I made an idiot out of myself not too long ago. Okay, granted, that’s not as uncommon as I’d like to believe, but this took the cake. Over Spring Break, a friend told me she was taking her daughter to Chicago, and when I talked to her the morning they were leaving, I asked, “Are you coming back yet today?” There was an awkward pause, and she reminded me, “Ruth, it’s 17 hours away.” Oops. That’s right. We live in Texas, don’t we? I made the excuse that I’m still in the mindset of living in Michigan. But that’s not the whole truth. And the real reason is even more embarrassing.
You see, I’m in the middle of writing a book. A series of books, actually. And my characters live in the fictional town of Mapleport, Michigan, three hours away from Chicago. So immersed am I in my characters that when I think of a trip to Chicago, I think of the three hour trip from Mapleport. In other words, I’m living my characters’ lives.
My characters are very real to me. I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, and come to love them, flaws and all. But why? Isn’t writing fiction more or less a trivial job? Does it even matter in the end, this endeavor to write a compelling novel? I would say yes, it does matter. Fiction matters a great deal. And here’s why.
Recently I read the article How Do I Outdo? by Carrie Chandler on the blog Raising Godly Children, and was intrigued by the following words:
Admittedly, this is a novel and not real life, but as I read the words I was convicted…
Whoa, slow down, what? I am reading a fluff novel to take my mind of off things, and here He is, God, using a fictional account of someone else’s life to speak into my own. How does a wedding ceremony that didn’t really occur open my eyes to the filthy darkness of my own heart?
How indeed? How can fiction make such an impact? Quite simply, fiction is “safe.” It’s not real life, and you know that going into it. You understand that the events in the book, although quite possibly inspired by actual events, are ultimately fictional. The characters do not exist as living, breathing human beings. And so it is safe for you to get involved in their lives. You don’t have to support them through their hardships or comfort them in their losses. And most of the time, you trust that the author will bring the characters to a happy resolution. Through the course of the story, then, you can allow yourself to be immersed in their lives for that moment, experiencing their emotions vicariously as you read. Sometimes their challenges and the way they work through them can inspire you in your own struggles. And yes, sometimes perhaps you’ll even be convicted to examine your own heart.
As a writer, I hope I can make people laugh. But I consider it a far higher compliment if I can make people cry. Because crying, you see, is a terribly personal emotion. Laughter is much more easily achieved. You can laugh whether you truly care about the characters or not. But crying shows that you have been drawn into the story and care enough about the characters to feel their losses and pain. And as a writer, that’s what I hope my readers feel. I hope they come to think of my characters as real people just like I do. I hope they laugh. I hope they cry. I hope they are convicted by something I write. And yes, I hope sometime they may even come to think of Mapleport as “home,” where Chicago is just three hours away.