Fallen Writer

~*GASP!*~

What is this? An original post? It can’t be!

Well… to some extent, it isn’t. The first part of this post was written a year and a half ago. The quoted text is not how I currently feel, so no prayers or sympathies are needed for depression as I am not presently in a depression (prayers and sympathy for stress, however, will be much appreciated!). The insights I apparently had during that grim time, though, are still relevant to my mind, and as I did not post it back when, I have decided to post it now and tie it in with my present thoughts.

And, uh, Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday-of-your-persuasion! It doesn’t look like I will be doing much Christmas-posting, but I will, again, re-post my carol countdown for any who are interested. :)

I am going through some stuff right now. Nothing is “wrong,” but then my brain chemistry doesn’t really care. It never has.

It’s moods like this that make me want to burn down the world. Luckily for me, and everyone else, global immolation is not in my power. Besides, I would probably remember who and what I love in time to stop me, even if it was.

Depression will pass. It always does. I have learned the hard way that the dimness of the world I see right now is no more real than if I were staring at it through rose glass.

If only knowing were feeling.

Different established aspects of the characters I write become more or less real to me depending on my mood, at least in the abstract.

I have found that I do not need to understand a character for them to reveal themselves in my writing, but the insights I get when I am not writing can help me see the “big picture,” what the characters themselves do not see. You know how we, as people, are often too “close” to our own lives to see ourselves objectively? It seems characters are usually like that, too.

Anyway, I’ve known for a long while that I am dealing with two protagonists who have a (mostly unconscious) deathwish. They have forgotten how to love themselves in the way that allows a person to really love their neighbors. In contrast, I have a protagonist who “loves his life” (John 12:25) so much that he is willing to do nearly anything to survive. Right now I can clearly see the irony of the fact that all three are, despite their differences, self-destructive.

If they change, it will be painful, but then processes that create lasting change are ALWAYS painful. Break the twisted bone so that it can heal straight. Even my dull-dark mood is not enough to hide from me the beauty and joy inherent in redemption.

Cheery stuff, no? Though I do touch on eucatastrophe at the end. It relates, in an acute-angle kind of way to what I will say next.

My stories, all of them, are rife with questions of redemption: what it is, what it means, how it works, if it works, what happens when it doesn’t come into play, etc. Being part of a Fallen race, the question is of deep importance to me.

What I’ve been pondering lately, in a more balanced frame of mind, is how to deal with the concept of Fallen Humanity in-story.

Stories are funny things, aren’t they? So many varieties, and yet so many common notes.

My genre is, I guess, Fantasy Fiction (or speculative fiction, if you want a bigger umbrella). Not particularly High or Low, Heroic or Dark. In fact, running down the list of sub-genres, I’m not sure where it falls. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way. Some of the best (and worst) fantasy fiction out there plays to type.

The reason is that each type has its aim and the formulas work. If you want a peanut-butter milkshake, you use ice-cream, milk, peanut-butter, and maybe some chocolate syrup. You don’t add chicken soup, or gravel.

So, I am not writing dark, cynical fantasy because my aim isn’t deconstruction. But most of the alternatives have heroes that, while flawed, are still… well… heroic. And their villains are villainous. And I look at them and wonder: how much difference is there, really?

In one sense, of course, there is a vast difference. I am not attempting to diminish the importance of choice and freewill. But the Fall cuts through everyone. In a sense, it brings us all close together, even if we’re together in bondage. I may cheat, or lie, and another person may commit mass murder, but without salvation, we’ve both walked through the gates: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”* If we both find salvation, we both find salvation, regardless of what we’ve done. In this sense, at least, there are no levels.

We’re all sinners. But the world, as a whole, rarely seems to agree. There’s a persistent feeling (one that I have to fight in myself) that some things just aren’t forgivable. That some marks, once made, are indelible.

So what does this mean for my writing? I guess it means that I’m walking a fine line. On one hand, I want my reader to like and sympathize with the “good guys,” to be horrified by the destruction wrought by their antagonists, and for the two sides to be quite clear (well, most of the time, anyway). But without ever being able to forget that the degree of separation is not as wide as it seems. I’m not necessarily talking about anti-heroes or anti-villains. I’m not exactly dealing in gray and gray morality.

I guess, maybe, I’m asking how we approach the Fall. How, if we believe in true Good and Evil (as I do,) and know that we’re Not Good (yeah, that too), do we view those whose Not-Goodness horrifies us?

