For a little while now I’ve been meaning to write about my progress on Gray Area. The short version is that I’m well past the 50K mark and have been writing at a pace worthy of NaNoWriMo. When I’m on, I’m really on.
I had a post worked up about how dark this book was getting, how it’s taking me to some weird places. The book was always going to be a little dark at its core; there’s no escaping that there’s gonna be some serious slaughter. The questions underpinning how and why that’s done are what (I hope) make the book interesting. But tonight the narrative took me in a direction I wasn’t entirely expecting.
A few of the characters so far have been more overtly religious, but I’ve just written a conversation between the main character and a priest that puts things in an interesting light. It was inevitable that religious principles should come into play, but this moment turned out to be more powerful—at least as far as I’m concerned—than I had planned. There’s no big aha moment and conversion, or anything like that. It’s just a simple matter of a guy feeling low, and the priest (a former chaplain) he’s talking to giving his own perspective and offering to pray with him.
I can’t help but wonder, having written that scene, if it will come off at all preachy. As a reader, I hate preachy; I don’t like when a writer is obviously keen on persuading me to think something I fundamentally disagree with. I didn’t write the scene that way, but it’s really hard to be objective about that. People who are outright hostile to religion may find the whole thing distasteful. The worst book I ever read preached at me incessantly that utopia can actually work; I’d have respected it more had it made an impassioned case that 2 and 2 add up to 5, because that’s far less insulting to my intelligence. Doubtless there are those who look at religion the same way, but I would hope they could accept a character speaking from the heart for what it was, rather than a case of forceful narration.
Yet I can’t help it if they see it that way. Heck, as a Christian, this isn’t something I’m supposed to shy away from. We don’t take risks in talking to people because there’s always the feeling that they’ll think we’re out to get another tally on the scoreboard. Perhaps some are; and that’s a stupid way to approach sharing one’s faith, because it’s not about us. But writing a Christian character from a Christian perspective is something I should at least be able to do. He’s not in it for the scoreboard either; maybe that will come across sincerely, and maybe it won’t.
Robert Heinlein was one of my favorite authors; he was all about speaking through his characters. I never minded that because they mostly said intelligent, common-sense stuff. But as a rule I don’t like heavy-handedness, and I don’t want to be perceived as trying to sneakily say something through a character. At least not in this instance. The way things were playing out, this scene had to happen the way it did. The question is, will readers accept that? Can the scene have the emotional impact I’m hoping for, yet avoid pushing people’s hot buttons?