Saturday, April 2, 2011

A character who wants something...

I think I've become a little obsessed with the elements of story-telling. I say this because last night, while sleeping, I edited my own dream. I was running away from a hospital that wanted to keep me against my will, and in the midst of making my escape, fighting off bad-guys and stealing get away cars, I would see characters or details in my dream and think "Is that essential to the core of the story?" and then quickly edit it from the dream. Then I'd continue escaping.

On the one hand, this is good for my writing because it has me thinking of ways to edit Snapshots and that was something I was really dreading, and now it seems like something challenging- like something I want to conquer. Before, I saw editing as the equivalent to a trip to the dentist. Something absolutely necessary, but absolutely awful because you're basically just waiting for the moment when someone will tell you that your teeth have a big hole in them and you need to floss more. Now I think I see editing as more of a gardening experience. I spent some time helping my mom weed out her iris bed while I was back home. It was hard work, but after clearing away grass and leaves, it was really rewarding to see the green stems staring back at me. They looked better, and undoubtedly their blooms will look better in a few weeks because of our work. So rather than dreading finding the rot in my story, I'm looking forward to the blooms, if you will.

However, I'm realizing that not everyone else shares my enthusiasm for story-telling. I sent an email this week, explaining that story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it, and asked the person "What is your story?" I thought this would be thought-provoking and make the person feel really invested in. I thought he'd be like, "This is something I'll need to ponder. Let me get back to you." But instead, he said, "your email was weird," and then talked to me about stationary for a while.

The good thing about being a writer is you can make all of the characters in your story as enthusiastic about the plot as you want them to be. You control how affected they are by the conflict, how they respond, how mean they are, how strong they become. But it's good because everyone involved is dealing with the same thing and you have control over the timing and the desire and the conflict and the resolution. I've heard some writers completely disagree with this type of thinking. I've been told that sometimes the character does what it wants. Like, the writer will want the character to go to the grocery store and buy coffee, but the character brings home shitake mushrooms instead. Or like JK Rowling says that Harry and Hermione and that red-headed kid are all living life in her head. She knows where they are all the time and the adventures that they're having. I don't get this. Maybe because I don't write fiction. Or maybe because I think that sounds more like schizophrenia than writing. I should watch Stranger Than Fiction again to explore this more...

In any event, it's clear that in life, characters really do go to the store for coffee and come back with mushrooms, and what I mean by that is- no one ever does what you expect them to do, and you have little to no control over the outcome. No one is affected by the conflict the way that you want. No one wants to resolve as much as you do. People can deflect and distract and argue about things that have nothing to do with the central issue and all you want to do is yell- "This is not necessary to the core!" and move on to talking about their root of fear, bitterness or unbelief- but you end up talking about stationary, politics or the weather.

So if you want to live a good story, what do you do? You know that people are not going to care about the plot-line of your life nearly as much (if at all) as you are. And you don't know if they're going to help you overcome the conflict and resolve or if they're going to create more conflict or just completely distract you from the core. I don't have a formula for what to do about this, but I have been encouraged recently. That encouragement came, oddly enough, from the book of Revelation.

So as any character in a story- I wanted something, but I was a little embarrassed by what it was. I wanted acknowledgment that I belong to God. That seemed awfully selfish and all and like it was not a good thing to want because Jesus suffered so much and was despised and rejected by men. And He was such a good sport about that. He was never like, "Dad!!! Come down here and tell all these people crucifying me that I am your Son!" But He could have. And when He was hanging there, all mutilated by human beings, they had the nerve to mock Him for not doing that very thing. So I felt like a huge wimp for wanting Jesus to say, "She is MINE!" But that's pretty much what I want. That's essential to my story. I'm a character who wants something and overcomes conflict ot get it. This might be very selfish. And I don't think that great stories come from selfish motives, but it's also very honest. I guess that the unselfish part is that I don't want to be the only person who gets to experience this. I could sound way more Christian-ey and say, "I just really want to bring the Light and Love of Christ into the world." But that's not really true. Really, I want people to get claimed. I want me to get claimed. Light and Love are a part of that, because He is Light and Love and when you belong to Him, you are that stuff too- but mostly- I just want to get claimed by Jesus, and I want other people to get claimed too. I want Him to look at all of the people who doubted and mocked and scoffed and rejected with His firey eyes and tell them all that they messed with the wrong girl. This is my greatest desire. And I'm willing to overcome conflict to get it.

So even when I still thought this was selfish and not quite Christian enough, I was fairly honest with Jesus about it. I'd pray things like, "So pretty much I want those people who blame me for stuff and who don't understand me and who question whether I'm really devoted to you to know that I belong to you and I've been working with you since I was 20. I would like for you to tell them that, because when I tell them that, they just get madder at me." And I thought that this was a lame sort of prayer, but I really wanted it, so I would pray it anyway. Then I went to BSF leader's retreat, and we studied the book of Revelation. I read Revelation 3:7-9

And Jesus said to me, "Meredith, I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who have blamed you, misunderstood you, falsely accused you- but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you."

My name isn't in the Bible, obviously, and this is a little different than what is written in Revelations 3:7-9. You should read it! I'm not trying to re-write Scripture, especially because John warned that if anyone added to the book of Revelation, God would add plagues to them- which is terrifying. But I took that message from Jesus really personally because there was my goal written in red ink in my NIV- it will be acknowledged that He has loved me.

In the day to day, I'm still figuring out the "overcomes conflict to get it" part, but I was really encouraged to know that what I want is legit, even to King Jesus. I guess that other people might not really care or think that it's selfish or they'd rather just talk about the weather, but I think it's a big deal that Jesus considers that worth writing down. He told John to write it on Patmos so that people like me could read it hundreds of years later, and be encouraged.

So editing and writing and living are still a messy process, but I'm encouraged because I think that Jesus is just as passionate about all of the elements of story-telling as I am. Why else would He have told John, "Write, therefore, what you have seen..." Revelation 1:19. I'm glad John wrote what Jesus told him to. Maybe someone else out there will be glad that I am writing what He tells me to.

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