I thoroughly enjoyed Latayne's post on Monday about what makes fiction authentic. Our readers added their wisdom and craft to the conversation:
Megan found that a contrived character with a designated "job" killed the authenticity of a story she was reading. Marian blamed "whitewashed and superficial characters." Vonda wants to see characters that "grow and struggle and learn and fail in their faith." Henrietta mentioned pacing in relationship to a character's arc of change.
See a pattern here? We want to meet real people in our stories. I know that's a contradiction, but it's true. Latayne traveled thousands of miles--many of them on foot!--on her adventure where she encountered the power of authenticity. I'm going through quite a different journey, one that demonstrates what it means to allow characters to live and change and walk through turbulent waters.
My mother has cancer for the 7th time, the third diagnosis this year. One week earlier, her oncologist had wished her well. Now, she has brain cancer, a two-inch tumor just above her right eye. This thing is more than a lesion, it's changing the way my mom thinks and acts, pressing against brain tissue and causing swelling. Thinking back, she's manifested personality symptoms for over a year, but the changes were gradual, and who sees their aging mother's personality bloom and thinks tumor? I wasn't supposed to, was I? And then, just over a week ago, she couldn't speak when she experienced the least amount of emotion. Nothing. Nada. No words. Her speech has improved with steroids to reduce the swelling, but she still gets her words mixed up. She called me a fallen angel at the doctor today. I sure hope..
Anyway, this is all very disconcerting. My mom was the first measure of consistency in my life--the thump, thump, thump of her heart as I squirmed in her womb. Later, in her daffodil-yellow kitchen, I put my ear to her heart each morning, drank in the scent of her sleep, coffee, and cigarettes--believing this was my normal, my eternity, my heaven of comfort and goodness. I could also count on her not to like my storytelling. For that, I tasted soap, lots of it, less as I got better at turning a tale.
From grade school to college, I woke each morning to find a partially completed dress hanging in the doorway to Mom's bedroom. She'd been up since four--pinning, cutting, stitching. The thrum of her sewing machine was my waking-up music. The work of her hands, pure magic. As an adult, I saw my mom more realistically. Good grief, did she have to be the center of attention, always? Could she, please, let one thought go unsaid? But always the willingness to jump in and help, always approval and pride at my accomplishments, always love, love, love.
Now, she looks at me with palms upturned, unable to tell me that she's enjoying her salad. Now, she has shrunken back to the border of our family. Now, she is very afraid, because she's hearing over and over for the first time that she has a brain tumor that needs to be excised.
Life is hard. We live in a fallen place that only echoes the Father's pleasure, but it's only an echo. This is a theological truth that's gotten very personal with my mom's illnesses. I'm doing what Vonda likes to see characters do in books--I'm struggling, learning, and failing in my faith, only to be buoyed by the Word, my faith family, and the Spirit, and then I fall on my face again. I am wrestling with God! It's dramatic, sweaty stuff. It's deep living and unexpected grace. What's up isn't so clearly up and down has its hidden delights. To portray life any other way in my stories would be disingenuous.
Will this journey change my writing?
I sure hope so.
Will my readers recognize themselves in the struggles of my characters?
Why else would I write?
Will my readers leave my story world with a sense of hope and redemption?
Call me a Naugahyde writer if they don't.
If we're going to walk in the shadow of death (debt, depression, betrayal, disease, loss), let's come back from the experience with a deeper understanding of redemption and grace...and use this knowledge in our writing. It can be scary, but we can do it.
How has your real life changed the way you write?