Thursday, August 09, 2007

Observation, Imagination, experience

Quote of the Day: A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.

--William Faulkner

This is sooo true. And I often see the lack one of these things...but often the other things that are in the author don't seem to supply the lack of the others. This is just my opinion. For instance, I didn't know much about observation. I was terrible about "showing" because I truly had to learn about the various kinds of body language. My characters tended to be talking heads. And they still kinda are...so i'm glad my crit friends remind me of these kind of things. But there's a different kind of observation and I've often found that many Christian writers don't write about what they have emotionally observed, they are too busy writing what they THINK they have observed. For instance, a Christian writer will often show lust to be evil and selfish. Well yeah, a lot of lust is selfish. But some of it isn't. Some lust is desperate, despairing, needy, loving. But because Christian writers are "taught" that lust is selfish, they often end up writing a story that isn't what they have observed about lust but what they "know" from sermons lust to be like. Certainly if they have observed their own lives they wouldn't be so one-sided or dishonest in their depictions.

The other thing with observation is that complications and complexities enter the equation. I for one know that I've lusted and loved at the same time. I know from observation that there is such a thing as a married woman being a person she doesn't have sex with and yet I feeling closer to that person than she does with her husband. Or vice versa, there are people I know who have loved their husbands but felt that sex with the husband is only a cold lustful thing and not a heartfelt thing. Some Christian writers would never write about such things.

IMAGINATION
As for imagination, I've seen a lot of imitative writing. People think they're being imaginative...and they are being imaginative as far as they know...but honestly in a lot of allegories I've read, they're imagining a world that is already created. Or a concept that already exists...and they aren't using it or mining it...anymore. They think they're imaginative because they are stringing together a kind of plot....but it's really a plot based on something they didn't imagine. For instance, why are so many dragons in the stories of beginning writers named "Draco." It's a bit much.

I wonder: what would Christian fantasy publishing be like if C S Lewis, Frank Peretti, and J R R Tolkien had not written books? What would christian romance publishing be like if the world's romances hadn't existed?

EXPERIENCE
The last thing is experience. This is kind of tough. We all have experience...It's not really about youth, i think...but about the ability to be in touch with your own experience of joy, pain, need, fear, whatever, and get it into the story. So many of the stories I've read by Christians feel so unlived in. Someone writes a story about an ugly brute who is being rejected by a beautiful woman. Yet the story feels as if the writers don't seem to understand rejection or what it means to be ugly....even if one knows they must have been rejected...or that they must have considered themselves ugly at one time or another. Of course maybe it's all me. Maybe I've read sooo many memoirs and so much heart-rending poetry (intense, heartfelt, distant, doesn't matter what style) that I expect all emotional writing to be heart-wrenching.

Most of the world's Christians are non-white and live in non-white cultures. Yet most of Christian publishing is done by whites, especially whites in the western world. I wonder what Christian publishing --Christian fiction, Christian memoir, Christian sermons, Christian apologetics-- will be like when our non-white Christian brothers and sisters in China, India, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia and the United States start writing? What a blessing that will be to the church!

-C
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