How Much Fiction Do You Allow In Your Fiction?

I recently read a short story where the setting was built on a declaration contrary to my belief in the character of God. It wasn’t antagonistic towards my belief, but following his tale under this premise made it difficult to suspend my disbelief. However, the story was well-written, with empathetic characters in a creative world, so I kept reading. The ending had the type of surprise you hope for in good fiction, but the statement made in its conclusion went even further against my belief system.

I like this author. In fact, I was speaking with him the other day and he said that he likes to write stories that evoke conversation and make people think. I must say he accomplished that with this story, as I have been thinking about it for like a week now. I like to do the same thing with my stories, and find it kind of playful to think that we will write stories with differing philosophical bases. As a Philosophy major, I enjoy deep conversations, so I welcome anything that engages my mind on that level. The problem is, I don’t know that I enjoy that sort of thing in my fiction. Maybe it’s just the religion thing because I spent so much time reading nonfiction and religion in seminary.

I’m fine with characters holding differing religious views, but when a belief system is portrayed as right in a way that “proves” mine isn’t, I switch from enjoying the escape of fiction to having verses and apologetic arguments popping up in my head. However, after thinking over this story, I found a unique way of looking at it that enables me to appreciate what it said. Essentially, the story portrayed Predetermination as false, and a God who is gravely repentant of what He did when His creation got out of hand and had to be wiped out.

Here’s the thing: if our past, present and future were not predetermined by a sovereign and gracious God, then I envision this author’s story as accurate both in terms of emotion evoked and portrayal of how the world might end.

Since realizing this, I’ve come to a new appreciation of his story. I’ve taken a story that said God isn’t sovereign and turned it around into a praise that says I’m so glad He is, because I’ve seen a world where He isn’t.

The next step in my enlightenment is that I now wonder if this justifies writing stories where I play around with dogmatic truths in order to show different aspects of life that are true, even if the world’s foundation is not as ours is. Since I restarted my fiction writing journey, I’ve struggled with writing something that did not represent the dogma I believe in because I didn’t want to lead anyone astray. It’s kind of funny, because it’s FICTION, but that was my conviction.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I’m a huge horror fan–to my wife’s dismay–and one of the reasons I love it is because of how it makes me glad for what I have. When I think life is tough because I have to eat dry, Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast because I forgot the milk, I think of the story I just read where a man is finally reconciled with his wife only to have her trapped in a mirror forever. Bummer, well, I guess this cereal thing isn’t that bad after all, huh?

Can you imagine a quality story that challenges the foundation of your beliefs? If we allow stories with rings that turn people invisible, or faster-than-light spacedrives and three-eyed aliens, why can’t we allow other “untruths” into our fiction?

Sometimes opposites are the best illustrators. Is there a better way to evoke a sense of needing cleaned than to show someone covered in mud?

3rd Draft Update: 22 of 30 chapters have notes as described in my last post.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

10 comments on “How Much Fiction Do You Allow In Your Fiction?

  1. Excellent questions. All humans have a worldview, whether they know it or not, and the writer’s worldview will “out” in the writing, deliberately or not.
    I have few strong objections to people presenting “what if’s” in their stories. As a fiction writer, I’m aware that what I write isn’t always what I personally believe.
    Where I get worried (in my own writing, specifically) is in never knowing what bits of my writing will “stick” in people. Will they be “good” bits or “bad” bits? Will they understand when I’m being ironic, or will they take all that I write as not only my worldview but the “real” worldview, because if I took the time to write it down it must be right/more important/better than any non-written worldview, right?
    Stories are powerful teachers. Teachers have a greater responsibility than non-teachers and will be judged more harshly. I keep this in mind when I write.
    The risk of misunderstanding intent clings to writing. The more popular the writing, the greater the risk. Should this stop us from writing? Not necessarily. It does, however, give me pause before sitting down at the keyboard, and it absolutely shapes how I read and recommend other writing.

    • Very good points, Robynn. I often think how people will interpret what I right, and what will stick. The problem with that fear is you can’t imagine all the ways people can interpret your work. Right now, I’m leaning towards just telling stories of the characters I discover, and being true to that. I think it’s a slippery slope to censor our fiction because of how it could negatively affect someone else because as soon as we introduce true conflict, we shine light on evil and the darkness of our world. Does that mean we always have to shine light on the saving grace of God and all His other wonderful attributes? If we don’t, are we saying those attributes don’t exist? This response is getting too big for a reply, but it is an interesting thought process. Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting post, Tim. With books where the belief system expressed is contrary to mine, I’ve found that I have differing levels of comfort. Eragon and the sequel made me a little uneasy, but the series with polar bears in it made me nauseous (I’m not going to name it, because the more it’s discussed, the more that author may be encouraged to write another book or promote this work some more–and it’s vile).

    I have more to say about this, but it’s the length of a good-sized blog-post, and I don’t want to hog your comments section. I’ll post it on my blog at http://www.krystisbooks.blogspot.com, and you can read it there if you want.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Krysti. I’ve bookmarked your blog, and will check out your thoughts. Good news is that polar bear movie did so poorly that they cancelled production of future movies. I never saw it. From what I heard, it was pretty antagonistic towards Christianity. When a story has an agenda as outspoken as that, I just pass. That’s what church and non-fiction is for.

