If my characters ever met me, they’d file a restraining order at a bare minimum. Most of them would probably request or in some cases, summarily deliver, capital punishment. I’d deserve it. If you’ve read Skere, or Pegasus King, or are beta reading Criminal, you know that I am cruel, cruel, cruel to my characters. The things I put the characters I like through are heinous, reprehensible and just plain wrong. Torture, pain and loss are the least of what I put some of them through on a regular basis.It makes for exciting stories. It makes my characters fight, struggle, fail, get up again, transform and become more than they were.
These things they suffer are necessary, for storytelling.
And leaves me up a creek when it comes to the god question.
There are two hundred thousand words sitting in a file on my computer that may never see the light of a Kindle because of the god question. I can’t solve it. I wrote in a caring, powerful, all knowing god figure and then went and put all his followers through hell, with his full knowledge.
Having a god, especially one that is more closely aligned to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god that I grew up with leaves big questions. What are the limits of the god? Why do horrible things happen? Why does anyone go through horrible things? Do they deserve them? Does the god figure believe they deserve them? Is it necessary? Why are the followers of the god figure trusting him/her if they can’t rely on the god figure actually protecting them. Do they accept their need to suffer? Do they believe they deserve it? If so, why?
It gets complicated fast. And I grew up believing in a religious doctrine that basically has answers for all those questions. But put a system like that in a fictional world or fantastical setting and you quickly have to engage with all these questions and give real, solid answers for them based on the rules of your universe.
But you have to make the reader care and go along with the story.
My story with the god figure problem may never be read. Possibly I have not developed the necessary comfort level playing with these questions. At the moment, I cannot go back and rewrite the book with the required maturity. I can’t level the power of the god figure with the level of benign neglect necessary for the story to take place. Either I weaken the god or I make him an ass like this one, Enel, from one piece.
Believe me, the day I sat down and really stared at that question was not comfortable. I’d basically taken a page out of my childhood belief system, transferred it wholesale into my fantasy world and then realized it didn’t work as a plot device because it wasn’t believable.
Once you start digging into the foundational building blocks of a society like politics or especially religion and you’re suddenly face to face with your own belief system, your true reality as a person, beyond being a writer and a story teller.
What do you really believe? What’s your own god figure? And by the time you’re finished creating your own fantasy world, have your real world beliefs withstood the test of being truly examined? Writing fantasy is not for the faint of heart. It can be a dangerous, dangerous activity. To write is to place yourself, your society and your world view under the spot light. The activities of reading and writing, have prompted me to worked my way in and out of more beliefs than any other set of activities on earth, including college and making friends around the world. When you sit down and create a world, you’re saying something about who you are as a person and what you believe. It’s practically impossible not to color your worlds with your own moral compass, crystal ball or dogma. It all comes out, eventually.
And it’s not just religion. For me it’s also been the martial arts I’ve practiced, the foreign cultures I’ve lived in, the alternative lifestyles I’ve lived. They all end up in there, eventually. Like I wrote last week, you’re experiences shape your writing. So do your beliefs and your limitations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a judgement call on religion in general. That’s not in the purview of this blog. If you’re truly tolerant and open minded, then you’re going to accept that many people believe in the existence of various gods and explanations of how we came to be here and why.
But we’re still left with the nutty problem of any extremely powerful being in your world. Either you have to create them with a flaw that can control them so that there can be conflict, make them distant or uninterested, make them positively evil or create an opposing evil great enough to stand off against the powerful good. But then you no longer have an all powerful god anyway, if you give your imaginary god figure an evil counterpart. Or if you’ve made the god good, you now no longer have an all seeing god, otherwise he/she would be rushing around fixing everything.
One of the few cases I can think of that handled the powerful/good god question well in a story would be the Narnia series, but it also left epic holes and took certain things like “the Magic” the ruled the world, for granted. It also used base human choice and greed as the counterpart to the powerful/good god figure. In essence, mortals of free will are the only antedate to a powerful/good god or other benign powerful character.
All powerful, all good characters basically ruin stories from the outset. It removes struggle and challenge in all most all cases.
Some story arcs have handled the concept of powerful beings very well. My favorite example would be One Piece. If you have not seen this anime from Japan or read the manga, please, please do so. I am in awe of this story teller. His grasp on the literary heritage of the world, especially the western world, if inspiring but he makes each and every idea his own. The main group of characters in this epic storyline continually grow in their strength and power as they gain the attention of other more powerful beings and face increasingly difficult challenges. Their terrific abilities and powers never become ridiculous because it’s always measured against the increased danger and challenges they struggle against and the world naturally produces the challenges. You expect them and acknowledge there are challenges the characters aren’t yet powerful enough to stand off against.
