(And yes, that’s a line from a fantastic U2 song)
So I’m a pretty religious guy. I go to church, have a set of beliefs which I hold to strongly and – admittedly – my life has largely been shaped by this backdrop of faith. It’s a big part of who I am.
And yet my writing is either devoid of religion or, when inclusive of it, approaches it in a very non-religious way. I tend to gravitate toward darker themes and concepts. I have characters who not only don’t believe in God, but curse him, abandoning any inkling of religious precepts. I have other characters who may believe, but with a completely different ideology than my own beliefs. Most of my characters behave and speak in a manner completely contrary to the way I live my own life.
How is this possible?
First off, if it weren’t possible, I’d have no business writing in the first place. The reason America loves Walter White isn’t because we all want to run meth labs but because we’re fascinated watching someone
who COULD be us make decisions we (hopefully) never would. We live vicariously through the characters we read or watch, enabling us to experience a multitude of lives that stretch beyond our own little roped-off corner of the world.
I believe works of art are created for one of three purposes:
Or to entertain
Good works of art can accomplish all three.
What art is NOT created for, is a platform for preaching. Indoctrinating an audience with one’s own beliefs should never be attempted in a work of art, unless that is the specific and ONLY purpose of said work. (And if it is, you can typically count me out). Don’t hide a secret message about Christianity or Buddhism or Atheism. That’s not to say your characters can’t believe in one or another, and even strive to preach their own beliefs to other characters; it just means those characters shouldn’t be attempting to convert whoever is reading or watching.
Unfortunately a lot of authors, musicians, and filmmakers get confused when working with THEME and end up bringing only a one-sided argument to the table that supports their own view of a certain ideology or topic. I love theme, and believe good works of art support an undercurrent of a consistent yet subtle idea. But when you’re hitting someone over the head with your opinions, that’s not theme. It’s just a form of abuse.
My new series, The Creation, has a recurrent theme involving the idea that in order to create, one must first destroy. It’s something that I attempt to incorporate within the work without ever calling attention to it. This series incorporates Christian ideals, with the concept of the 7 days of Creation as found in the Bible. The novel wouldn’t exist without that idea, that there was a Creation (and the “hook” of the novel is that the Creation is about to begin again). I’m grateful, however, for the many reviews that have already come in for the prequel, In The Beginning, stating that while they may have thought the book was “Christian Fiction” they found it was the story that grabbed them and kept them reading, not the ideals within (or lack thereof).
In no way am I attempting to downplay Christian Fiction or novels that choose to have a less transparent theme. There’s a place and market for them and an audience who craves that type of work. In my own writing, however, I’d rather be listening than preaching. Hearing what the characters say or do rather than telling them what to do and where to go. I’ve always found you learn a lot more when your mouth is shut.
I love this quote by Truman Capote:
You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.
So to any who are offended by my writing, my characters, or the things they say and do:
The next time I speak with them I’ll let you know what they have to say in response. But I can probably already tell you, you won’t like it.
Now, for those poor saps who stumbled onto this post because of the U2 lyrics in the title, here a few pics from the recent concert I was able to attend at The Forum in LA. It was a show to remember. (And yes, we were close … if you couldn’t tell!)