I <3 Allegory

Believe it or not, The Field is not the only allegory I’ve ever written.  I love allegory.  Sometimes when I’m having difficulty expressing something, I take it back to an allegory or metaphor to better illustrate my point.  It helps me clarify my own thoughts about things.  (Sarcasm also does this for me, but I’ve come to find that allegory is just more pleasant for everyone involved).

Without further ado, my three most recent allegories (besides The Field).

Feast, Perfectly Adequate Meal, Snack Crackers: (More) Thoughts On Waiting:

Let’s say you’re about to make yourself a sandwich with a side of apple slices and a tall glass of water.

“Wait,” says your mom, “I’m making your very favorite meal in just a little bit.”

So you put all of the stuff for your sandwich away, because it’s your mom and you believe her, and you’d rather wait for your favorite meal anyway.

Several hours pass, and you’re getting hungry again.  Well, to be honest, you never stopped being hungry to begin with, you were just distracted by the prospect of something better.  Your mom is nowhere to be found, even though she said she was going to make your favorite meal in the world.  You’re starting to doubt whether she’ll make a meal at all, let alone your favorite.

Finally, you get tired of waiting, and you decide to make that sandwich anyway, except you open the refrigerator and discover that your little sister has used up all of the sandwich fixings on her own sandwich.  You’re a little bit angry at her, even though you reason with yourself that you shouldn’t be: after all, you’re the one who didn’t capitalize on that sandwich opportunity.  After all, what’s wrong with a sandwich? Your little sister certainly couldn’t tell you…(Read More)

What’s Inside Comes Out:

I once heard an illustration from the great Hudson Taylor.  Well, not from him, exactly, but from a preacher who attributed it to him.  Regardless, this illustration is now stuck in my mind.

Let’s say we have a glass of water, and it gets knocked over.  What happens?

“Well,” you might say, “you have a big mess to clean up.”

You’re missing my point, I think, so I try to rephrase my question.  What if it’s a glass of orange juice?

“Duh,” you say, “the orange juice goes everywhere.”

You are correct, of course, but still not understanding my point.

Whether we have a glass of water, or orange juice, or pop, or milk, or nothing at all, one thing is sure:  when that glass is knocked over, what is inside comes out(Read More)

The Master’s House:

Dear Cook,

How long has it been since you and the gardener and I came to work in the master’s house?  You have been given specific instructions regarding food and meals, he has been given specific instructions regarding horticulture, and I have been given specific instructions regarding the children. In spite of our different functions, we work in the same house, for the same family and there is a certain code of conduct required of us all: how we treat the family we work for, how we treat each other, and how we present the family when we leave the house. We each do our own parts and adhere to what is expected of us: you cook, he gardens, and I care for the children.

Of course there is the small problem of the butler.  He oversees the smooth running of the household, and while that may occasionally mean getting onto one of the staff if we are lagging behind, he has taken it upon himself more and more to micromanage us.  He insists on us doing every thing his way, even though many of the things he insists on us doing have not been specified by the master.  It seems our butler has forgotten that this is not his house, and he is not the master… (Read More)

Honestly, I believe allegory is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.  Some people think allegory deadens a point, but to a mind like mine, it really brings it alive.

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Literary Influences

A few weeks ago, a writing friend asked who my author influences are, and more specifically which authors most influenced writing The Field.  It made me realize I have been influenced by a lot of authors in my lifetime, not just as a reader, but as a writer as well.

My dad introduced me to authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, George McDonald, Brian Jacques, and David and Karen Mains.  My mom introduced me to authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Charles Dickens.  My oldest sister introduced me to John Bunyan, Michael Bond (Paddington Bear), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona).  Somewhere in there J. K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman were also introduced, and I independently discovered Margaret and H. A. Rey, Peggy Parish, Sarah Dessen, Stephen King, (and I’m going to make a BIG jump here) Ayn Rand, Mary Shelley, Rainer Maria Rilke, Joyce Carol Oates and Doris Lessing.

Not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty well-read and broadly-influenced.  Whether I like it or not, who I read influences what and how I write.

I have always aspired to be like the authors my mom introduced me to.  In the tradition of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen, I’ve been writing stories about sisters from the get-go.  I love exploring the dynamic of sisterhood, and it’s something the aforementioned authors do really well.  I also love (love, love, love) Charles Dickens’ take on humanity and his stellar character development, and I’ve always desired to emulate that in my own work.

