(archival post, first published in Catapult Magazine, April 2004)
"Our stories are inextricably interwoven. What you do is part of my story; what I do is part of yours."
"Many of the characters are fools and they're always playing tricks on me and treating me badly."
-Jorge Luis Borges
I've often thought that the common idea that authors "play God" as they write about characters and develop their stories does a disservice to God, implying that he's up there writing away, and we scurry along down here as his fingers tap out our next move on the keys.
Perhaps I am reading too much into it. After all, one of the reasons I like the Borges quote above—the same reason some find it pretentious—is that it suggests that the characters he has created continually do things he doesn't want them to do. Is he saying that he can't (or won't) control his own characters? That they somehow participate in their own stories?
The process of writing a novel has given me a new appreciation for the analogy. Before I began actually writing, I spent a length of time developing the characters and situating them in their communities. I determined their birthdays and did research about what was happening in the world at various points in their lives. I explored formative events in their growth, experiences that affected their personalities and decision-making in the present even though they were rooted in the past. I determined how the characters fit together, how each one of their stories was entangled with each other's. I even recorded birthdays and significant events on my wall calendar as if they were my roommates or siblings.
Taking this history and research, I entered the story. I soon realized that the characters would do things that I knew they'd wish they hadn't done later, and that those things would sometimes have negative effects on other characters' lives. I couldn't make them do whatever I wanted them to—at least not without violating them. If I were going to change something they were doing, at times it would have involved changing them by force.
With this in mind, viewing God as a writer sheds fresh light on the free will vs. predestination debate, and it raises interesting questions about the times in our lives when we ask, "How could God allow this to happen?"
The more I think about it, the more apt this analogy seems. But I usually come at the analogy backwards, taking what I know of my relationship as an author to my writing, and applying it to God's relationship to his creation. That's normal—we usually start from our perspective and work outwards. I need to remember that my experience of an infinitely lesser relationship is pale in comparison to the true thing, the same way that my relationships are a poor reflection of what they should be, and that even my experience of good leaves me looking through a glass, darkly. No metaphor is perfect.
Of course, the only reason that I can make any comparison at all between my relationship with my writing and God's relationship with the cosmos is that writing is a particular manifestation of God's image reflected in us. We are, to borrow from Tolkien, "co-creators" with God, and we can participate in our own stories.
I write fiction because I image God. I write my life in tandem with him for the same reason, and because he desires a relationship with me. As I work on writing my part, it's exciting to know that the master storyteller is at work writing his Word around me, beneath me, above me, on my left, on my right, behind me, before me, and within me.