Monday, August 15, 2011

"Lend me your eyes; I can change what you see"

I've been camping up in the Sierras with my family and some friends and it was glorious. Then I came back and didn't blog for a whole week because, frankly, regular life was glorious too and I didn't feel like missing it to write anything but fiction.

And so I got to thinking, recently, about why I like writing fiction (like novels) better than I like writing non-fiction (like blog posts). Especially as I like reading non-fiction almost (but not quite) as much as I like reading fiction.

And I realized that it's because in non-fiction I can't use specific examples. When it comes to writing about marriage, parenting, the devotional life, etc., many of the specific examples I'd like to use are private, either to myself or to others.

But in fiction - ah! fiction! my home, my love, my strong cup of tea! - I can make up the examples. And they're all the better for being made up because, unlike when writing a blog post, it's not like I write a book thinking, "this will explain my deep beliefs about marriage". No. That would be a boring book.

Instead, I have some scene, some "what if?", some picture of two people together doing something, and I think, "who are they? why are they there? what happens next?" and the questions get the wheel turning and suddenly the story is spinning itself out from under my fingers like roving turning into yarn.

And somewhere in the midst of that I get to think about all those non-fiction topics that fascinate me. I know that what I believe comes out in my stories, but the important part is that it comes out. I don't have to state it, I don't have to argue it. If I do my job right, the story is the argument. And even if you don't agree with me*, if the story has internal consistency, you might admit my beliefs' plausibility. You might, for a moment, say, "I can see what you mean." And the whole world opens up when authors can do that for you.

Art is, I am more and more convinced, the job of saying, "Look at it this way." I've thought that ever since I first saw a Van Gogh painting in high school and realized that afterwards I looked at irises differently. Even though what he painted isn't what irises actually look like, he showed me that there was more to them than I ever could have seen without him lending me his eyes.

I'm no Van Gogh. But I want to do what he did. I want to say, "look at it this way," because so many other people have done that for me.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*Watch me just ignore modern literary theory that would tell you that what I think has nothing to do with it. Ha! Somebody say that to Dickens' face. Or Tolkein's. Or Tennyson's . . . sure, they didn't mean anything by what they wrote. Give me a break . . .**

**Of course, I also don't mean to imply that you can tell what the author thinks by identifying him with one of the main characters, or the narrator, or anything like that. It's not that simple. You have to take the work as a whole. But on the other hand, if you read "Jane Eyre", and don't think that Charlotte Bronte had something to say about integrity, and that Jane's long argument to Rochester before she leaves him doesn't about sum it up . . . well, I don't think you know how to read a book.

***title quotation from Mumford and Sons' "Awake My Soul".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

your footnotes remind me of Patricia McK's blog! it must be an author 'thing'. seems like fiction/incarnational writing chooses to give the reader their own true (persuasive) experience of a reality instead of aiming at their head and just going for mental comprehension. mom