Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why Young Authors are Tackling Tough Themes

Last year I read a lot of novels by teens and twenty-somethings, and it left me wrestling. All of them were gut-wrenching. A lot of them left me in tears. They were filled with a startling array of light and darkness, and I wanted to know why young people are eager to write the harder, braver things that they haven't even experienced. Nations torn by civil war. Friend betraying friend in the deepest possible way. What constitutes righteous warfare. How to respond when a parent is walking in sin. Bending the knee and turning the other cheek when the villain heaps abuse upon abuse and rubs salt in the wound. The books I read weren't filled with petty problems. They contained round after round of adult issues.

I look at author's Pinterest boards and see deep soul aches plastered all over them. Huge questions of where God is and how he is working in a world torn by so much evil. Young people want to know how to be a good friend when the going gets tough. How to exist in decent happiness when there is so much sin inside their own hearts. What to do about the devil lurking around the corner and trying to gain a foothold.

It's expressed in the literature, in the music, in the art of countless homeschool author-wanna-be's, and for a while that darkness disturbed me. I knew it was there, but I wondered is it a good thing?

I mean, come on. These authors probably had a variety of clothes to choose from in the morning; a hot breakfast and a heated house for the freezing winter months. They've probably seen death on their lifetime, but most of them haven't personally been affected by war and famine and plague. We're 21st-century rich Westerners for heaven's sake! With all this good fortune, why is it easier for them to write books wrestling with pain than a frothy, happy novel?

The truth is, I don't know if it's good. The trend is too young to mark its fruits yet. We're in a season of planting seeds, and the harvest of wheat and tares will appear later on. But I do have a few ideas.

First of all, these young authors want to write stories that deal with real hurt. I've always hated the moral phrase that when you're sad, you should just think of the starving children in India (or insert other country here) and realize how fortunate you are. The main idea is gratefulness, I know--but starving children in India don't negate the fact that even 21st century Westerners experience heartache. The prettiest makeup can hide traces of tears, and the most beautiful outfit can hide a soul that is flat-out bleeding inside. You don't have to be poor to experience emotional hardship.

I think for some writers (including me) there is something therapeutic in writing stories. I don't use my words to vent or take revenge; but I do use them to wrestle out pain and longing. When I began my novel I think my subconscious inserted life-themes to try to make sense of them. By the time I wrote the whole story it was too late to change it to something a little less personal. It is not merely my brain-child; it is my heart-child. And all the questions I have about God's working in a broken world (and my broken self) are in there.

Writing is a form of navigation; even a form of lamentation, on occasion. Perhaps also a form of surrender. As the characters find peace with their circumstances, in many cases so does the author. They write themselves into submission to God's working by bringing the characters to a place of submission too. They find courage when their characters find courage. They forgive when their characters forgive. It is a vicarious spiritual journey through the fictional people.

Writers are often quiet people. Their books express the heart cry of who they are--their questions, joys, sorrows, and struggles. I don't like saying that--there's nothing I'd like better than hiding in a box and letting those who really know guess it out--but it is true.

Secondly, I think, young writers write tough themes to make war on the culture. ISIS is torturing people to death, and why should young authors sit at home and write about trite, fluffy, happy-go-lucky things when the world is breaking, and our country is breaking--and Christians are breaking? They don't want another story about schoolroom crushes and their annoying kid brother. They crave the battles, the flat-out good against evil, the gut-wrenching, soul-bleeding character who accepts God's call to face the impossible odds. The characters are scarred and broken and their world is ripped to pieces--but they make it their business to fight for what matters, and the authors resonate with them. Most authors will never face what their characters face in a physical sense--battles and sword-play and espionage--but they face it every day wrestling with sin nature; they face the themes on a much lighter level in their own families and churches. They simply magnify them in story form to make it interesting.

The fact is, we're in a new generation of the church, and a new generation of stories. A lot of conservative Americans are nervous right now; our country is going down a path that many countries have gone, but that we aren't familiar with. Even small children know about homosexuality, transgender, and torturings that haven't been in the news for a couple of centuries. Young people are growing up in a different world; a harsher world; and their literature is going to reflect that. Life isn't idyllic. And their literature will probably reflect their wrestling as they face brand-new attacks on their faith.

As C.S. Lewis says, Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Readers need to know that their deepest soul fears can be beaten by the one who triumphs. Countless young people in the literary circles are making war on the expectations of the culture, and their own inner demons. Praise God, and may the fruit it bears be true and good.

Blessings,
Schuyler

18 comments:

  1. Lovely post! I really appreciated all the thoughts you had. :) <3 I liked how you mentioned that every person expresses his joys and hurts through his art form. Regarding writing, we can look to the writers of the Bible for an example. David wrestles through his writing in many of the Psalms before he finally reaches a conclusion. May this next generation find the healing and wholeness they desire as they continue to write their stories.

