People without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't survive the ordeal. --Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners.
This is my favorite quote about novel writing. There's a touch of hyperbole in O'Connor's words (I still have my teeth!) but not much. A story owns the writer, not just for the hours set aside for tapping on computer keys, but while we sort lights from darks and wander down grocery aisles. We forget to eat, and yes, personal hygiene suffers. What's more, to write authentic fiction, we are forced to wrestle with God, dig deeper into what we believe about him and how he interacts with us and the world, and hopefully see him with fresh eyes.
Novel writing is not for the faint of heart!
But a deeper truth in O'Connor's words shakes me: Novelists plunge into reality. In our stories, we can rearrange topography, give an alien extra arms, or allow mythical characters into the landscape, but we cannot, must not, rescue our characters from their fallen natures or transfer them to a fall-less society (La-La Land), or save them from meaningful struggle. They will fail, not in a contrived, acceptable-to-Christian-culture way, but in a way that makes our own skin itch. That's when grace shows up.
Does this mean every novel should portray the underbelly of society?
No, but we disrespect our readers if we mishandle the human condition, both its nobility and frailty. After all, the Bible is wrought with counterexamples. Think of David; he committed adultery and sent the husband to certain death, and yet, he is the apple of God's eye. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed him. Thomas forgot. Even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane. The faith life is messy!
Now, it's your turn. Have you read a novel lately where the author plunges into reality and does it well? Tell us about it.