Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Guy Characters in a Bad Guy World

The Present State of Affairs

This week on my mind.... I sense overwhelming cynicism in our world. I’m convinced some North Americans have misinterpreted being critical for critical thinking. In all of our educational aims to develop stronger critical thinkers and more educated, logical intellectuals, perhaps it’s only made us more readily find fault. I bring this up because I see it in our Apostolic/Pentecostal (A/P) culture, and as writers trying to convey who we are to the world, it’s a problem.

“Can any good thing come out of [insert organization acronym]?”

Previously I have bemoaned the critical nature of our A/P generation and how cynics (who usually aren’t exactly setting the world on fire in their own home churches) just love to roll up their sleeves and find fault with the latest idea, initiative, or project of their organization of choice, and even the people of that organization. (Here's the original post if you want to read my full rant.) I’m not saying the church is absolutely perfect in every way, but when all we do is focus on the negative…? I believe a lot of it is downright generational and educational snobbery, and as a young educated Apostolic, I am not afraid to call us on it as well as challenge: perhaps we should get over ourselves. I include myself in the challenge. I fear cynicism. I fear finding fault with everything in the church. I fear that human tendency in myself and in our A/P culture at large. Besides the unity issue, if we don’t genuinely believe there is a value to what we believe and practice, how can we communicate it convincingly to others? Won’t our sarcasm and cynicism undermine our sincerity?

Why It Matters for Writers

It’s already hard enough to create a believable, multi-dimensional “good guy” character in literature. Human nature loves the bad guy. Think of Shakespeare’s rogues, Poe’s villains. So when you’re writing a story about a character transformed by Christ, how can you make him/her a believable good person in our corrupted, evil world that suggests good people can’t be real? (Instead most "religious figures" come off as hypocrites/fake/corrupt. Think of fiction’s many examples—especially from the work of Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor.)

So challenge #1 - If we already have that literary challenge, how much more complicated is it when we add in our own cynicism? I think there are genuinely good Apostolic people (thanks to God’s grace). But how do we present those seemingly unrealistic characters to a world struggling to believe in good? Do we really believe it ourselves, and are we capable of talking about it without turning sardonic?

Going Forward

With so many different subcultures (rural, urban, ethnic, progressive, traditional, etc.) within our larger Apostolic/Pentecostal culture, it’s been almost impossible to pinpoint our identity—not doctrine but an archetype of who we are (lifestyle, shared cultural traits, etc.).

So challenge #2 - How we will sell a believable “good guy” Apostolic character in our fiction if a)we ourselves don’t know who this believable Apostolic good guy is for lack of defined A/P identity and b)we can’t describe him or her genuinely without turning to sarcasm?

Who are we and how do we learn to genuinely communicate that to our world minus layers of sarcasm and cynicism?

Side Note

Currently reading: On Writing by Stephen King

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Own Little Writer's Colony

Sorry this is late, but I’ve spent most of last week/weekend/today–save for an all-day Junior Bible Quiz tournament on Saturday featuring the Prodigy earning his first team and individual trophies. (Dad is very proud)—working on an application for a weeklong writing workshop on "Poetry, Prose, and Prayer" in America’s Great White North. Midnight was the deadline, so now I'm bogging.

A Gripe: I’m always frustrated by Christians who say they want to write, but don’t write because it's hard adn they're all alone and there's no examples and no one to encourage them daily. All true.

They also don’t encourage themselves by surrounding themselves with the most obvious encouragements. Yes, it would be lovely to live in a writer’s colony where everyone wrote, then shared writing insights in communal settings, enjoying deep conversations at book clubs covering the (contemporary and ancient) classics, and always had a writing buddy about to keep us focused. Most of us aren’t going to get that chance though. So we need to think sharper.

Look at it this way though, people who just attend church on Sunday generally aren’t considered superior Christians even though they might be surrounded by superior Christians. Instead, to be a (mostly) triumphant Christian, it must become obvious in our actions—our personal devotions, fasting, the media choices we make, our choice of friends, what we read, watch, and listen to, and the ministry we pursue.

It’s no different to be a successful (not necessarily a published) writer: we are defined by our actions. And it’s not just writing words regularly (hopefully daily), it’s our choice of friends (are they all the same type of people? do they challenge and encourage us or make excuses for our mediocrity?), what we read (do you get writing magazines? Literary journals? Books of interviews? Literary blogs? or do you just read the kind of books and magazines you've always read?), watch and listen to (lots of author interviews on YouTube; podcasts too), then giving this amalgamation to God to use.

It’s a life commitment that can help us create our own little writer's colony in our own homes if we're willing to sacrifice for our gifting. So start improving today!

I'm Kent d Curry, and I approve of this message.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Favorite Literary Couple

Happy Valentine's Day from the (still) cold land of France!

Since I blog the second week of every month, I always have the honor of presenting Valentine's Day musings when February rolls around. Lucky you.

It seems the last couple of Valentine's Days, I wrote about writing letters and writing and love in general. Why don't I talk about reading this time? Which literary couple in love do I love to love?

It would be easy to pick a duo from a Jane Austen novel. What could be said about Elizabeth and Darcy that hasn't already been said? It would be way too cliche to even think about Romeo and Juliet. (Plus, I think Romeo was kind of a wuss, frankly.) I must admit that thinking about Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester makes me laugh. Okay, Mr. Rochester locks up his cuckoo wife who periodically escapes and goes around scaring Jane out of her wits, he then tries to set up a creeper arrangement with Jane even after she finds out he's still married, only to have her, in the end, turn around and take his one-handed, blind old self back? In a way it's sweet, I guess, but it makes me laugh. Jane is much more noble than I. Antony and Cleopatra, Guinevere and Lancelot, Gatsby and Daisy, Janie and Teacake . . . the list of literary couples can go on and on.

However, there is one couple I absolutely love, but not because they're a functional, lovely symbol of romance and fidelity. Their love was actually pretty tortured and obsessive (though they do have a happy ending of sorts). They are Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. What I love about this couple is the way they speak about their love. There's something so hauntingly beautiful about it.

Catherine tells her maid Nelly of her love for Heathcliff:

"My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath--a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind--not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."

Heathcliff pleads for Catherine after she's died:

"Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you--haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe--I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"

For Heathcliff and Catherine, it was more than "I love you." It was "I am you." Whoa. Who are your favorite literary couples?