    Your post was so good that a quote popped into my head about it. ;)

    "Your post left us quite speechless...We have not quit talking about it since." (Miss Bates to Mr. Elton in the Gywneth Paltrow Emma) XD


    Love,
    Carrie-Grace

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    1. My dear, I have not quit laughing ever since. You are quite clever, which I think you knew. ;P

      Great example with David. Sometimes his range of emotions can be startling and even difficult to understand. I don't think I would go so far as to write poetry about knocking out the teeth of my enemies; but the Holy Spirit perfectly included it, and I'm glad we can use David's psalms to express our own pain and prayers. :)

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  2. I have to say, this is probably my most favorite of your posts which I have read. What's the point of writing about something petty which has no bearing on anything? Heartbreak, death, treachery -- these are the conflicts which really leave a mark.
    My friend Abby from A Glimpse of Starlight once wrote about this, and she pointed out that it's so much easier to write about the darkness and morbidity of life. It's what is in profusion around us. None of us live perfect fairy-tale lives. But I think sometimes we can get carried away and offer no hope through the darkness we depict in our tales. [*coughguiltycough*] Shouldn't our purpose be to show that beauty can arise from the broken things of life? That there's hope even through the darkest of circumstances? Yes, depicting brokenness is good, but only if hope is shown through it.

    ~Victoria

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    1. Dear Victoria,
      Like Abby, I too have often wondered why it is easier to write (and sometimes read) the harder, sadder things. They seem more satisfying in a way. But I agree with you; one must use self-control. After all, the devil likes us to dwell on darkness. But God likes us to use the darkness as a springboard to redemption and his perfect plan of hope. :)

      I'm so very glad you enjoyed this post. You are a young writer I highly respect and enjoy reading, and I look forward to where that talent will take you!

      And thank-you most kindly for your email! It made for a bright smile in my afternoon. :)

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  3. Wonderful post, Schuyler! Through all of history, there have been times when writers focus on knights and wars, periods of romance, and great times of philosophy and debate. But I agree that there has been a certain trend forming in younger adults' writings of today's literary circles, and that they possibly portray their inner, magnified fears and personal struggles through their works. In my book, I live through my main character, Angela, as she deals with the frustrations of a father (who is actually decent, contrary to my real life story :P), but she still deals with the same problems: being overly stubborn, rebellious, quick tempered. All the faults I actually have, unknowingly at the time, I built into my book's character. It's interesting and quite a nice surprise that you have felt the same way. :) We should have a call soon to discuss this. :D

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    1. It's interesting that so many generations of literature take a central theme and communicate it without setting out to do so. Take any time of war or oppression, and the hearts of the people always survive through literature. While I'm not sure what it is that is locking up the hearts of young people today, I think if we carefully study the literature of the times we can see the issues, sins, and fears that need to be addressed. And if we know what they are, then we can use story as a form of healing.

      You too?! Yes, we should have a call to discuss this! I'll try to get in touch soon and we can bounce around some possible times. :)

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  4. Wow Schuyler, very good post. I really appreciate that you notice such things and then wrestle them out until you have come to some manner of understanding. I have noticed similar things among up-and-coming young writers and your thoughts gave me much to think about as well as hope for the new generation of writers (myself included). I liked best actually the point you and Victoria were discussing about how showing the darkness and hardship is only valuable if you use it to make hope and redemption shine brighter. That actually is a lot of what inspires and drives me in my writing. This post came at the perfect time--thank you so much!
    --E.H. ;)

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    1. It has been on my mind for a while now, and I wrote part of it last week and finished it on Tuesday. I am glad you enjoyed it, and that it resonated with you. I was thinking, especially for me, I don't put in angst just for angst's sake, but sometimes I forget to draw out the hope as well, and that's really important.

      You, however, have a very balanced approach, which I always find refreshing. :) Very much like dear Samwise.

      ~Schuyler <3

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  5. I found this very interesting, yet did not have enough time to adequately read it at this time so I'm following your blog so I can come back and read more later when I have more focus time. :)

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    1. Thank-you for following, and I hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to read it again! :)

      ~Schuyler

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  6. Schuyler,

    This was a wonderful post. Parts of it reminded me of a quote I ran across on Pinterest from screenwriter/director Joss Whedon: "I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of." After reading this, I realize that my stories almost always center around people who exemplify traits I long for, and face things I fear.

