Are you confused yet? I think a lot of people might be. Maybe not, maybe I am just projecting my own confusion on everyone else. What am I confused about? That list is often pretty darn long so let’s start by looking at what I am not confused about.
- My faith.
- I am a writer.
As The title and my warning over here on the side say, I am Catholic. I have not always been as sure of my faith as I am today but I am sure of it now, and that is what really matters.
It guides my life and everything around it. That means that my faith shows up in everything I do, sometime is ways that you can’t even see, and some time in ways that make it obvious. (think praying before meals even when I am out and about.)
I have been writing fiction since I was about 13 years old. Before I wrote stories I told them. Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud to my friends. I remember once (we had a very long bus ride to and from school) a friend and I invented a universe on the way home from school, that started out as Star wars Fan/Fic but then went completely off the rails into this fantasy world, I think we were 11 or so at the time. This I eventually turned into one of my very first written stories. The point is that I have been a story teller for most of my life. Certainly as far back as I can remember.
Those things I am sure about. Where it becomes less clear is when I start looking at them together and the way that other people put them together. I have read some “Catholic Fiction” and frankly I usually wish I hadn’t. It tends to be preachy to the point of killing what otherwise might have been a good story. It tends to use what my friends and I have coined as, “the sledgehammer of morality.” It will beat the idea into you no matter what.
First, as you might have guessed these don’t tend to be enjoyable stories and not ones that I would want to write. Remember that I said that my faith tends to influence every part of my life. When I am telling a story, this is also true. I can still write about people who do awful things. I can still write about people who are not Catholic. I can even write about people who don’t understand and misquote or misunderstand the faith. All of those things show up in my stories. People of different faiths or no faith at all. People who believe in ghosts, those that cast spells, creatures that live for tens of thousands of years. They all make appearances in my stories.
Does this make me a bad Catholic? I don’t think so. Because while do write these things I still let my faith inform the things that I write. I am not going to be overly gruesome. I am not going to show gratuitous sex. I will tend to have the heroes and heroines portray values that tend to mesh with those of the Catholic faith. If they are not Catholic, I obviously I won’t put the entire weight of the faith on their shoulders but, they will tend to cling to at least some of the most important tenants of the the faith.
Does this mean that I think that books and stories that don’t follow my rules are bad? The shortest and most concise answer is, “No.” I believe that there are stories that I will like and stories that I won’t like. A lot of that had to do with how they are written. If there is a good story there, chances are that I will like it. But a good story is more than just words strung together, it includes all of its elements. So while someone might have a really good outline or story concept, I still might find the story itself morally objectionable, and so would not want to read it. These, by the way, are the kind of things that I try to leave out of my own writing. Because while I want to write an interesting story, and I believe that as a story teller you should not limit your options, I do think some things are better left out of a story. And that goes the other way as well. (See my thoughts above about the “Catholic Fiction.”)
I guess it comes down to this. I know there are fiction authors who write with a specific audience in mind. A very limited specific audience, and they write to those audience at the price of excluding of everyone else. I think that these folks are limiting themselves. Even if what they are doing it trying to write for a specific age group, they are limiting themselves if they don’t make the story good enough, or interesting enough or not so sledge-hammer-y so that other people don’t want to read it.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Harry Potter was written for a middle grade audience. Those stories were written so that people of that reading level and maturity level would enjoy them. They were also written with enough depth and good story telling that a lot of other people, outside of the target audience liked them. I didn’t happen to be one of those people, but I a lot of people did. Another good example is the Narania books (not the recent movies, because those tend to have a sledge hammer attached, but the books.) There is an undertone of Christianity there, but if you didn’t know better you might not realize that this was the same author who wrote The Screwtape Letters. He kept it within the realm of his faith while still inventing magic using, non Christian characters. And he did it all without offending Non-Christians so that they could enjoy his books as well.
I don’t believe that I will ever be as good a writer as C.S. Lewis, or as famous and rich as J.K. Rowling but I do hope to tell a good story, that is informed by my faith, without alienating those who do not believe as I do.
So yes, I am Catholic, and yes I am a writer, and hope I can be faithful to both without compromising either.