The Unconscious Influences On Our Writing

This morning was really interesting. I got an unexpected lesson in how our deepest held values and beliefs–our world view, our philosophy–influence our writing in ways we don’t plan or even understand.

Personally, I think that unconscious influence is good when it comes to fiction. When that influence in fiction is subtle, unnoticed by the author, it adds true flavor, deep flavor, to a story without becoming overbearing. Philosophy doesn’t force the story back and fight with it and try to take its place. It rather works with it and contributes in a positive way.

Anyway, I started thinking about this when I saw a Facebook post from a cousin. She posted what follows…. It’s pretty cool. She and I are both Christian, though I believe she is more Protestant and I am Catholic. (Her post is more about social justice than faith in itself, though.) She put up:

When Martin Luther King, Jr. began his work for Justice, he asked that all that march with him to sign a pledge.
Martin Luther King Jr. Pledge of Nonviolence:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

I ended up sharing the post, after reflecting on it a bit, and added something at the top that struck me about it. I didn’t make the connection with my fiction until later. My introduction–it’s rooted in my faith, but I’m not making this post about faith; the connection with creative writing will follow–said:

A cousin just posted this…. I’m sharing because number one really struck me. We always think of the social advances that came courtesy of Dr. King without remembering he was rooted in a living and blossoming faith. At least, I forget. But really, I’d say that’s WHY the social advances happened. That’s why “love your neighbor” is second in the Christian tradition. We screw up big time when we try to put it first. Different neighbors have too many different claims that seem contradictory, we end up justifying hatred or harm of one neighbor for the good of another, and well, it’s a far, far better person than me who can consider the need of the other consistently and unselfishly without the foundation of God laid first. But when we put God first, love of neighbor falls into place too, naturally and unavoidably, and beautiful things result. 

A minute or so after I posted that, I started thinking about what I’d written, and I realized how my favorite of my villains falls directly into that trap of wanting to serve the other, a specific other, and thus justifies hatred and harm of other, alien “others.”

That villain is Zalski Forzythe from “The Crimson League.” He is a sorcerer, and I’ve actually always viewed the state and oppression of sorcery in Herezoth as somewhat parallel to the Civil Rights Movement, though of course there are differences, and lots of them.

Zalski is a sorcerer who sees that magic is unjustly stifled, so he executes a coup, takes over, and pretty much sets about exacting revenge for the historical wrong. (That’s no spoiler, it’s all backstory). He honestly means well and believes what he is doing is executing justice. He doesn’t understand he’s only flipping the table…. swapping the role of oppressed and oppressor.

The desire to make that swap is a danger I’ve always felt keenly, but I never consciously connected it before today with what I would deem a misplaced love of neighbor over God. I first envisioned Zalski a decade ago and never made the connection between HIM and that axiom of my faith.

It’s interesting when realizations like that hit you about your writing. The greater the time from composition, the fewer and farther between they come, so it’s been a while. But as I currently edit “The Crimson League” for its upcoming second edition, this is something that will be on my mind.

It’s given me a new and deeper understanding of one of my favorite characters…. Zalski really is brilliant. He is brave and cunning and ambitious, but also full of love. He’s a dutiful husband and truly wants to do good. He fascinates me. There’s a lot about him I still don’t think I understand well enough to explain.

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10 responses to “The Unconscious Influences On Our Writing

  1. angietrafford

    Maybe you should do a character interview with him. That way you will probably find that you will understand him very well indeed.

  2. Reminds me of Tolkien and Lewis, where Lewis wanted to preach his faith in his writing, Tolkien allowed his faith to subconsciously permeate his work. As much as I love both writers, I think Tolkien’s approach works best.

    • I love both of their work. But the distinction you make here is spot on. Lewis wrote a pure allegory. And it works because he never pretended it wasn’t an allegory, and he also focused on story…. the stories of Narnia are appealing in and of themselves. But I agree, Tolkien’s work feels deeper, richer, and more complete somehow, just because he wasn’t considering keeping his philosophy on the surface level.

  3. The deeply held values that permeate our writing, especially those regarding unconditional love, the ability to be empathetic, to appreciate diversity, and to practice tolerance, often fall on deaf ears–or blind eyes, as it were. That’s why our stories resonate with some readers but fail to touch others. Although the purpose of our writing might seem more subtle than obvious, those themes run through our narrative like a strong, silent current. Some readers will be swept up, while others will float away.

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