Much as I enjoy the authors my dad brought into my life, it has never been my goal to create new worlds in my writing.  And I certainly never intended to be a writer who used another world for the purpose of allegory or parallels to our own world.  And yet, The Field is an allegory that takes place in a different world.  Being honest, my writing going forward will be taking a similar vein.

Now, I still don’t have the subtlety of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or the comprehensive nature of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and I wouldn’t want you to think that I do.  That’s the beauty of where I am as a writer, though, right?  I’m just starting out; I have a lifetime (however long that may be) to develop my craft through many different stories and books.

If I had to choose an author that most closely and clearly influenced The Field, it would be David and Karen Mains in their Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I hadn’t read these books in years until this week, hadn’t even thought of them until this question came up, but I correctly remembered them being deeply allegorical.  They are more marketed to children, where The Field is intended for a more mature audience, and the two have different characters and storylines, but I think the overall purpose and message are very similar.

Thing is, allegory is not everyone’s cup of tea, just as not everyone likes Dickens or poetry or science fiction.  I think that’s okay, but that’s also why I don’t intend to market The Field too terribly specifically, but rather to minds that can see parallels in the characters and conversations to real-life philosophies and occurrences.  For that reason, The Field will never be wildly popular, like Harry Potter, Narnia, or The Lord of the Rings.  Even if only a handful of people like it, it will have been well worth my while to write it.

I look at Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance.  I’m betting most people who regularly read my blog have never even heard of them or if they have, they might only vaguely remember them.  Me, I remember them vividly from having read them many years ago.  They got under my skin and impacted me.  Along with a colorful edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, these stories are what got me interested in allegory.  Ultimately, that interest is what prompted me to write The Field.  And this is about what I expect for The Field – niche interest.

Now don’t get me wrong, someday I hope to be an author who writes an allegory so compelling even people who hate allegory won’t be able to put it down, but as Aragorn says (in the movie), “This is not that day.”  I’m just starting to flex my fiction writing muscle: I expect it to strengthen, book by book.  I know that a few years down the road I’m going to have written bigger and better things than The Field, but I will always be glad I wrote it and had the courage to put it “out there” at all.

That’s how the authors I’ve read have influenced me!

Characters: How far gone is too far gone?

“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” ~Miss Prism, The Importance of Being Earnest

Okay, so confession: I first watched The Importance of Being Earnest around a month ago with my family.  Before that time, I had never read or seen the play.  (I know, I know.  I am going to sit myself in a corner just as soon as I finish this). Anyway, this particular quote provoked an unladylike snort  from me.

On one hand, the idea of a person getting what’s coming to them is incredibly appealing to me. Since that doesn’t happen often in my real world experiences, a big part of me likes this ideal to be upheld in fiction at least.  You know, what goes around, comes around.  Karma. You reap what you sow.  All of that.

On the other hand, where is the redemption, the grace in that?

I really like the TV Show Once Upon a Time.  I mean, I really like it.  The characters are all so human, even the bad ones.  None of them are purely good, and none of them are completely evil.  I think that is the show’s strength (it’s relatable), and it’s also its weakness. The show almost seems to be in denial about the existence of sheer evil – it is too concerned with its villains’ motivations.  I love Regina and how she’s trying, and even Rumpel has his moments,  I just happen to think there is a level of evil that is only motivated by evil itself: straight up evil.

At what point do creators of these characters look at them and determine that enough is enough? That they cannot be redeemed? That they have made an irrevocable, damnable choice that they cannot recover from? How is that decision made?

While writing The Field, I had a character I wanted to destroy at the end.  A character that absolutely, positively had it coming.  But when I came up on the time for this character to be destroyed, I found myself with a dilemma.  Rather than wanting to destroy this character, I wanted this character to find redemption instead,  but because I’m a big believer in grace and mercy.  But what about what this character deserved? What about all of the terrible things this character had done?

I wrestled for a long time before I made a decision about the fate of that character. (No, I’m not going to tell you what I decided. You’re just going to have to read The Field for yourself!) Honestly, I’m still wrestling – not with The Field, but with how I will handle this in my future writing.

So fellow character creators and consumers…

Are there things a character really cannot come back from? What point is that for you?

If there is nothing a character cannot come back from, is there such a thing as absolute evil?

And what are the real life implications of how we deal with redemption and evil in fiction?