I am sure that we have all heard about how a certain story– whether it is a book, movie, or song– changed someone’s life. Maybe a story has even changed your life.
As writers, I think we all want to have our stories do the same for someone else. Of course, we love writing a fun and entertaining story with likable characters, but I’d hope that you are writing for a bigger reason, too. After all, there are literally millions of stories which are sufficient for entertainment, and in most countries, everyone has access to a large number of entertaining stories.
Humans struggle with life and don’t understand it. Life is complicated, and if we look too closely, we find a confusing tangle of apparent contradictions. To be frank, morality is terrifying, life is terrifying, and reality is terrifying if you really ask the hard questions. Is the murder of the innocent acceptable if it saves more lives? What even defines right and wrong and good and evil? And how does love fit into morality? Is freedom actually good? What is a soul? Are there good and evil personality traits? What even is personality?
The list of questions goes on and on, and if you think you have an answer to any of the questions above, I’d invite you to think again. Chances are that you were not thinking the question through well enough. If you really think about those questions, then you will stumble across more questions and scenarios that contradict your gut reaction.
You may not think these questions are important for every day life, but I am challenging you to think differently. People have committed suicide over these questions. I have struggled with depression and know firsthand how serious these questions are. However, these questions are not just important for the depressed and intellectual. When you truly find an answer to one of these questions, it really does change your life. It can change how you think and view yourself, how you interact with God, and how you treat others.
As writers it is our responsibility to neither ignore the call nor to offer quippy answers nor to leave our readers with falsely satisfying conclusion. We literally are holding the lives of real people in our hands.
And stories are the perfect medium for exploring these questions.
The wonder of the narrative is that it offers both an objective and subjective view on the world. Stories provide just enough distance from our own situations, so that we can step back and see the world more clearly. However, we are still experiencing the world through the personal eyes of the characters and the author, and we don’t lose touch with emotions and subjective struggles. And with the help with a guiding author who refuses to turn a blind eye to complications, books can help us understand the world and can truly change lives.
Writing entertain to escape from reality is fine and fun, but writing truth to escape from prison is much more important. If you still do not think that you are meant to be writing about these questions, I would like to convince you otherwise. You can truly explore these questions and change lives with any audience and any genre.
When I was not even 9 years old, two books that dealt with difficult questions in their own ways had already changed my life. Tell Me the Secrets by Max Lucado and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis shaped who I became and helped bring me through many struggles–before I was even 10. If children can handle and want to handle these questions, then how much more do you think teenagers and adults would appreciate an honest answer to a hard question?
Once you dedicate yourself to pursuing the answers to hard questions, new challenges arise. If you have ever genuinely sought real answers to these hard questions, you may have wonder if there is actually an answer and if you can ever understand.
Personally, believe that absolute truth is real and can be found. And I have good reason to believe so. However, I will not go into that here because it does not matter if you believe in absolute truth or not; these questions still exist in our human minds, and therefore lives are also hanging in the balance. If you, as a writer, do not step up and pursue these questions in important ways, you no more than a magician hiding behind cheap, entertaining tricks, deluding yourself that you are doing good while people drown in front of you.
So don’t you dare tell me that you don’t know any better–that you can’t do any better. Because you know the questions, and you know the situations that complicate the questions, even if you prefer to ignore them. You’re just afraid to ask. You have a chance to save lives, but you’re too scared because you don’t understand.
But not understanding is alright, just ask anyways. Just ask the hard questions about life in your writing and see what happens. However, it is hard to start writing about hard questions, and it can easily be done in a false manner. So, over the next two blog posts, I will be addressing two ways that writers can fail to answer hard questions and produce only false answers.
The first post will be about a method rather well known to all of you, especially if you read a lot of Christian fiction, and I think most of our writing falls into this category. The second post is about a type of false answer that is growing more popular and is sometimes even praised, but it is just as lacking and false. I will be offering examples and tips to avoid those pitfalls, and hopefully, we can produce some real answers to real questions together in our stories.
So have you ever considering writing about a difficult question that bothered you? Are you writing about one right now? What keeps you from truly exploring a really difficult question?
“Deliver those who are drawn toward death,
And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Surely we did not know this,”
Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?
He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?
And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?”
~ Proverbs 24:11-12 (NKJV)