Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 16 comments

More or less faith on the page?

by Tyrean Martinson, author of Champion in the Darkness

As writers, our beliefs are an integral part of what we write. We can’t really help it, even when we try to downplay it. We’ve all seen that when we read books, right? A writer creates a world of imagination and their values and worldview shines through all of it. (To read more about my thoughts on Faith in Fiction: The Integral Part, visit my post at Ian’s Realm.)

A famous example of a worldview shining through a fiction world is The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Tolkien wanted to be a “sub-creator” with his writing, with his faith under the surface of the story. It is true that many Tolkien fans claim that his writing isn’t about Christian faith at all, but I see it there under the surface of the story because the sacrificial love of the main character, Frodo, is the key to saving Middle Earth. When I read Lord of the Rings, I feel as if the whole story is an embodiment of John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

So, the decision we have to make is this: do we write like Tolkien as sub-creators of our stories, with our faith under the surface of events and characters’ decisions, or do we write with our faith out loud in the minds and words of our characters on the page?

There is a small middle ground, like in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, in which Aslan represents Jesus, but is never specifically called Jesus anywhere in the series. The Christian symbolism throughout the series is hard to miss, with the creation story in The Magician’s Nephew, the sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the baptismal cleansing of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as well as many other instance of Christian symbolism. Despite all that, secular readers enjoy the Narnia series without necessarily ever finding out what Aslan’s “other” name is in the Pevensies’ world.

The last option, which I think is the hardest one to write, is to choose an all-out, open faith-based approach to writing fiction.

After years of writing fiction and poetry that never proclaimed my faith, I decided I wanted to write a story in which the characters had to have faith to win the day. In the land of Septily, the swords of power are only powerful in the hands of a Sword Master with faith. If that Sword Master loses his or her faith, the sword will go dull, crack, or break. Clara, my MC, is on her way to become a Sword Master, but her journey of faith doesn’t end when she receives her sword.

The danger in writing an openly faith-based book is that I may alienate some readers. I don’t want to do that. However, I wanted to try something new, something in which faith mattered to the characters and their story.

Tyrean Martinson lives and writes in the Northwest, encouraged by her loving husband and daughters, and reminded to exercise by her dogs and cat. Champion in the Darkness is the first book in the Champion Trilogy, and she has previously published short stories and poetry.

About the Book

Clara is younger than most trainees, but she is ready to hold a Sword Master's blade. While visions and ancient prophecies stand in her way, they also offer a destiny unlike any other. Clara is aided by a haunted mentor, Stelia, whose knowledge of their enemy Kalidess is both a bane and a blessing. As evil threatens their land, Clara and Stelia must find the strength to overcome the darkness.

Champion in the Darkness is YA Christian Fantasy, and is the first book in the Champion Trilogy.

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16 comments:

  1. I've had a similar problem, albeit from almost the opposite angle, with one of my recent efforts. It seems impossible to keep what we feel about the world out of our writing, and really, the only questions should be whether that is balanced by enough real characterisation and plot to make it more than simply dull prosthelytising for our cause.

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    1. Characterization is key, I think. Letting beliefs flow naturally from a character, and inform how s/he thinks and behaves--especially if there's struggle involved and the character is reasonably flawed--will feel realistic to readers.

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  2. Intriguing post. I've wrestled with this issue as well, though I write historical fiction, not fantasy. Sometimes that makes it easier; faith, at least the practices of faith, were parts of everyday life hundreds of years ago. But there still has to be a choice about the mc's reaction to that. I chose to make faith an integral part of my plot, and my character's embracing it crucial to the resolution.
    Interestingly, Tolkien never denied bringing his faith to his writing, as some claim. If you find the actual quote, he only denied using direct allegory. Certainly his Christian and even, specifically, his Catholic faith shone through many of the characters and situations. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Peter Kreeft's book, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings.
    And your own book sounds fascinating! I'd love to win it--thanks for the giveaway, Laurel!

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    1. You're right that readers seem more apt to accept overt expressions faith in historic characters than contemporary ones. Christian bookstores are chock-full of historic fiction. As a contemporary writer myself, I know there's considerable bias against contemporary characters exercising faith rather than trying to flee from it. Science fiction is another genre where we rarely see positive portrayals for faith.

      I second your recommendation of the Kreeft book. I've heard talks on it--sounds very enlightening.

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  3. HI, Laurel, Hi Tyrean,

    I think faith is very important, even in writing. If the spiritual aspect is woven into the novel well, it will not read a "preachy." I honestly believe most people have faith and would not find it offensive.

    I just finished a re-write on my first m/g novel. It is a fantasy, but during the ending scene I had added a spiritual element. The mc was desperate to help the enchanted willow grove which had been diseased. Her friend said "A prayer couldn't hurt...." So the mc did. I believe it works well in the scene.

    GOOD LUCK TYREAN!

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    1. Whether people take offense at faith elements tends to depend a lot on the presentation, I think. Lewis's allegory in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe works because of the drama of it. It doesn't come across as preachy. Preachy tends to happen when a narrator tells us what things mean, rather than letting us intuit it through the drama of the story action.

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  4. Stu - I understand. I struggled with that "too much" factor too once I decided to intertwine faith into the plot. I didn't want to be preachy. I just hoped to show the difference in character's lives when they had faith, and when they didn't.

    Faith - Thanks for the book recommendation. I admit my knowledge of Tolkien's views of writing has been from my own small gleanings from reading his books, and reading articles about him and some of the things he said about Lewis' writing.
    Your historical fiction sounds really interesting, and I would love to read it!

    Michael - It's good to hear you say that about faith. I live in an area (the Pacific Northwest) that's one of the least Christian areas of the US, so sometimes I think I have a skewed idea of what reactions to faith in fiction might be for readers and it gets me worrying about it - probably unnecessarily.

    Your novel sounds really fascinating, and I would love to read it!

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  5. It won't turn off this reader!
    My values are in my books, but I never mention faith or religion. I knew if I did, there would be only one angle I could take.

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    1. As a Sci-Fi guy, I wonder if you're ever read any of Cordwainer Smith's work (from the 1930s-60s). He works in religious references and themes very subtly--an intriguing take on the idea of a Christian remnant existing in distant places in distant futures. I think you'd enjoy his stuff.

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  6. Alex - yeah, that's the reason mine ended up being so "out loud" because once I got going I couldn't hide it.
    Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Laurel - Thank you so much for hosting me here! I really appreciate it. I've had a bit of trouble with my internet connection today, but as long as it keeps working, I'll be by again later.

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    1. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, and for keeping the conversation going when I was so swamped yesterday!

      I got my next magazine issue sent off to the designer for layout. Whew!

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  8. Thanks for having me Laurel! Way to go with your magazine issue!

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  9. It's nice to see Tyrean here! :) Wishing her all the best!

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  10. I struggle with this question too. So far I've tried to go the Tolkien route, where my characters' faiths are revealed through their actions but... my last story had characters who didn't explore that aspect of themselves at all. I wonder if I should ask them what they think of such questions?

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