From what I’ve been told, Dragon Ball Z would be a good example of characters becoming too powerful for the challenges of the world. I haven’t invested in that world for particularly that reason. It’s also the reason I walked away from Bleach. I couldn’t believe in the dangers and challenges anymore. The characters had tapped out of potential.
Will I ever go back to that one story and tussle with the god question? Probably. I really, really like the characters and the struggles they go through are amazing. The relationships that come are beautiful. I’d like to share it. There’s nothing wrong with it except the god question. The god only shows up at the very end but he has to know what’s been going on all along. I’m not sure I can believe in that god, if I want to invest in a character that can do that and write it as if I agree.
If I went back to the story right now, it would go very smoothly put to the end and then the hero would give the Creator of the Universe the middle fingers.
Hm…that’s an idea.
But I’m also not sure I’m ready to write a story that basically calls out half the religions in the world either. There’s something amazing and sweet and reassuring about the possibility of a god.
Where I actually stand on the question of faith and religion I’m going to leave nebulous today. As a writer and a human, this is my limitation right now.
A few years ago, my limitation was writing stories with romance. Couldn’t do it. Now, well, there’s this threesome in Skere and I’m very, very proud of the relationship dynamic. Go figure. Things change.
I’m glad I’m not god. I’m not very consistent.
But if you want to say I’m the god of my fantastical, written worlds, I’m a horrible, horrible deity. No one should believe in me and they should never pray to me. I have run them over and left them dry way too many times.
Because I care much more about telling the story then making my characters happy. But I sure wouldn’t want to follow a god like that.
Good thing I’m mortal and only all powerful when it comes to my Scrivener files, don’t you think!
Interesting post; not something I’ve ever considered before, the question of all-powerful fantasy gods allowing people to suffer. I guess I never thought about it because 1) I’m not especially religious to begin with, 2) People suffering before God seems to mirror real life, 3) In any story I’ve ever written that contains gods (most notably a shelved novel of my own), said gods had problems of their own of which the suffering of humanity was a direct result. Which by your definition, wouldn’t make them all-powerful. Maybe I don’t really believe in all-powerful deities at all.
I definitely agree that to write is to expose your own views and beliefs – regardless of your genre, although maybe fantasy is more telling than most since it involves the wholesale creation of worlds where in other genres one is only (re)interpreting the known world. Of course, every reader will impose his/her own views and beliefs on one’s work, so we’re probably not really being as obvious as we think.
Agreed. You can never know how a reader will take your writing, because of exactly what you said, they have their own world views that create lenses through which they read your work. I’m very happy about that, actually! And thank you for bringing it up. It’s one of the reasons why I often feel exposed while writing, yet do not fee the need to take anyone particular reaction too much too heart. I don’t know where they were or what they were experiencing when they read what I wrote and frankly, I don’t control it.
I’m kinda of curious about your gods with problems story. Maybe someday you’ll get back to it and share it with us? When you’re ready, if you ever decide to be.
Very deep piece Ciara. Glad you shared…
I’m writing my first fantasy now (well have been for a while) and yes, “I’m” all over it. But not just my “answers” (I don’t have many) but my questions. One thing that I find true in this book is that many of the characters think they “know” but the TRUTH is they don’t know. They have their perspective, their experiences, and holding steadfast to their beliefs often leads them down the wrong path (or a different one than they imagined). So sometimes (subtle spoiler ->) they’re “punished” for being arrogant, whether they’re on the side of “dark”, “light” or something in between.
Also, somewhat separately I just came across the phrase the dark night of the soul. I’d heard it before, but didn’t pay much attention to it. Here’s some explanation-> http://www.eckharttolle.com/newsletter/october-2011
I think one thing that gives me freedom (especially in writing fiction) is MY belief in spirituality (that’s vast, and wide, and even vague and mostly…what I “know” for myself I can’t, and don’t really care to explain). I’m excited to question, religion and science and dogma in fiction. I feel it’s a “safe place” to explore belief, non-belief and everything in between.
Working with your characters as they hold on to beliefs, it’s a wonderful place to tell a story. Excited for your book. It’s amazing your many “realities” can exist in one space, guide and direct characters no matter what the “truth” is. And explore that can be a story in an off it’s self.
“Dark Night of the Soul”, that hit home. Thank you for the link. I’m not sure it was so unrelated to everything else we’re discussing here. Taking yourself or a character through one of these experiences is profound and sometimes extremely necessary.
I’m glad you’ve found a “safe place” to explore these questions, belief, non-belief an everything in between!