    I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of darkness as a background to light—just look at the gospel! The whole Bible is one great, glorious saga of despair and hope, curse and redemption, death and resurrection. That is why the best stories contain both light and dark. I do fear, though, that our tendency to write "on the dark side" is not always done with a God-honoring motive. We should be careful that the darkness in our stories is not a secret way of indulging a delight in pain and evil, or letting out the worst and most broken parts of our souls with no intention of turning to God (in the story or in real life) for healing. I only say this because I have been guilty, and I dare say I am not the only one who struggles with such temptations.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post. May God bless all your writing, and continue to use it to accomplish His perfect will.

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    1. Even fiction authors leave their memoirs in their stories...But you know, that's my favorite kind, as long as it is a wrestling to a better good, and not just resigning oneself to the darkness.

      One of my greatest struggles in giving feedback to aspiring writers is how to tactfully bring up the fact that it is dark without much redemption. It hasn't happened often, but I have run across that dilemma occasionally. I fear I haven't figured that out yet.

      It is easy to delight in dramatic evil, without turning it to a better good. Thank-you for the caution and the addition to this discussion!

      Schuyler <3

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  7. Love this post! Totally agree about how annoying "think of the starving children in [insert non-Western country here]" and how writing is therapeutic. So glad it's not just me on either of those accounts.

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    1. It is always a comfort to know that in writing, as well as in life, we are not alone. Thanks for stopping by, Zara! :)

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  8. What a wonderful post, Schulyer! I don't really like the trend of darker and more mature themes in YA fiction. I can respect and understand that there are many dark things in this world, but that does not mean that I want to fill my mind with such things that only leave me feeling horrible. I think that it's important for YA books to tackle serious issues, but honest books are different from darker books, and they often show the other side of things: hope. I want to read books that explore human nature and the good and bad in life, but only if those books aren't excessively dark.

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    1. You are exactly right! Tough issues are a twofold thing. Authors need to take care to write tough themes in a redemptive way, but even so, that doesn't mean we always benefit by reading them! There are some issues that I don't face in my life, and reading about them would only pollute my mind, so I stay away! We have to prayerfully evaluate what we really need to read to make us stronger. :)

      You might actually enjoy another article I wrote for readers called Tall Tales: Comfort With Sin Equals Maturity: http://ladybibliophile.blogspot.com/2014/11/tall-tales-comfort-with-sin-equals.html

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Ana! I really enjoyed your thoughts. :)

      ~Schuyler

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  9. Dearest Schuyler,

    It has taken me a while to get to comment on this post, but I just wanted to say that I was truly inspired by it; indeed, I think you touched on a very important theme or emotion found in us, younger authors, these days - our desire to write the raw and deep and sometimes more tragic, darker tales, being an echo of an ache we have in ourselves for the suffering, darkness and curse Creation is daily groaning under. It can be so hard to write on the lighter, more trivial side of life when brothers and sisters in Christ are being tortured and killed for their faith and suffer horrific sacrifices day by day in other parts of the world where their faith costs them something very dear - it somehow feels wrong, you know?. . . And even within our more sheltered lives, many of us homeschooled young ladies will go through deep inner griefs and aches of the heart - questions, doubts and the deepest hurts. And yet, we also need to write HOPE! We need to write the beauty amid the ugliness, the light amid the darkness, the joy and hope in the Lord in the midst of tragedy and despair. You really touched on that beautifully, I think, Schuyler.

    Writing is a form of navigation; even a form of lamentation, on occasion. Perhaps also a form of surrender. As the characters find peace with their circumstances, in many cases so does the author. They write themselves into submission to God's working by bringing the characters to a place of submission too. They find courage when their characters find courage. They forgive when their characters forgive. It is a vicarious spiritual journey through the fictional people. . . Writers are often quiet people. Their books express the heart cry of who they are--their questions, joys, sorrows, and struggles. I don't like saying that--there's nothing I'd like better than hiding in a box and letting those who really know guess it out--but it is true.

    Yes, oh yes! Those two paragraphs just stood out to me as something I have felt deeply for myself as well. I think this may well be one of my favourite posts on "My Lady Bibliophile" by the way. God bless and lots of love!

    P.S. that email of mine is in the works, pinky promise! :)

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  10. Thank-you for your sweet words of encouragement, Joy. I am glad this post resonated with you. All glory to God!

    In our Bible study last night we were going through Numbers 20 (where God forbids Moses from entering the Promised Land) and Psalm 90 (where Moses is lamenting the shortness of life). In this Psalm he takes the things that are most grieving him and reorients them so that God's power and sovereignty are at the center. I think that is the crux of this issue, and how we can balance darkness and hope. It is not wrong to include grievous things, as long as by the time we are done, our attention and the reader's is fixed on our Lord again. Easier said than done, but that should be our goal. :) Just some further thinking I was doing on the topic.

    Lots of love your way, dear friend. Be of good courage, and persevere! :)
    Schuyler

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