Over the past month I have taken it upon myself to write a novel. In the process of developing a gripping plot and characters worth following I have learned a number of things about myself as well as the world around me. It has been a rewarding process. The primary thing I am learning is that I am a terrible writer, especially of fiction. That little truth has stung and even depressed me a bit, but in the process of writing my skills have gone for absolutely terrible, to really bad. I’ve figured that if I keep at it another ten years I might even ascend to mediocrity. How’s that for a noble goal?
There is one unexpected thing I’ve learned regarding free will and divine sovereignty. After attempting to control my characters and keep them rolling through the designed plot I have for them, I am realizing that I have less control over them than I want to. It is a strange realization to say the least. In truth my characters can do nothing without my fingers striking the keys. They can say nothing that I have not thought in advance. I know the words that will come out of their mouths before they even speak them. I am absolutely sovereign over them. I change the weather around them to make them react, I put people in their lives to make them grow, I place challenges in their path to make them fail, and then I determine their reaction to those challenges and failures. In every sense of the word I am sovereign over them. My sovereignty as an author was always something I assumed. However what I did not expect was for my characters to have their own free will within the context of my divine authorship.
If you spend time perusing writing websites, or reading books about writing you will find continued advice to ‘let the characters speak for themselves.’ It seems to be a great paradox. The idea of letting your characters speak, even though they cannot speak without your mind giving them words is a hogwash concept. Hogwash until you try it. As I write dialog my characters say things which I did not expect, I find that my characters react to situations in ways that I do not desire. I have even found that if I do not reign in an evil character they will eventually become good, or that if I give a good character enough rope they will hang themselves with it. I know that sounds like some sort of psychobabble, but sit down and develop some characters of your own and put them in a story together and you will find that what I am saying is true.
There is a real sense in which the moment I place my character on paper I relinquish a degree of sovereignty that I have over them, though I never relinquish my authorship of them. I am still the source of their words, their world, their situations, their plot, and ultimately their demise or exaltation. They can do nothing without me, they cease to exist if I cease to write them. Moreover anything they do will ultimately serve my purpose, which is to elevate and honor my protagonist. Nonetheless my characters exist in my mind (and on a bunch of sheets of character profiles) and the traits, personalities, and backgrounds I give them drive their own free actions, sometimes against my will. Ultimately their own actions will determine their role in the story.
If we are willing to look at God’s sovereignty in the light of divine authorship with Christ as the ultimate protagonist in His narrative we will see how this blending of free will and sovereignty actually works. If you have never sat down to write fiction this all could seem like an ethereal of a view of sovereignty that places either too much responsibility in God’s hands. On the other hand you might be uncomfortable with the idea that God’s own creation has some degree of effect upon him, but if you have written you will see no contradiction or problem here.
In the story I am writing I have had numerous moments where a character has pleaded with me (in my mind) and changed the direction of my narrative, yet somehow it is all happening within my own mind and only finds direction only from me. The character which free thinks, still must use my mind to do the thinking. I think of moments within God’s divine narrative of human history where similar things have happened, moments where God repented of what appeared to be his initial plan. Moses telling God what would happen if he wiped out Israel comes to mind. Again, in the 40k+ words I have written in my novel I can think of a number of times when my characters have advised me on my plot. Nonetheless the characters cannot even think apart from me giving them my own thoughts.
I encourage you to try writing, if for no other reason to learn something about yourself, as well as how your own characters can have free will while under your absolute authority.
There are other things I have learned that will have to wait for other blog posts. Not the least of which is how my own personal attitudes and desires are reflected in the way I tailor my story. Every piece of narrative is somehow a reflection of the author, but that is a topic for a later date.