I know that, for a lot of people who share my faith, this may sound stupidly obvious, but I’ve always believed that the obvious needs saying sometimes: I feel like this is Important. Not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

How do we love our enemies? How do we face mass murder, exploitation, corruption, and cruelty? We must condemn these things because we know them to be evil. To excuse or ignore them in a story, as in real life, would be a sin. But in real life we’re forbidden to judge the perpetrators. Part of that may be because of our human limitations. We can’t really understand our fellows. But maybe it’s also because, when we come right down to it, “we” are not as far from “them” as we would like to think.

To an ant the size of a pin-head, an ant the size of  a bean seems huge. To a human they’re both very small, nearly the same size, even.

The Fall makes us all ants.

And so, dear possible-future-reader, if you ever think it strange that I touch on a monster with sympathy, or deal harshly with a protagonist for a comparatively “small” fault, remember that it isn’t because I’m a relativist.

It’s because I’m not.

 


 

*Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”


 

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

21 responses to “Fallen Writer

  • Deborah Makarios

    This reminds me of Chesterton’s short story “The Secret of Father Brown” (have you read it?). There’s so much good stuff in it I can’t quote it all here, but it touches on this idea of realizing the lack of distance between ourselves and those who are “criminal”.

    • jubilare

      I’ve read some Father Brown stories, but I don’t recall if I’ve read that one. Obviously, either way I need to track it down and read it. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • Stephanie

    Those are the kinds of villains that truly serve their purpose, I think, because we SHOULD see how easily we can become them. It’s not the mustache-twirling puppy-killing bad guys that we learn from. It’s the ones who are just that tiny bit different from us.

    Pair them with realistically-flawed heroes and we get to pinpoint the exact error. Show our readers the line.

    It’s dangerous to make that kind of judgment, of course, but it’s also the most effective way to make a statement.

    And the flaws and relatability make for a more enjoyable story.

    Of course, sometimes it simply results in more gray area, but at least it makes us think.

    Ulmin. You’re right, I play with these same themes in my WIP. I don’t think it’s spoiler-y to say: J’s greatest fear is becoming “like them.” Unfortunately, he’s not always clear on the difference. And that scares him further.

    There’s a huge redemption theme, too, but that’s more central to the trilogy as a whole than to book 1. And it relates to the kind of horrifying, “unforgivable” sin you mention above. So, yeah. I admit to worrying about that.

    P.S. “If only knowing were feeling.” Amen. Concise wisdom for the win.

    • jubilare

      It’s true. The Saurons do serve a purpose, but we don’t learn from them like we do from the Sarumans, Denethors, and Gollums (sob!). And yes, Tolkien’s is the mythology by which I navigate the world. ;)

      My writing process being the haphazard thing that it is, I never plan this kind of stuff. I find it later in what I’ve written and then I refine it. Though sometimes a piece falls into place and makes a pattern startlingly clear to me. Several times I’ve had to backtrack and psychoanalyze a character in order to get a clearer picture of what’s happening and what’s coming. One thing that I find fascinating, though, is when a character has a chance at redemption and then doesn’t take it. It often breaks my heart, but it certainly has impact. Take Gollum/Smeagol for instance. He’s on a path to potential redemption, but we never get to see where it will lead because harsh treatment from men and a supposed betrayal from Frodo tip the delicate balance in favor of the Ring. There’s an Aesop in that, I think. As one of mine puts it, at one point: you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, but you can help to damn them. It’s a sobering thought. :P And then, of course, there’s Denethor, a good man overthrown by despair.

      “Of course, sometimes it simply results in more gray area, but at least it makes us think.” It’s certainly a challenge to explore the gray of people in the context of good and evil actions without diluting the morality, but I think it’s certainly doable. And if we can pull it off, it will have impact.

      While I don’t believe in “unforgivable” sins in terms of God’s forgiveness, I do know that one can only expect an audience to forgive so much. A really skilled writer can make them forgive more than an unskilled one can, but still there are probably limits. It’s funny, though, how different people’s limits are. In the Fullmetal Alchemist fandom there is a divided opinion on where the character Envy (I don’t think you’ve met him, yet) stands.

      Poor J. It’s harder to see the lines the closer one comes to them, too, I think. *wants to hug him so very much* :(

      “There’s a huge redemption theme, too, but that’s more central to the trilogy as a whole than to book 1.” The roots of those themes are definitely present, though. I can already see them, though maybe the fact that I’m dealing with them, too, makes me extra sensitive to them. I don’t know, of course, what exactly you will do with them, but I know for certain that they have a role to play. ;)

      Lol! Glad you approve. ^_^

      • Stephanie

        I consciously work to make my villains relatable and heroes flawed, but sometimes they surprise me, too. In part 4, when J is lying there in the air duct not moving because what’s the point? Yeah. That was all him. He surprised me by losing the will to fight, and I had to figure out what words to whisper in his ear to get him up again.

