Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Taking the Plunge into Novel Writing

I wrote this post in January 2009..five years ago and five years younger! I used one of my favorite quotes of Flannery O'Connor as a jumping-off point. Let's take the plunge...

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.


Veronica Leigh said...

The best thing I have read lately, that plunges into reality, is "How Sweet the Sound," by Amy Sorrells. Nothing else I have encountered comes close to life as that.

Patti Hill said...

Thanks, Veronica! I know Amy. I'll have to check it out.

Embrace said...

I love what you are saying in this post. Sometimes when I write I feel like it is no longer appropriate to sit on my church library shelves. Yet I write about life - the messy parts we tend not to mention in our Sunday morning prayer request time. So it is encouraging for me to read what you've shared. And the quote - LOVE IT!
When I think of novels I've read that tear back the veil of humanity withing the christian realm I have to mention Gina Holmes. Dry As Rain was am amazing book of truth stained reality withing a broken marriage. I also enjoyed her other one Crossing Oceans.
Thank you