The Rules of My Universe
In maintaining the rules of the world I’ve created with strokes of a pen, I have a better appreciation for why God doesn’t always intervene in our lives.
Different genres of literature are set in various times and places, and it’s important for authors to maintain the rules of their particular universes. In Historic novels, they can’t utilize technology that hadn’t yet been invented. Authors of Fantasy and Science Fiction must describe the limitations of their universes and stick with them, otherwise, they won’t be able to effectively create tension or the readers won’t be able to suspend their disbelief.
I write contemporary fiction because I love the real world—but I also hate it. When I drive my kids to school, I glory in the beauty of the sunrise over the Portage Canal, but I despise ALS and the toll it takes on caregivers and people with the disease who don’t have basic needs met.
We’re in a better situation than many, and I appreciate the support from family and friends, but life is still hard as a full-time caregiver for my darling husband, who is now paralyzed. Meanwhile, I battle my own chronic health issues, and I cry out to heaven, “Jesus, won’t you please come back? God, this is too hard. Why won’t you heal Todd? At least heal me so I can better care for him and our kids. Help!”
I pray for a cure for ALS, some medicine that would at least stop the progression. Better yet, I’d love to see divine intervention. A miracle. Poof, ALS is gone, and my best friend can walk. We’d go on vacation and build sandcastles on a beach in Florida with the kids.
Alas, those are not the rules of the universe we live in, nor of the universe, I’ve created on Copper Island. My characters experience the pain of life, and they’re frustrated when there are no easy answers.
One of the hardest parts of writing is to resolve tension and conflict organically, to let it play out. As I write, I get to know my characters, and they become friends. I want good for them—after all, there’s a lot of me and others I love in them. But inevitably, because of the world in which they live, my characters get in situations where they feel like there’s no hope, and as the author, the god of my fictional universe, I don’t even know how they’ll find a resolution.
With the stroke of a pen, I could employ deus ex machina, or god from the machine, a literary device used in Greek tragedies. At the dark moment, when all hope is lost, a crane would lower onto the stage an actor playing a god, who would resolve the conflict and conclude the drama. But if I tried this, it wouldn’t feel authentic.
Instead, my characters must grow through whatever tragedy they face. And growth is hard. Just as there are no easy transformations in our real lives, change doesn’t come easily in my fictional world. I write my characters into a corner, and they need to work through the messiness of life.
In my novel Copper Country, I would’ve liked for Aimee to have the kind of relationship she wanted with her dad, but there’s no easy cure for narcissism in real life. I would’ve liked for Russ’s parents to embrace Aimee, but the Saarinens held firmly to the sectarianism of their church. Anything else wouldn’t have felt true to character, true to the universe I created. So instead of these situations getting better, Aimee gets better and perseveres.
When my daughter was eight, I was reading her a story from a Children’s Bible in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God, ate the apple, and sin entered the world.
“It’s all their fault,” she bemoaned, absorbed in the story. And then she remarked, “On the bright side, there wouldn’t be mysteries or exciting movies if they hadn’t sinned.”
There is no story without conflict.
In our story, God subjected all of creation to futility. There’s a cosmic battle between good and evil, and an internal battle within our hearts and minds. We face loss. Tragedy. Broken relationships. Health issues. Internal angst. We struggle with faith in a God who can seem distant and absent. How can a loving, all-powerful God allow his children to suffer?
I can’t answer that question, but when I press hard, it gives way to a different question as I consider my creative pursuit of writing. Could have God created a different world in which we didn’t suffer?
Perhaps God could have written our story in a different genre, with different rules for our universe, but in doing so the world as we know it would cease to exist. We would cease to exist as we are.
My life story takes place in a messy, broken, sorrowful world, but it also contains beauty, joy, glory, and love. But when this story ends and the book is closed, I’ll enter a new world where the rules of the universe contain no evil or suffering. Only love.