences, brainstorming. But how I take those bits of people and places and events and shape them, and what goes into the interior monologue and dialogue and reactions, and the weight I give to certain events, that’s all shaped by the heart and soul of me, the emotional and needy parts, the fearful and dark parts, the aspiring and God-infused parts. Those are the places where my themes dwell and from where they speak to me.
It’s a clarification. Wordier and clearer, but essentially the same.
Stories are created, like people, from more than one parent. There’s the calculating, the thinking, the devising part. Then there are the instinctive and emotional and mysterious centers. When the first one is in the ascendant, the story may be technically fine, but it will lack fire. If the second is ascendant, it may become sappy and overindulgent and purple and rambling. Reason and passion. Thought and feeling. Calculation and spontaneity.
I think it’s a no-brainer that the reason some stories with poor technique sell like mad is because they pluck, strongly, an emotional chord in readers. They fill a trembling need or a palpitating want. (Whoa, I’m treading on purple soil.) A story with poor characterization and dialogue could still please a vast audience through some inventiveness, some cleverness of plot, that stimulates the brain in a fresh way. Or a relatively dull tale with nothing innovative for the brain or particularly passionate for the heart can win an audience because it has a spiritual component that reached into a weak spot and offered strength.
For fun: Add your own version of “it sold despite weak A because it had a strong B.” Show me what you can come up with!
Now…what is most important to you in a story? Deep characters that become real to you and linger like the scent of friends after a long visit? Scenes that make you feel as if you could take on anybody or that make make you weep for days? A message that helps you get through the week? A philosophical puzzle for your intellect? A mysterious element to ponder as you sit in your garden at dusk? Action or horror that gets the adrenaline pumping and makes you feel electrically alive? A tender ride to a more nostalgic time that makes you feel young again? Thick dialogue that you must dissect for hidden meanings and foreshadowing?
It seems logical that the more of those reader needs we can satisfy, the more successful the story will be and the wider our (possible) audience. (I may be wrong. It just makes sense to me.)
As Christians, we want to also give satisfaction to the spiritual side of readers. It’s a natural part of who we are. We live daily with a spiritual needs begging to be fed, with spiritual disciplines (well, maybe) that require our commitment, with spiritual hopes that get us through difficulties and give us motivation, with spiritual failings that humble us, with spiritual hungers that drive us to seek eternal bread and wine. Sometimes, we fall into spiritual ecstasy beyond anything physical. Sometimes, we feel spiritually dead.
It’s inevitable that this vivid and vital part of our lives will manifest in whatever we write—to whatever extent. What we love, what we need, what we desire, what we fear—these must spill onto a page.
Unless we are false writers and hacks. Unless we are liars and fakes. Unless we lean on conventions and stereotypes and refuse to be real in our poetry and prose. (I’m not knocking adopting a character voice, btw. I’m knocking an avoidance of genuineness.)
I will assume you and I are neither liars, nor fakers, nor deceivers, nor hacks; but rather that we seek to write from an honest and original position. And there is only one original position for the writer: writing from his or her own deepest self. Because everything else is learned, derived, copied, revised. The only original thing we bring to the table is who we are. We are each unique. Who we are is our gift. And who we are will lead to what we write, because what is important to us will become what’s important to our main characters. And what we are afraid of, proud of, ashamed of, desiring of, willing to die for, willing to kill for…all that will come to life in our characters.
And if we think God is important, it will show.
It’s essential that we bleed (or puke, as Mary DeMuth says) on those pages.
So, starting from a place of our own truths, how do we shape a speculative fiction story that opens the soul of the reader?
That’s a toughie. Clearly, this is a multi-part endeavor. And a collaborative one. I need your input. I need your help. Because we have to answer this question first:
Why do we read speculative fiction?
Why do YOU?
Of course, we like it. But as your elementary school experience with book reports taught you, answering, “I liked it,” doesn’t suffice. We all have to go deeper.
Why do YOU seek out, enjoy, write—like—speculative fiction? Why do YOU read it? What need does it meet? What purpose does it serve?
Why do you write it? Why is this the way to tell your stories?
I’m waiting. Tell me. Tell me so I can move on to the next part…
Next Week: My answer to the question, more questions, and some first steps in figuring out how to write soul-opening stories of SF for the broader audience.