Writing fiction, clearly, is all about telling a story. We study human history as a story. I’m Catholic, so when I look at the Bible, I see salvation history laid out in story form. As human beings, we eat, live, and even sleep (well dream) story. And the story that I’ve lived will, without a doubt, influence the story I put on the page.
As a writer, like any writer, I write what I know. Well, the life experiences I’ve had and how I interpret those is a result of my worldview; I see life and judge life and experience life through my individual lens, and so, as my human limitation is to write what I know, it is impossible that my wordview will not influence my work on some level. The question is: How does a writer let his or her worldview come out successfully in fiction, as opposed to unsuccessfully? Writing Christian fiction is one thing, and the stakes are different there, but I write fantasy. So how does my faith come into play?
SHOW AND TELL? NO, JUST SHOW.
Creative writing 101, in my mind, has two rules. The first is that you must, must, must read a lot and learn basic grammar before you attempt to write anything. The second is, it is always better to SHOW your reader something rather than TELL your reader something. Never tell when you can show. (I wish I could remember which writer’s handbook I read this in…. I’m sure it’s in all of them in some form or another.) Don’t open a chapter saying your character is bored; describe how the character is staring glaze-eyed at the fireplace or into the kitchen or at the bird perch on the tree outside.
In terms of my worldview, it’s simple. I don’t like being preached to in the guise of fiction unless I know that’s explicitly what I’ll be getting. I feel like if my readers wanted me to preach to them, they would ask for a religiously themed essay. Fiction is not the venue for presenting my case about why I believe what I do about the world. I do not write to convert people to my value system.
I have found, of course, that my worldview influences the actions of my characters. It influences the plot I write. It influences which characters I most connect with, and so, which characters get more page time. I envisioned my protagonist Kora as someone responsible, kind, and for the most part selfless, and because of that, she happens to share what my view of responsibility and selflessness entails. The bad guys share some of my views, but not all of them, and there are some interesting clashes between the two perspectives that caused me to think about the “big stuff” during drafts and read-throughs. The fact is, like I’ve said, no matter what your worldview, it will come out in what you write in some capacity. That doesn’t mean you should be able to find a spot in your novel that outlines in a statement or two what you think about life. Please, never ever explicitly definite your personal philosophy.
If you write well, you will show, not tell, what you believe about humanity and its nature, about life, and about the world. And you will provoke thought in your readers. You might show them some aspect of life through a lens that’s new to them. Personally, I’ve always hoped my story makes people ponder the value of sacrifice and the meaning of family and the merits of being true to yourself even when that’s dangerous to do. I hope it makes people question what the real value is of doing the right thing. Maybe my novels do that; if they do, though, it’s a byproduct of me telling a story. I didn’t write with some kind of moral or theme in hand. I wrote about certain characters who find themselves in the particular situation of being a resistance group fighting a sorcerer-dictator. That’s it.