There are many powerful ways we can learn about God—like reading scripture, praying to him, listening to his voice, engaging in worship, and serving others. I’d like to add a surprising entry to that list: the writing of fiction. For example:
The Creative Process
Berdyaev said that “God created the world by imagination.” Fiction writers begin with an idea shimmering in their mind’s eye; the writing process becomes the act of creation, of incarnation. We begin with world-building, adding big blocks of ideas, roughing in outlines and scenes, themes, and structure—just like God began with separating light from darkness, earth from sky, land from sea, night and day. Next, we add progressively complex layers of detail, eventually initiating a story within that world.
The act of creation, then, becomes an opportunity to share some head-space with God. He loves a good story, and loves collaborating with us as we craft our own.
Predestination vs Free Will
Fiction writers don’t just theorize about the tension between predestination and free will. They experience it first-hand as they try to balance plot (the larger parts of the story that are predestined) and character (the places where their characters ‘take on a life of their own,’ making choices not for the sake of the plot but because that’s what they must do to be true to themselves).
As we reflect on and wrestle with how to ‘move the story forward’ without forcing any of our characters to do anything, we come to understand God’s mysterious ways just a little bit more clearly.
Making Characters Come Alive
I recently completed a second round of edits on my newest book, Pandora’s Doom. It’s an apocalyptic sci-fi novel exploring the marriage of two frightening dark-sides: The dark side of humanity and the dark side of technology. Early on in the writing process I knew I had a page-turning story concept but the characters had not yet jumped to life.
Much like our primordial mother and father Adam and Eve, my characters needed me (the Author) to breathe my spirit into them and let them stand on their own two feet. They needed to dream, to fear, to wrestle, to risk and to choose. They needed to live in a story with real stakes, real danger, and real consequences.
I knew my characters had come to life when:
- They started making choices I wouldn’t have made, and I didn’t see coming
- I fell in love with them
Falling in Love With My Characters
Falling in love with my characters was intoxicating. I ached as they ached. I laughed when they laughed. As I wrapped up one of my favourite characters’ story arc in one of book’s the final scenes, I found myself tearing up and talking to her (out loud, no less) as if I were one of her best friends. I’d love to go for coffee with any and all of them! Several of my Beta readers told me that it’s obvious I love my characters. I think loving our protagonists is what brings them to life but the opposite is also true: If you’ve truly brought your characters to life, you’ll love them. And when the story is done you’ll be sad to say goodbye. I think that’s why some books become a series; the author isn’t ready to say goodbye.
This gives me an intimate glimpse into how God must love me as well. He likes spending time with me. He loves my life story and is personally invested in it. He wants me to succeed and grieves my mistakes. I’m in awe, honestly.
What do you think? Have you thought of these concepts before? If you’re a writer, what have you learned about God in the process?
(Many of my thoughts about the intersection between theology and creativity were inspired by Dorothy Sayers’ classic work, Mind of the Maker. Sayers was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.)