The problem with SHOULD

A few weeks ago, someone posted this remark on a writers’ forum.

I’d have things really flowing, then start second-guessing myself on matters of theology and morality. “Oh…That should actually work out this way, in order to demonstrate this principle.” “This should be set up this other way instead, to be more in keeping with God’s character according to His self-revelation” (in a fantasy world under our God, somewhat like Tolkien’s Iluvatar but less standoffish). “How in the world do I explain X without compromising some theological point?” “Where IS the Savior in my world’s history or hope, anyway? But I doooon’t waaaaant allegoryyyyy…!” And before I knew it, the writing was bogging down and the creativity drying up.

Photographer: Tom Woodward, via Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Tom Woodward, via Wikimedia Commons

I read a lot of blogs and interviews, and Christians are the only writers who wear this particular straitjacket. And it shows in our books.

I recently finished a two-book story arc by a very sweet author. I love her to bits and her writing is beautiful.

But she’s constrained by SHOULD.

On her blog, at one point she mentioned that second book and how she ran up against a point where the hero had to get redeemed. And okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. I spotted the point halfway through the book.

The trouble was the straitjacket on the story afterward.

The hero never learned to stand on his own and become a hero. He went from weak and whiny to weak and whiny with the Jesus figure holding his hand. He was like a kid being herded around by his mom, and therefore was hard to respect as a character. (The Jesus figure: Our Heavenly Mother.)

You know the story of the Hobbit. There wasn’t much to Bilbo until Gandalf left, and Bilbo becomes the leader during the Mirkwood crawl. Without the stronger savior figure, Bilbo has to step up to the plate and become a hero.

If the Jesus figure sticks around, the hero has no reason to grow. Mummy’s taking care of him and there’s no reason to man up. I kept hoping the hero of the aforementioned book would get to stand on his own and the Jesus figure would stand back and let the hero breathe.

Nope.

The hero, being weak and unmanned, goes on to a pathetic, ignoble ending and leaves the girl in the lurch. I was terribly disappointed. There’s no more books, either. That story is done.

The hero winds up married to the Jesus figure, for all intents and purposes.

I know this is how our relationship with Jesus works in real life. But somehow it doesn’t work the same in fiction, particularly when the god is incarnate and fixated on saving one person. In real life, our relationship works through the Holy Spirit. It’s a quiet, inter-dimensional thing that the general public doesn’t see.

This Jesus straitjacket appears in other Christian fiction, too. I’ve written it, myself, and felt the life choked out of my fiction as theology rose up and took over. I gave up writing intentionally Christian stories to escape those constraints.

I don’t know what the answer is, except maybe to grow both as a writer and a believer.

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5 thoughts on “The problem with SHOULD”

  1. Wow, you just blow me away with your thoughts. I never thought about that before the should s that creep in. I know that it does creep into my own writing.
    It does limit the sharing because of being afraid of offending or saying something I could possible be judged for with out meaning too.
    I think getting to the point of enjoying your story so much that you write for the joy of writing. I think it is being the best story teller. We all enjoy good stories and that it the difference.

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  2. Very interesting to me. I don’t write Christian fiction per se and so my grounding comes more from classic mythological themes. In those themes, the “mentor” (Jesus character) DOES have to Leave in order for the hero to rise up and be all she can be.

    Do you think that, for the purposes of creating inspirational fiction (and I mean inspiring on every level) that the Jesus/mentor figure Could infuse the character with strength and then leave (as he did, really) leaving the character to live on with the lessons he taught while he was there (as a Mentor arch type does)? Does that still make it Christian fiction or does it cross away into fantasy? Could it work to take some of the successful elements of genre fiction into your Christian manuscripts (just as commercial writers do well to take some elements of literary fiction and vice versa)?

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  3. Jess: Your perspective is so refreshing! I honestly think the Jesus figure empowering the hero and then moving out of sight would make for some good storytelling. And since most Christian writers are trying to write Christian fantasy anyway, it would totally work.

    It’s when they lash themselves into a straitjacket of “Oh, wait, I can’t do this because I SHOULD do that instead” that the whole story becomes stilted. That’s what annoys me so much.

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  4. Interesting thoughts! I definitely ran into this problem a lot as I tried to expand my allegorical short story into a more vaguely symbolic novella. Once I stopped agonizing over the *meaning* of everything and just let the story do what it needed to do, creativity flowed better, and symbolism and meaning actually come out in ways I’m not expecting as I go along!

    I think sometimes our problem is trying to tell the whole gospel, express the WHOLE truth, rather than highlighting one aspect of the truth to give it extra glimmer. Trying to look at all sides of a thing at the same time makes it complex and sometimes even harder to grasp. It also ends up being derivative, sounding too much like a story we’ve heard before. But deciding to highlight one detail of the truth can help us understand the whole better, when artfully and deeply done. 🙂

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    1. That’s a good idea–focusing on one aspect of the truth. I think maybe an epic fantasy writer could cover more than one, but I know that I can’t. :-p

      Glad your story is finally coming together!

      Liked by 1 person

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