Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Mirror of Fiction

Someone smart once described fiction as a mirror that the writer holds up in an attempt to let the reader see him or herself. So true. What I long for is deeper than just an entertaining experience for my reader (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for entertaining…in fact, if the reader isn’t entertained, we’ve lost). I want my reader to form an emotional bond with the protagonist and experience emotion themselves. Vicariously. And in the process, I want them to see a reflection of themselves.
The reader sees a character in a novel experiencing a challenge or conflict. If the emotional bond is strong, the reader will quickly make the next jump: if this character can overcome, so can I!
And so we delve to plunge our protagonists into misery. Deep, complex problems that we would so abhor in our own lives, but love in our fiction. We want vicarious conflict, not real pain!
As I thought about this, I thought about my own emotional bonds to my characters. Honestly, the themes in my novels grow straight from the areas that God seems to be working into my own soul. My protagonists are often driven. So am I. My characters struggle with trying to be accepted on the basis of performance instead of grace. My characters need to learn grace. Well, no surprise, I do too. If I am struggling to find healing of a soul wound, you can bet that eventually, when I’ve healed enough to process it on paper, my characters will find similar healing.
I heard once that some psychiatrists go into the field in order to assist themselves in working through their own issues. Could it be that we writers do the same? I doubt if I will find anyone willing to admit that this is the main reason, but certainly the Holy Spirit’s dealings in our personal lives makes wonderful fodder for plots.
Now, the last thing I want is for my readers to take this thought to an uncomfortable place: just because my characters (particularly my antagonists) have evil, murderous thoughts…don’t imagine that I do too!
Readers, I want you to see yourself in my books. So take up the mirror of fiction and dream that you can overcome.
At the same time, I’m giving you a little glimpse into my own soul. You might say that the mirror becomes window every now and then.
Have a wonderful, grace-filled holiday season,


  1. I hadn't thought of it as a mirror, but I definitely experience this with the best writers. A few of my friends sort of disdain Christian fiction, saying they only read non-fiction. I always tell them I learn more spiritual lessons from fiction than non-fiction. (And it's generally a lot more interesting to read!)

  2. I've often thought of it this way: My character holds up a mirror for the reader to see himself.

    Taking this away from my writing, my work, I can apply this kind of thinking to my everyday life......if I am feeling, doing, experiencing, dreaming.....whatever the"ïng"word may be.......I can feel assured that I am not alone. There are many feeling, doing, experiencing, or dreaming the same dream. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your insights.

    And come visit...

    I wish you all the best.
    Audrey, Elliot Lake, Canada

  3. Audrey, C. S. Lewis said, We read to know that we are not alone. I think the same could be said of writing. As a writer, I long for readers to say, "That's exactly how I feel."

    Harry, don't you ever have evil, murderous thoughts? I thought writing fiction was the place to work out all those feelings. I once heard someone at a conference say that the nice thing about writing murder mysteries was being able to do all sorts of evil things to the character who was a stand-in for the one who had hurt her. Not very Christian, I know, but I think David would have understood.

  4. Harry, I like the way you put this! I think we can all find a little of ourselves in our own characters. And if we are able to identify with them, it is the hope that our readers will too!
    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas as well.

  5. Very interesting as well as challenging to any writer of fiction. Thank you for sharing your heart, Harry.