How Our Writing Reflects Us…
One of my greatest delights is in coaching young writers. The funny thing about it is, I think they teach me more than I teach them, whether directly or indirectly. I’ve had the privilege of coaching my dear sister, Katelyn, in developing her God given talent for writing (something I really can’t take any credit for). Nowadays, I take major cues from her in our writing. I’m proud to consider her a peer in story craft.
Currently, I’m working with Ryan, on an unusual side project that involves quite a bit of fiction writing. It has been exciting to watch his writing style grow, even in the past few months, and I’ve had so much fun crafting our co-writing project with him.
Today, in talking to him, however, I noticed something about my own writing that I had never spotted before. And I think it reveals a pretty cool truth about this craft – the stories we write are a mirror of our own personal stories.
This revelation came when I noticed an uncanny similarity between five of the six series I am involved in writing – all of which, I might add, are otherwise incredibly different. There’s Horseradish Creek Gang, a middle school adventure about a small town torn apart by prejudice, greed, and bitterness, and the four friends caught in the middle of it; Warriors of Light, a fantasy about a family of warriors caught in a spiritual battle for their country and their own future; Fafnir, a sci-fi about a former military officer fighting organized crime and a corrupt government to prevent the establishment of a military dictatorship; Noah Clue, a satire/comedy about a former professional student trying to survive the PI career he was forced into, but is most certainly not cut out for; and Angel’s Cry, a police thriller about an officer reaching out for the homeless kids on the streets of Seattle, while grappling with his own dark past of abandonment.
Did you spot the common thread? As Ryan noticed, the first thing that stands out is ethics, which is certainly true of my stories. Whether I’m writing for Christian or secular markets, moral integrity in difficult situations is a recurring theme. This does, indeed, reflect my personal life. As an author, programmer, and businessman in a time when integrity is disintegrating in all three realms, standing up for what’s right, even if I stand alone, is something I face on a regular basis.
But there’s another thread that I find especially startling. All five of those series involve the main characters fighting history to redeem the future. The Isaiorh family’s history in Warriors, Noah’s past of apathy in Noah Clue, the Watercress family’s selfish conspiracies in Horseradish Creek, Dalton’s history on the streets in Angel’s, and the status quo balance of military and political power in Fafnir.
There’s no doubting this reflects my own struggles. I come from a long line of people who historically have ignored, even perpetuated, injustice and abuse. Talk about a calling and a history conflicting! My sinful habit is to seek first my own selfish desires, even to the detriment of others. And yet, the places and relationships God has called me to be involved in require me to put others before myself, and to stand up for the weak, even when it comes at a heavy cost to myself.
Just as the stories are a reflection of my own life, so also the main characters are, in many ways, reflections of me. Like Oratio, I’m trying to overcome my family history and break the sinful cycles for myself and my descendants. Like Noah, I’m trying to find my place in the world (albeit, with a bit more success than the character thus far. It’s a satire, what do you want?) Like Dalton, I feel a call to reach out for those younger than me that are going down the same road I traveled. And like Sunnéo and L.C., I’m walking the line between pride in and preservation of my culture, and courage to break away from the old mistakes.
In thinking about it, I’m not the only author whose writing reflects his or her own life. Events from one’s life often find their way into one’s stories. It all comes down to the old adage, “write what you know.” The irony of that phrase is that I rarely follow it in a literal sense. I’ve never sailed on a ship, wielded a sword, been in a spacecraft dogfight, or solved a murder. I don’t know any of these things, yet between God and Google, a lack of concrete knowledge is a small obstacle to overcome. What can’t be replaced is the more personal elements – those must be drawn from real life, whether personal experience or experiences of those close to you.
I’ve been attacked for standing up for what is right. I’ve had to deal with shame from family members’ actions. I’ve fought hard for someone I loved, only to have them betray me. And I’ve known friends who have been abused, had miscarriages, lost close family members. The core of all the stories I write come from my own life and the lives of those around me. The mystery of character-author interaction fills in the rest.
This is an odd post, I know. But I couldn’t help but muse about this today. I’ve gone through some hard experiences, but I wouldn’t go back and change any of them. The storms I’ve gone through have allowed me to write and help write some very powerful stories that will minister to others.
But isn’t that what writing is supposed to be about? At the end of the day, God never meant for us to be mindless entertainment. Stories let us share encouragement, courage, strength, wisdom, knowledge, comfort, and passion with those who need it. They’re elaborate vessels for the abstract elements that keep us going. But these same vessels can transfer toxins as well as nourishment – fear, discouragement, weakness, ignorance, arrogance, and apathy.
That’s a thought that should make all of us stop and think twice about what goes into our books. Furthermore, if our stories are filled with the contents of our lives, maybe we should give a thought to what we put into ourselves.