It’s about time for another of my Reality in Fiction posts. But this time I decided to mix it up. I’m talking about the lies in fiction. How reality can be twisted. The way a made up universe can reflect any world-view as true.
I have been reading a bit outside of my usual Christian fiction, to get an idea of what the world is thinking and what teenagers like to read these days. I can’t read these things without analysing them and making observations.
Secular fiction often shows a world without God. It can sometimes be a world without rules, sometimes a very believable world with basic morality (though no explanation for it), and sometimes a world with no hope.
I read a story where the protagonist did some pretty dreadful things to keep her family safe. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she sold her soul to the devil, but if that would have kept all the people she cared about safe, she would have done it. Her morality was no more than ‘Murder or torture of innocents is wrong and should be avoided if possible.’
It was not a cheerful story, I didn’t enjoy parts of it. But in the end I had to acknowledge that in the story would her actions made sense. The was no higher power which meant both that there was no ultimate consequence for her actions and no guarantee that the side of right would win out. If the devil could be greater God, serving him is not unreasonable. But that’s not how the world works. The consequences of since is more than the reactions of others and the trouble of one’s conscience. There is an ultimate right and wrong, and God will win, so his side is the only right side.
Beyond that there is the hope of eternal life. Even if we die, that’s not the end. It’s only the beginning. As I’ve been helping teach all year in the School Bible classes, “God has a plan.” He is in control. He uses even the most terrible of circumstances to his ends and for the good of those who love him. In a Godless world, when they’re dead, they’re gone and there’s nothing you can do. In our world, there still is grief, but there can be the certainty that behind that it will be okay.
Of course, there can be a created world where as long as you are a generally good person you end up in some kind of positive afterlife. I know that is another very common belief. It’s nice to think that everything will be absolutely fine with us doing whatever we like, but it’s false hope. It might even be worse than the lack of hope I have already mentioned.
I’ve also seen how easily simple things that I beleive to be wrong can be justified. With no ultimate right or wrong, the boundaries can be pushed all over the place. In a story, you don’t have to deal with the consequences. You can’t entirely ignore all of them because people do know what is real, but the effects can be lessened. Things like adultery can end up with okay outcomes, instead of betrayed or broken relationships.
More than that it’s quite possible to make you really care about the characters. In certain circumstance you want to excuse people, even if you do think what they’re doing is wrong. It’s so easy to come up with extenuating circumstances, and tragic back stories. You want these people to be happy and even if the route they take towards isn’t exactly moral, when they get their you can’t help but feel some of their happiness.
Some of this twisting is probably easier in speculative fiction than contemporary. Fantasy deals with the supernatural. It’s not just a world where people don’t believe in God or don’t have morals. You can have a world with false gods, or one where you straight out prove there is no God in the story world. You can have a heaven almost everyone enters, or an endless cycle of reincarnation. You can have whatever kind of world you want to believe in.
It is likely that readers won’t fully embrace the world you’ve created as real, but it will have an influence. People will be more likely to think the way of a book or movie they enjoyed. The world you immerse yourself in will effect the one you have in you own head. That’s why I tend toward Christian fiction with heavy themes. A complex, wonderful, but potentially dangerous world with God ultimately in control.
I’ve gotten very deep here, but I do think it is very important. Popular books and movies shape the way the world thinks. Or in case of many people, how they feel. Too many of them don’t really think. Fictional world affect the emotions of the current world, and the morality. Music probably does too, but I am very eclectic in my taste and can’t stand the thought of a lot of the stuff that passes for music. If I do happen to hear some, there is a fair chance of it being unintelligible to me. Besides, I analyse the theology of my music too.
I won’t deny that there’s nothing at all good in mainstream stories. Even if authors don’t have a good backing to the morality doesn’t mean they’ve got it all wrong. They have a conscience after all and if they listen to it, there could be quite good morals in their story.
