Warning: this post contains discussion of religion and faith and stuff. I know 99% of the people who read this are mature and nice. Haters, go away. Yes, I consider myself a Christian. If you don’t, fine. But no hating, on me or anyone who comments on this post, whatever their views.
Sometimes I struggle to separate writing from real life.
I struggle to work out which of the thoughts in my head are mine, and which belong to my characters. I struggle to know whether it’s okay for my characters to speak or behave in certain ways when I don’t do that, even though I know they’re not me – should my protagonists swear, when I don’t tend to (at least in public)? Should they say ‘Oh my god’ when I don’t like the phrase? Does it even matter what my characters do?
And recently I’ve been struggling with my faith because of writing.
Many of you will know that I’m writing a book about the apocalypse this November. I’ve been doing a lot of research, reading extrabiblical and apocryphal texts, as I’ve mentioned here before. And I also said that I was unsure ‘how’ to read the extrabiblical texts: do I read them as I’d read the Bible, or do I read them as I’d read Celtic mythology?
I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal for me when I fictionalise aspects of the Christian faith, especially when they’re the lesser-known parts that my church denomination doesn’t recognise as part of the Bible, but I’ve got a few ideas.
I think it’s because I use mythology. I use myths and legends and steal what I want from them to write books. The Death and Fairies trilogy uses Celtic myths (the Dagda, the lennán sidhe, the phouka…). A novel I began a while ago, but have not had the opportunity to complete, is formed on a base of Norse mythology, particularly focusing on Alfheim and Svartalfheim (the lands of the elves / dark elves). Legacy and Memory were Celtic mythology, as was Beneath the Branches. Most of these are novels that will never go anywhere, but I wrote them. I’m currently working on a short story that is an adaptation of a Welsh myth.
I took what I wanted from the mythology and I ignored the rest. I made up stuff to fill in the gaps and I interpreted contradictions as I wanted. Because I believe they’re stories and nothing more, I’m happy to play around with them.
And yet when it comes to my faith I’m afraid to do that. If I start fictionalising part of it, how long will it be before all of it is a story to me?
Many of you may not understand where I’m coming from, especially if you believe the Bible to be ‘just stories’ anyway. I understand that talking about my faith so publicly can be a risk these days; people are quick to judge, especially on the internet. And yet it’s something I can’t keep to myself any more.
People include God in stories all the time. He appears because the characters believe in God. Or because they don’t. He appears because it’s the end of the world or because something is happening.
People include the devil, too – usually more often. Satan or Lucifer turns up in all sorts of stories and TV shows and films, usually in the context of the apocalypse but sometimes more here-and-now.
The show Supernatural uses demons the entire time. From series four onwards, angels are pretty major players as well. I’ve not got as far as the part where Cas is God and have no idea how that works, but I know it’s coming. Then there are books like Good Omens, which have heaven and hell, and even though they’re absolutely hilarious there are probably people who are offended by them.
On the one hand, refusing to ‘fictionalise’ any aspects of faith is like saying you can’t ‘fictionalise’ any aspects of real life. But I write my friends into books all the time, sneakily – often, they wouldn’t notice it themselves – and places I’ve been and things I’ve done. That doesn’t mean I start to think of those people as fictional: I recognise the version in my books as separate, just as the events that I exaggerate and embroider in my books are separate from their origins.
Yet at the same time, I’m wary of making things up to fill in the gaps when taking elements from books like Enoch, even though they’re so apocryphal they’re extrabiblical. (Confused? I’m following on from this.) I’m worried about offending people by including actual Biblical angels like Raphael, who is a major character in my NaNo novel this year. I’m worried that using my faith in fiction will make it harder for me to believe it.
I need to separate myself from my writing, but it’s just one instance where it’s hard. It’s really hard.
Probably, I find it difficult because I’m struggling anyway. Because nothing I believe is solid enough for me to separate fiction from fact. I’ve had a lot of moments recently when I’ve thought, “I don’t know what I think about this.” I don’t know what I believe when it comes to Hell and judgement, okay? Don’t keep asking me, I’m confused enough!
I can fictionalise my friends, but I don’t feel comfortable fictionalising God, even though I’m continually taught that the whole basis of the faith I’ve come to call my own is the ‘relationship’ between us and God. Hmm. Something’s not right there.
So I’m struggling. And I’m confused. And I blame my writing, yet I’m not going to stop, because this story is consuming my mind and I cannot contemplate the idea of not writing it.
Have you ever had anything similar? If you follow a particular religion or faith, do you find that you can’t include it in your writing, and if so, what’s your advice?