        I believe I met Envy, briefly. All the characters are hard to keep up with. So many. I’m on ep 6.

        They will have a role. I’m glad you see the roots already. :)

        • jubilare

          I work on it, too, but usually in terms of analysis more than plot, figuring out what to highlight with the writing.

          “Yeah. That was all him.” 8_8 *sniffles*

          He looks like a psychotic palm-tree given human form, and he can change shape. And yes, there are lots and lots of characters and most of them are important.

          ^_^

  • stephencwinter

    Some years ago I lived for a time in a relatively poor part of an English town. After a few weeks it struck me that I was seeing a lot more police patrols than I had done when living in a more prosperous area of the same town. Why, I wondered, if we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, were the police more active here than there? I am reminded of a character in C.S Lewis’s The Great Divorce who is furious because the guide sent to help him into heaven committed murder while on earth. Surely the heavenly authorities have a pretty poor sense of what is appropriate? Maybe it isn’t a kindness to help individuals and institutions protect their own reputations.

    • jubilare

      I adore that scene in the Great Divorce. I mean, like most of the scenes, it’s frustrating and sad, but there’s such a beauty to the responses of the ex-murder. Heavenly authorities do, indeed, have a poor sense of what is “appropriate” from our human standpoint. Thank God! ^_^

      On that note, I think the Church (all denominations) may have done a lot more damage hiding it’s failings than it would have by admitting and dealing with them. The facade of infallibility is a lie for all human institutions, and we do well to avoid lying.

      • stephencwinter

        I agree about the damage that has been caused by hiding failings. The Church has been much at fault in this matter. So, of course, have every other institution that I can think of. At the moment the reaction has been to withdraw into a defensive individualism. I hope that one day we will learn to be truly fellowships of forgiven sinners.

        • jubilare

          “So, of course, have every other institution that I can think of.” Yes, indeed. For the Church, at least, we should know better, though. After all, we profess that humanity is sinful and fallible. I understand the extra temptation faced by the Church in this matter, though. There’s a desire to show the world that God really does make a difference in our lives, and there is a fear that if we show our failings, people will turn away from Him because of us. :P

          I hope so, too.

          • stephencwinter

            I agree with everything that you say here. I am reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart” at the moment. I am very much drawn to his words about St Anthony of Egypt. “During these years Anthony experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him. But he came out of this trial victoriously- not because of his own willpower or ascetic exploits but because of his unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When he emerged from his solitude, people recognised in him the qualities of an authentic healthy man, whole in body, mind and soul. They flocked to him for healing, comfort and direction.”
            Imagine a church that goes through the same journey! More pressingly, imagine ourselves on that journey. I think we are tempted even to make the surrender that Nouwen speaks of as somehow a triumph on our part. I see it as the opposite. It comes when we realise that we cannot rescue ourselves; that we are the weaklings in the superhero movies that run about the streets aimlessly as the monsters do whatever they like. There is only one hope and that is that the hero will turn up before we are killed! The world needs more people like that. Can you believe it?!

          • jubilare

            “I see it as the opposite. It comes when we realise that we cannot rescue ourselves;”
            So powerfully true. The transformative power of God is overwhelming, but we will try pretty much anything else in order to avoid that terrifying surrender, sometimes even running to the monsters themselves in order to be “safe” from the Hero. …I wish I could say I’d never been that stupid, but I can’t!

            I think this is why some of the greatest men and women of the Church are the ones who were rescued from the worst stuff/delivered from the deepest wells of sin, and why the best periods in the history of the Church follow so closely on the worst. Until we’re broken, we can’t become whole.

          • stephencwinter

            Now that is an encouraging thought! We live in challenging times both as church and as humanity in which we have fallen short in many ways. How wonderful if this will prepare us for one of “the best periods” in our history.
            I can’t remember if I have corresponded with you about Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of the Temptation of St Anthony. I did with someone once. I think it is a truly great work although I thought it was just weird when I was young. Experience has taught me since how true it is. The temptations are genuinely enticing. We run to the monsters (I did like that phrase!). The painting is a triptych and the original is in Lisbon, Portugal. I hope to go to see it and to write about it sometime.

    • jubilare

      “How wonderful if this will prepare us for one of “the best periods” in our history.”
      I am reminded of two things. The first is the parable of the wheat and the tares from Matthew 13. Good and Evil will grow up/mature together until the final harvest. As humanity has always done, we are watching evil evolve. But good is evolving right alongside it and the greater the evil becomes, still greater will the good become.
      The second, and better to my mind, is the description of birthing pains that recurs in the Bible. The correlation between the evils in the world and the suffering they cause, and the painful and dangerous process of birth. Of course, I’ve never had a child, but a friend of mine who is a midwife tells me that there is a rush of endorphins after birth that aids in the bonding of mother and child and often overcomes, especially in the long term, the memory of the pain of childbirth. My mother tells me the same. What an amazing image that is for our long-term hope!

