As an aside to my life, I write fiction. I’ve done it since elementary school. When I did it in college, they gave me a degree for it. In my adult life I started writing novels, and I have a bunch of those under my belt. In fact, I’m trapped in one now. I’m too big a coward to try to publish, at least at this moment in time, and I’m busy enough that if I have a spare moment of time, I choose writing over fighting my way into the publishing world, anyway. (But mostly I’m a coward.)
I notice my writing has a few constant elements, idealistic and unrealistic elements. Because I write for myself and the few friends interested in sharing my world, I can put whatever I want on paper, so I do. Lately I’ve been thinking about what I write versus the reality in which I live, and if I could, I’d jump out of my life into my books in a second. Or at least I think I would.
First, my characters have circles. Seldom is a character set adrift in the world alone. Instead, she or he has a small circle of friends, or the lonely character ends the story with a circle of friends. Super friends, the kind who seek one another out when they’re lost, pursue one another when they run away, come for each other no matter the cost. The kind who ask the tough questions and know each other with great intimacy and yet still care enough to chase one another down. The friend willing to overlook the flaws of the others and continue to be friends. The friend that really doesn’t exist in any person but Jesus himself.
Second, there is always a mission. The characters are always part of a story larger than themselves. I place most of my stories in other worlds or past times in this world, so technology isn’t the center of the world. People are. And the stories are about moments of great purpose, because who wants to read about doing laundry and answering emails and finding work and living the daily reality of life? No, something within us knows there is adventure out there somewhere, and in a story, the adventure is safe. In reality, we have purpose, too, an entire kingdom to bring, but we tend to hang out in the tiny, safe stories of daily life and seldom take the risk of adventure so common in a good story. Truthfully, we don’t even know what adventure in real life might look like.
Finally, happy endings abound. Life has a lot of not-so-happy endings. Sometimes there is future happiness to be found in heaven, but in other stories, there is nothing happy at all. But in my world, things can work out. I once wrote a story that revolved around the aftermath of a death, but I had to change it, and death became life. Loneliness ends in companionship; brokenness ends in healing; the lost are found. Death and loss and sadness never have the final word.
In my mind, a good story always ends up retelling the best story, the ultimate story. The story world is filled with adventure, sacrificial love, and great purpose. Sounds a little like a tale told in the greatest storybook ever written, a tale about a man who loved his friends enough to die for them, about a man who lived again to restore the world to what it was meant to be, about a man who gave his friends a purpose that would eclipse everything else in their world and take them to scary, unsafe, uncomfortable places but always landed them in a happy ending in the final curtain call.
It’s easier to read a good story than to live it. Danger and risk are, you know, dangerous and risky. Sacrificial love takes a whole lot of sacrifice and really messes with soccer practice and PTA meetings. To chase down someone and love them through all the hells of this world? That interferes with dinner, bonding in front of the TV with family, and a healthy bedtime. And yet, something inside stands up and cheers at the end of a good story, an epic story, a worthy story.
I wish I had the mettle not just to write a good story but to live one out. And I wish I had the supporting characters to take the trek with me. Perhaps, if I keep reading the original story and all the stories that stem from it, someday I’ll live with more risk and purpose and not just write it down.