First things first! We'd like to wish our bonnie Bonnie a very happy birthday! Hope it's the best ever!
I especially like the chapter in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird that Patti wrote about on Monday, "The Moral Point of View." Anne -- I love that we're on a first-name basis with her on this blog -- stated, "You need to put yourself at [the] center [of your stories], you and what you believe to be true or right. The core ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing ... Telling these truths is your job" (pg. 103).
Ayn Rand, in The Art of Fiction, concurs. In the chapter, "How to Develop a Plot Ability," she writes: "You must start with the abstract idea of a conflict, but thereafter your own values (emphasis mine) and your personal imagination will be a reliable dramatic selector ... do not censor yourself or check yourself against your moral code. Simply tap your emotions; you can judge later whether they are right or wrong" (pg. 58).
Those quotes spoke to me on two levels: the micro and the macro. In the micro, I thought about some of the issues I've written about in my individual novels, all from the perspective of my moral center. For it's impossible for me to separate what I write from what I believe. I can write about characters who are my polar opposites, and about situations I hope never to find myself in. What I can't do is condone a type of morality that I don't believe in.
Anne Lamott says, "I'm not suggesting that you want to be an author who tells a story in order to teach a moral ... but we feel morally certain of some things ... and we need to communicate these things" (pg. 104). I completely agree. No one wants to read fiction that's written with a heavy hand, and I'm no exception. As I wrote in my previous NM post, Paying Attention to Detail, the novel I just finished reading was "nothing more than a treatise on the author's pet issues." I don't enjoy that any more than most readers. No matter how intense or deep the plot, I still read fiction for pleasure.
The key, then, is how we address our moral certainties in our writing. I think this is something Christian authors in particular struggle with, because we do believe so passionately in our values. We understand the implications of sharing truth from Scripture. But what we need to remember is that the blank page onto which we pour our words is not our bully pulpit.
Consider the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee didn't beat her readers over the head with the moral issues plaguing the South. She simply told a story -- an excellent story -- and let the story speak for itself.
So, does "writing what I believe to be true or right" apply to not only the ethics of what I write, but to the style and genre of what I write as well? I believe it does. It's what I mean by the macro. If a writer of CBA fiction based her writing choices on what sells best in CBA, her selection would be ... ahem ... somewhat limited. That's a topic the six of us discuss among ourselves, because, alas, none of us writes in those best-selling genres. All I can say about that is, DANG! Seriously -- oh, wait, that was seriously. Bottom line is we each have to write what we "believe to be true or right."
As I've mentioned before, I just finished a novel that took two years to write, and I have no idea if a publisher will ever pick it up. But it's a story I had to write, and I don't regret one minute of those two years. The few who have read it have said some remarkable things about it, and one way or another it will see the light of day.
A few days ago I received an email from a woman who won Lying on Sunday in a drawing. She liked it well enough that she ordered and read Every Good & Perfect Gift. This is what this woman -- who is battling pancreatic cancer -- wrote to me: "I saw my own health situation in Gabby and DeeDee. I have bent pages and written down passages for recall. The way you handled this illness between friends inspired me and broke my heart at the same time ... Suffice it to say this novel hit several notes just beautifully. My theme of late has been tears ... for pain, sorrow, grief, and the occasional pity party. People call me strong and admire how I am handling my cancer. I'm not, but He is. Thank you again, Sharon."
As you can imagine, I shed a few tears of my own after reading her words. Hitting notes with my readers is the exact reason I write, and the exact reason I write what I write. It's what is true and right for me. And comments like this are what keep me going.
How have you found what is true and right for you as a writer? How does that affect your work?