      We haven’t discussed it, but I would like to! I have seen one Bosch in person, but it wasn’t that one. I can’t recall, off hand, which one it was.

  • Brenton Dickieson

    I don’t have a particular answer for you Jubilare. In my own writing, the good characters continue to be too good, and the evil too evil. My recent “Curse of Tearian is dark, and about children. I have an evil character who I am trying to give context to her evil, and a good character is has been redeemed a long time ago. I don’t know if I have succeeded.
    But I find, in modern film, that the Coen Brothers are able to capture the fallen nature of the world unlike anyone else.
    Still, their films are awash in evil or disappointment. Perhaps there is value in the fact that your heroes and villains are what they are because of their choices or contexts or whatever. Maybe the line between being a protagonist or antagonist is just that thin.

    • jubilare

      I’m not sure there is a particular answer… more of an open question, really. You’ve laid out the bunny-trails, though, and now I must hop! I’m not assuming, by the way, that you don’t already know all this stuff. I’m rambling because it’s there, and because I’m thinking about it.

      What do you mean by “too good” and “too evil?” Those qualitative statements depend so much on perspective, and even more on the aim of the story. I’m specifically writing on themes of redemption, so the shades are vital and pivotal. If I were writing to another purpose, those shades might, rather, cloud the issues at hand.

      I have a few characters that were redeemed “off camera” as it were. One of the best of the good-guys (his world’s equivalent of a high-fantasy paladin, actually) is an ex-criminal. His angel (there are angels, of a sort, in-story) is an ex-demon, too (whether or not that’s possible in reality, it’s possible in the context of the story ;). A lot of the characters have no such dark past (though some of them have dark futures). My villains are, I think, pretty nasty, but hopefully still shaded.
      I have one character, though, who is first introduced when he leads a massacre. After getting several chapters in, Stephanie (my critique partner! Yay!) started to like him/sympathize with him so much that when another character verbally damned him, her response was “Don’t you damn my [character-name]…” She fully understands that he needs to be stopped, but she also longs to see him redeemed. I find that incredibly affirming and encouraging because that is what I am aiming for. Recognition of the horrible sin combined with love and hope for the sinner. That’s what I believe is an echo of the heart of God, and if by His grace I can pull it off, that’s the story I want to write. What I’m dealing with right now is a recognition that, to some extent, all of the characters need that redemption in their lives constantly, as do we. :)

      Oh, the Coen Bros. I have such mixed feelings about them. The humanity of their representations is unparalleled, I think… and if there was no God, no redemption through Christ, nothing higher than messed up humanity, I think their work would be the best we could reach for. But to someone whose seen sunlight, a lamp is dim. So that tenuous hope might as well be no hope to me at all, and their films are gray. That isn’t at all what I am aiming for. Though I’d not dare to compare myself to Tolkien, I’ll still take my aim at the gray of Gandalf.

      In conversation with, I think, Steph, I commented that the difference, to me, between heroes and villains is not how much they suffer, but what they do with their pain. Context is one thing, but what someone chooses to do with their context is even more important. I get annoyed with the idea that a character is “made” bad by circumstance. That concept seems like a slap in the face to every person who has suffered horribly and overcome.
      So, yes, my heroes and villains are what they are based on their choices. But then so, presumably, was Satan.

      “Maybe the line between being a protagonist or antagonist is just that thin.” We’re all walking on the edge of hell, aren’t we? And, thanks to the sacrifice of Our Lord, on the edge of Heaven as well. I think what I’m so focused on right now is not whether characters appear good or evil, but rather the idea that any one of them could rise or fall.

      By the way, I’m so happy you commented! I love discussing story mechanics, and I’m deeply interested in your writing.

  • Colleen Whitver

    This is rich. Please let’s get to editing in 2016.

  • medievalotaku

    You remind me of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Sometimes, it is something small which puts someone on the path of virtue. I forget whether you’d seen Rurouni Kenshin, but Kenshin Himura and Shishio Makoto have almost identical backgrounds; yet, the first is the hero and the second is the villain. Kenshin experienced moments of grace which Shishio did not, and Shishio responded badly to the occasions which could have set him right. At any rate, Nobuhiro Watsuki loves playing with the idea of the villain and the hero being almost the same, except for the key difference which makes one good and the other evil.

    • jubilare

      I have seen the anime, but not the manga. I can definitely see what you mean, though. And dealing with that divide in fiction is all the more challenging because, for all the wealth of theories, we don’t really know why we choose one way or another.

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