By Beth White
A couple of weeks ago, I was explaining to a friend the idea of God’s omnipotence and omniscience—I suppose, trying to wrap my own brain around the idea—and came to the metaphor of myself as a writer composing my novel, A Rebel Heart. As its creator, I knew the outcome of the story—the satisfying resolution to all the conflicts that my protagonist, Selah Daughtry, must encounter in pursuit of her large story goal.
The idea breaks down in all sorts of ways, I’m sure. But the similarity is that if the ending of the story is going to make sense, if the main character achieves victory in any meaningful way, then she must overcome significant odds along the path. This goes a long way to explaining (justifying, if you will) God the Creator’s allowance of significant trials in the pilgrim’s journey.
The Bible says God is good, that He is love. Yet most people, even those of us who claim faith, express outrage when good deeds aren’t rewarded by smooth sailing. We fall ill, loved ones die, others betray us, accidents happen. Those things hurt in the moment. They hurt a lot. Sometimes we come to peace under the assurance that “all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose”—in other words, trusting God’s perfect will, will lead to the ultimate reward of eternal life.
Theologians greater than I (my favorite being C. S. Lewis) have eloquently addressed the subject. My purpose is to explore the idea for the work of the novelist. Thinking of myself as the omnipotent, omniscient creator of a life (that of my protagonist/s) with a beginning, middle, and end, I should be able to strengthen the effect of plot points. I want to know my character so well that I create, on the page, for the reader to experience, exactly the events and confrontations that will cause perfect temporary pain.
Why do I say “perfect?” Because each character should be so individual and distinct that a specific array of challenges will force her to make heroic, self-sacrificial choices. And those choices lead to even more difficult decisions before the big “payoff” or reward at the end.
And why do the character’s responses need to be “heroic and/or self-sacrificial?” Because human beings are wired to admire those kinds of people. As a reader, I don’t identify with the sneaky, lazy, or evil anti-hero (though I may often, at least temporarily, possess those characteristics). Of course, the protagonist won’t be perfect. It will take him a couple of tries to reach the heroic stage. He may need the encouragement of a mentor, a “Yoda,” so to speak.
I contend that a successful novel will have at its center a strong sense of reason and purpose. I’m not God (and I’m glad I’m not), but I’m hoping I can learn to craft stories with a strong central spine of love and goodwill for both my protagonist and my reader.
Beth White grew up in the South, specifically North Mississippi, which has a rich tradition of fostering writers, storytellers, and musicians. I’m fond of both music and literature, so I amuse myself by teaching chorus and piano in an inner-city public high school by day, while conducting a secret life as a romance writer by night. Anyway, I find myself, after more than half the years I’ve been alive, still married to my last college boyfriend. He still makes me laugh, he still gives me the warm fuzzies, and he still checks my tires, so I guess I’ll keep him. We somewhat successfully raised two young adults, who are both married and have begun producing amazing grandchildren. My cup runneth over. Anyone who wants to know more about me should read my books and my blog. I am something of a hermit In Real Life, except in the classroom and on my computer, but I am very much interested in what makes my readers tick. And what ticks them off. And what makes them smile. So please email me here. I promise to answer.
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