Right now I could go off on a tangent about how morals alone don’t matter, but that would be quite off topic. It’s something I’m passionate about though, so I’ll just recommend you watch the movie Time Changer.
So anyway, when I read these stories, I end up thinking through the ideas behind them, as well as the actual content of the story. I find it fun. Maybe I’m weird, but I like having my mind stretched by time travel and the different philosophies that lie behind it. There is the ‘time is fixed and unchanging’ idea and I’m going off on a different tangent. I’ll stop that. Keep on topic.
This line of thought does factor heavily into how I create the world for my stories. I write in worlds where my core beliefs are true. If I departed from that, I would probably have a character who shares by beliefs as a frame of reference. Or I would have some other purpose behind exploring this world. I might make a world that really fundamentally breaks down, just to show it does. However, I’m more likely to keep that level of though outside my stories. I don’t think I have the skills to write something that completely skews with people’s heads. Even though I like contemplating the ideas.
Applying This to Writing
The key to influencing someone’s mind slightly with your views is subtlety. I pull out of stories that violently disagree with me and shove that in my face. I just can’t stand some things. With other stories, well I still am paying attention so I consider what world-view the story is using and do my best to keep my mind straight. But it doesn’t offend me. And even the stories that do likely have a subtle part to them. Very few people say straight out what the underlying ideas in their stories are. They may not even recognize those ideas are there at all.
Perhaps I’m doing this all wrong by stating some of my underlying ideas, but I just can’t help it. They are important to me. I’m not shoving them in every story though. Lady of Courage particularly has very little discussion of this kind of thing. My beliefs about the world and God are underlying somewhere in the background, but over that are various social and political things and a whole conflict that only hinges on that indirectly. It like how you can’t the see the framing in a house because it’s all hidden in the walls. Or perhaps it’s more like a floor underlay.
Terrible metaphors both of them. Framing makes me think of story structure than the background of the world. And as a background it plays more into how some of the characters act and some of the social, ethical and historical foundations of society. (social and society). Maybe it’s more like the glue holding the wallpaper up. And now I’ve gotten to the part where I use building references that are outside my personal experience. I’ve helped construct walls and lay floors, but I’ve never papered them.
These underlying ideas may even be more like the air we breathe. Everywhere, invisible, essential. Or like the beam of light C. S. Lewis spoke of in an essay once. Here, I’m certainly talking about the beam. My prayer and hope for the stories is that the light will just be in the room as something you don’t even consciously think of most of the time.
A Little Sidenote
There’s another thought that came up with all of this, but really doesn’t fit because it’s not a lie in fiction. It a thought I had, a truth almost. It still is about twisted reality, but in a different way.
Some of the stories I’ve read have people travelling back in time to change things that went wrong. I started thinking over what I would do if I had the option to change some of the past. My conclusion: I wouldn’t. I’ve made some mistakes, there’s small moments I wish I had done something different, but I’m pretty content right now. There’s no friendships I completely messed up, or family members who died in an avoidable accident.
If I look further back, say to the World Wars, I want to interfere even less. One, I don’t think I could have much effect unless I actually killed Hitler and I don’t think I could do that. Two, Messing with time could entirely change the world in unforeseen ways. I’m not God, and I don’t trust myself not to make a mess of things even in the short term. I certainly couldn’t direct history.
The closest I would get would be accepting an offer to live just this past six months over again. That just because I’ve not been as productive as I could have been. And even then, the opportunities that could be lost if I did things just a little differently scare me away from that. I may have missed conversations, and even conferences. I most certainly would have written this blog post if I had been writing or studying instead of reading the books I did.
Now this post is about half a week late, but I promise I will have another one before Christmas. By the way, I am having serious trouble comprehending how close to the end of the year it it. We haven’t put decorations up yet, and I’v been the only one playing Christmas music at home and I’m usually not playing music. There aren’t even any wrapped presents sitting around yet. I better go take care of that.
Later then, bye. *waves furiously*