[This post first appeared on the International Christian Fiction Writers blog].
One of the casualties of our society’s desire to develop and get more sophisticated has been the time we spend on things or people. It’s as if we have reduced the very nature of our interaction with each other to as little room as we feel we can afford to give it.
Our society Googles issues, reads one article and feels like it’s informed. (If any research is done at all).
Large scale conversations – about the future of our planet or the future of our families – have been reduced to 140 characters, complete with a cool hashtag and a series of emojis.
We read about someone overcoming great odds (whether that’s health or poverty or discrimination) in a 200-word news article and follow up Facebook post.
Our support for friends in need has sometimes been reduced to clicking Like or sending them an animated gif.
Politicians’ entire platforms, their audition to run a whole nation, are reduced to three-word soundbites with next to no detail. (In the USA, there was “Build that wall” and “I’m with her”. In Australia, we had “Jobs and Growth”.)
(Just as an aside: I wonder if that has any kind of causal relationship with how angry people are. I run into this undercurrent of angst in a range of topics almost every day, and I wonder if its because people just don’t feel like they’re heard or understood).
So how have we arrived at this point? I think one reason could be because understanding people or getting your head around issues is the perception we don’t have time. Our media is now on a 24/7 news cycle so it believes it has little time to actually check a story (or facts) because of the perceived pressure of missing out on the next one. We don’t stop and find out what’s really going on with someone because we’ve got to rush off to the next event which will make our life worthwhile because it adds another item to the list of “things we get done”. Which we can then post on social media for people to Like in passing.
To me, that has left us with a society that doesn’t appear to have much depth at all. I want to dive deeper into life.
You know, there is one part of society in which I still find depth, and I’m glad it’s there. I’m glad I can lose myself in it.
There is nothing better than taking time – or increasingly making time – to dive into another world. That doesn’t necessarily mean a world far removed from my own with talking trees and Knights of the Realm, but instead a world of someone else’s experience.
Over the course of the story, I go deeper into life with someone else. I experience the highs of their successes and the shared joy of them overcoming the challenges they face. I commiserate with them as I learn about their successes. I sit on the edge of my seat as I watch on as they are at the crossroads, facing life decisions that we know are the right or wrong thing for them. I take time to get to know them.
And I learn about myself. I explore issues that are couched in the story of another, allowing me to see principles and life lessons in action.
For me, there is only one thing better than reading a story like that.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about throwing myself into a manuscript is the process. Getting to know characters as they unveil themselves after I’ve spent time with them means I’ve changed their speech patterns or introduced a phrase that I hear them speaking if I stop and listen for long enough. Going back to a scene I thought was good and deepening it or throwing in a curveball, because I now know that character wouldn’t know what to do in that situation.
It encourages me to think deeper about the real world, about real people and real issues. I find myself spending time listening to people about what they believe and asking the second question of ‘why?’ I’m almost studying them for mannerisms or reactions to when life is going well (or not).
It means, in order to understand my characters or storyline better – and to be a better writer – I am thinking deeper about issues to do with mental health, poverty, the environment, loneliness, social media, the media or work-life balance.
Maybe everyone should be a writer.
They’d be spending a bit more time looking into life if they were.