  3. I love stuff that makes you think, too. And I love fantasy and what ifs. However I get pretty edgy with the religious question. The big thing to me is the issue of confusing people. In spec fiction, our job is to make the implausible feel real life. And although we get the idea of believing things we can’t really see, that which we read, see and feel leaves lasting impressions. Don’t know about other people, but some thoughts and images I’ve gotten from such things have a bad habit of flashing through my mind at horrible times – whether “accepted” them or not.

    So, I get defensive when people are twisting things I consider sacred. I guess it’s ironic in someways because I love challenging paradigms – I sometimes feel the need to shake people up even. To some, I am very iconoclastic. But I don’t twist God and I’m hesitant when it comes to portraying prophets and things of deity. I will sometimes use or show them, but I try to be accurate, at least to what I believe.

    In the Bible it talks about making evil appear good and good evil. I so don’t want to be in that group. I’ll allow that each person makes their own choice and lines. And I am not declaring certain writers evil, but I must draw my own lines of what I will let into my mind and world. For instance, although I respect Dan Brown as a powerful writer, I won’t read his stuff. I just won’t go there.

    For me, having an active imagination can be dangerous if I’m not careful with what I allow in. Because I do play with things – dwell on them and study them. Suspend my principles and the gospel boundaries in my world, and my mind is far too capable of “filling in the blanks”. Pain and sorrow have always fascinated me, but I fight hard to stay within the bounds the Lord has set for me.

    In terms of Horror, as I work on Bridge to Paradise, I agree that there’s a convoluted value. To me the premise of the genre is to strip hope from a reality. In that the character struggles, but in the end cannot ever overcome the disparity of their situation. It is like a world without God, without mercy and/or justice. They are broken stories that haunt people and they crave to “make it right” (like a music master craves resolution in songs/chords) but the author won’t give it to them – theoretically making the reader more aware of that craving.

    But for me, there is a difference between “broken” and “twisted” and each person must define those parameters for themselves.

    Good thoughts, Tim. You made me delve a bit deeper into me, so congrats.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ren! You guys all gave me such great complimentary thoughts that I slacked on responding because I was absorbing them. Where does the Bible say not to make evil appear as good? I understand the principle, but I’m curious about specific verses if you know any. I am very interested in your journey along this path, such as the bounds the Lord has set for you and how you show pain and sorrow within them (future blog post?).

      Maybe I don’t quite get what you’re saying about Horror, but I don’t think stories in that genre have to end without hope. I have a few horror stories that end with the character finding hope after hitting bottom. In the middle, when hope was stripped, I believe the reader years for hope just as much as the hero does, so that in the end the attainment is that much sweeter.

      I suppose I would see twisted stories as those where the author’s voice enjoys the pain inflicted on people. Other than that, you can have a sad/painful ending without it being twisted, I think.

      Same to you, Ren. Thanks!

  4. I suppose there’s always room for what if. I read a book once about this town that gets displaced into an alternate universe where Agnosticism, rather than Christianity, was what swept the world. And it was a dismal, lousy world. It was an interesting commentary that extrapolated a certain worldview to its logical conclusion. I don’t know if that was the author’s worldview, but the story was interesting, if bleak.

    Personally, I don’t think I could write something contrary to my worldview as “true” in a story world. Unless I thought there was some way that it could be true, it would just nauseate me.

    Now, taking something that I disagree with, say, making a character hold that opinion, then having other characters argue with them–that’s more interesting to me. That way I hold forum in my head and compare and contrast ideas. I think it’s more fun to read, because the reader can side with whichever character they agree with. (I guess that means I shouldn’t necessarily resolve the issue, too, if it’s not something too major.)

    I had a character once who offered up a string of persuasive arguments about why he was a worthless piece of trash and why everyone else should let him die. They couldn’t argue with him. Instead along came someone who just loved him and ignored his bile. He couldn’t argue with their love and eventually pulled out of his slump.

  5. Thanks, Kessie. I agree with you that conversation from both sides is preferable to a worldview stating one side as correct. That being said, there is power, as you witnessed in the story about Agnosticism, to a story fulfilling the logical conclusion of a worldview you disagree with, if nothing else, then to walk a mile in their shoes.

  6. Well put, Tim.

    I feel similarly about Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. It’s an engaging story, but one written by someone who has expressly stated that he was composing an atheist fairy tale as an antidote to the “dangerous” theism in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles. His stories still reach for the transcendent, though, which I don’t believe is possible in a universe without God or a spiritual realm. So I came away with a better understanding of our human need to be part of a bigger story, despite our attempts to write God out of the picture.

    I heard a speaker–I wish I could remember who–say he was worried that his daughter read the books. When he asked her what she thought, she said she enjoyed them a lot. He asked if she was bothered by Pullman’s depiction of God, and she said, “That’s not the God I know.”

    • Thanks Stroogie. I haven’t read that series. I guess the difference between him and I is that it matters to me if people read my stuff and think I’m not a Christian, or think that I believe what I’m writing. I’m impressed with that girl’s ability to decipher fact from fiction. Thanks for sharing!

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