One of the things I love the most about being a writer is that I can make my characters say, do, and be anything I want them to. I have absolute control over every little thing that happens in my stories. The feeling of power is heady. A little too heady, sometimes. But once in a while something happens to bring my feet right back to the ground where they belong.
Recently I sought the advice of fellow authors on the type of poison a character in my book might use to taint a water supply. To me this was just an interesting storyline, an intriguing plot development. Then someone responded to ask me to please make sure I accurately depicted the depth of suffering such an action on the part of my character would cause to others. His brother had been poisoned and had died when he was young.
The idea of someone being poisoned wasn’t simply part of a story-line to him, it was real life. He had seen first-hand how the evil or horrifying actions we put into books as entertainment for our readers can, in reality, destroy lives and cause actual pain.
Any excitement I was feeling over incorporating this act into my story evaporated immediately. Suddenly this wasn’t just a plotline to me, either. Suffering had taken on a human face.
I was reminded, as all authors need to be, that art is a reflection of life. Our imaginations can’t conjure up anything that doesn’t already exist in the real world, that someone, somewhere, hasn’t actually experienced. Only God ever created anything original. And I’m not God. Something else it is good for me, as a writer, to be reminded of.
As the author of Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) put it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Words are powerful. They are not just scribbles on paper; they represent reality, they depict the human condition, they attempt, if anything can, to capture joy and pain, love and loss, suffering and triumph. And readers are moved by them, not because they are being introduced to concepts they can’t comprehend, but because they comprehend only too well the depth of emotion the writer is trying to convey. Because they have felt joy, pain, love, loss, suffering, triumph. Every person has because those emotions cover the range of human experience. They reflect what actual human beings in actual circumstances have gone through.
My friend’s gentle request struck me hard. I hope and pray that from now on I will write with greater sensitivity and compassion, knowing that what might be just a storyline to me could very well have been a life-altering—possibly life-shattering—experience for my reader.
And I pray that I will remember that I don’t actually wield any power, but that my stories, and the stories of other Christian authors, can demonstrate God’s power to heal and redeem and restore.
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
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