|pinterest: tempus regina|
The main character is a Scotland Yard Inspector, laid up for several weeks after an injury incurred on the job. To keep him engaged while he's lying on his back staring at the ceiling, a friend brings him a collection of portraits from historical cold cases - everyone from Mary, Queen of Scots to Louis XVII, the boy-king. Only one of them, however, catches Grant's eye: a painting of Richard III. Intrigued by the story of how the wicked uncle murdered his innocent nephews, Grant begins to conduct a police investigation from his hospital bed. An acquaintance assists by conducting all the research, and the story progresses methodically through back-and-forth conversation between the two men.
Unsurprisingly, this also gets old. It would be bound to get old in any story that takes place within the same four walls with - let me think - one main character and only about five other people who regularly drift through to talk. But I realized not far into the book that part of the oldness had to do less with those factors and more with the story not actually being a story. It is a vindication of Richard III, plain and very simple. Now, I happen to take an interest in Richard and could follow Tey's arguments with relative equanimity; but even agreeing, I was extraordinarily peeved by the authoress' tactic. Because it becomes apparent as soon as Richard III's portrait shows up that what you, reader, are getting is Tey's opinion en toto, as articulated by Character 1 and Character 2 with occasional prompting from Random Other Peoples. It isn't a novel, it's just, well, historical preachiness.
The Daughter of Time is an extreme case, and I would go so far as to wager that Tey intended for it to be. The trouble, however - the trouble of an invasive author, if I could put it that way - is one that crops up and should crop up before every writer. We've all heard books described as "too preachy." It's usually applied to Christian fiction, and it is all too easy to stick our noses in the air and determine that people only say that because there is no longer a belief in objective truth. Which is very probably the case, but does nothing to alleviate the issue as far as good writing is concerned.
We all have, or ought to have, core beliefs. If we think we don't, it is only that we don't know what those core beliefs are; and at that point we had either better not write, or better keep our writing private, for the world doesn't need anymore hem-hah-ing and prevaricating. So I'll start with the statement that we all have beliefs, and that on some level, we desire our writing to reflect that. We hardly want readers thinking we condone abortion, or adultery, or marriage between believers and unbelievers, when we think just the opposite. And oftentimes we not only don't want readers getting the wrong impression, but we also have an overdeveloped desire for them to get the right one. As in, I-must-cram-the-Gospel-Jesus-and-the-Bible-in-if-I-want-to-honor-God-SOHELPME.
It is not a wholly unreasonable wish, and I am not here to tell writers exactly what balance to strike. But if we desire to write a good story (which, I believe, is just as God-honoring and perhaps even more so than working in the Gospel inappropriately), we must be more attune to the characters themselves and not so quick to override their individual personalities. We must let them be who they are. Sayers mentioned this several times in regard to her famous character Lord Peter Wimsey, whom her Christian readers badgered her to "save" - and she ignored them, because it was not part of the character. In a lesser sense, this is also true whenever a character of ours begins talking, especially about anything theological or philosophical. Obviously we don't want to be seen as wrong ourselves, or propagate wrong-thinking, so we are more likely to switch into the mode of writing exactly what we believe to be truth in as clear a way as possible. We do a little ventriloquy act through our characters, and an astute reader can tell.
Too often we think that in our writing we've got to try to evangelize not just the characters, but the readers - even though it is biblically clear that God ordained that work to be done through His Word preached, not through fiction. Our business is to craft a good story, to let the characters think and say what they would think and say "if free-moving and placed within the literary field." If that means that they think and say something wrong, well, then they shall. It is my opinion that our core beliefs will show through the story in some manner; it just shouldn't be through ventriloquy.
“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
g. k. chesterton