A Few Thoughts On Faith And Fiction

Today’s post by Laura Benedict | @LauraBenedict

Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict

I get a lot of questions about why a perfectly normal-looking woman like me writes dark, gothic stories in which very bad things happen. Sure, I look like someone’s idea of a soccer mom, and I am an unapologetic Christian, but I don’t see much of a contradiction. My work is my work, and have I mentioned that I write fiction?

Like every writer, I first had to give myself permission to write the stories that presented themselves to me. For that’s how it works: A story shows up in the form of an image, or a single idea, and I uncover the rest. Some writers who start very young aren’t conscious of giving themselves permission. They simply write without question. I only began writing in my mid-twenties, and I was a timid writer at first, alarmed by the rather grim direction in which my writing thoughts wandered. My stories were usually about teenagers doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing, often at the behest of someone older, and much more devious. I mined my own life indirectly, and felt a distressing sense of shame. I’ve always imagined that sense of shame was a leftover from my Roman Catholic girlhood, but I think it came from a number of places.

I wrestled with this shame. I worried about what my parents would think, what my in-laws would think. What the people at church would think. I assumed that they would think I was a bad person because of the disturbing subject matter of my stories. And there were, indeed, people who told me they thought my work was harmful. It made writing difficult, to say the least. I had a vision of what my work might be, but I was afraid of it.

Each time I prayed for help with my work, I was terrified that the response would be, “I’ll help you, but you need to be writing things that are uplifting. Take a look at the shelves at the Perfect Christian Book Store, and write something that might work there. There’s enough creepy stuff in the world, and we don’t want to contribute to that vibe. Be a good person.” I was asking for help, but didn’t want to get in a wrangle about what I should be writing. If you have any sort of formal relationship with God yourself, you probably know that this sort of bargaining isn’t the way things work. I’ve heard people say that God isn’t like a gumball machine—You don’t put your quarter/prayer in, and get an immediate gumball/result. But I think that prayer is exactly like a gumball machine. You put your quarter in, hoping, hoping, praying for a blue gumball, but you’re just as likely to get pink, white, or green one. And the green one tastes weird, but you’re stuck with it.

If my petitions and expectations sound incredibly immature and juvenile, it’s probably because they were. I didn’t understand that I don’t have much choice in what I’m given to write. We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, and God doesn’t always give us clear directions. (See free will.). I was trying to bargain, but God wasn’t playing. He’d known what I needed long before I asked.

I write stories of escape. Escape into fictional worlds. Safe excursions into scary places that are easy to leave behind once the sun comes up, or the tv comes on, or the toddler mashes a handful of peas in her hair. It’s all make-believe. Sure, there are some plausible parts, and some disturbing parts—but that’s what makes them stories, yes?

Mine is an unusual gift, and not one appreciated by everyone. Do I believe in evil? You bet. You won’t find me getting near a Ouija board. Again. Do I think my stories–which are for adults, by the way–could tempt someone away from their faith? No way. (See free will and faith.)

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Laura Benedict is the author of several novels of dark suspense, including Charlotte’s Story: A Bliss House Novel and Bliss House. Visit her at laurabenedict.com

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Charlotte's StoryStep back into Bliss House, the yellow-brick Virginia mansion with a disreputable, dangerous past, that even the sheen of 1950’s domesticity cannot hide…

The fall of 1957 in southern Virginia was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous time. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, Hasbrouck Preston “Press” Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home. On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four tragic deaths, with apparently simple explanations.

But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is? Though Bliss House may promise to give its inhabitants what they want, it never gives them exactly what they expect.

6 Responses to A Few Thoughts On Faith And Fiction

  1. Katherine November 5, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Wow, such important thoughts here. I hope many Christian writers–and readers–soak them in and take them to heart. “We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, and God doesn’t always give us clear directions. (See free will.).” Yes and amen. As someone who operates on the other side of the coin–I am drawn to read “secular” fiction and have often wished I could write it but instead it seems the gift I have been given is to write so-called “Christian” fiction–I appreciate very much this perspective. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Lyzz November 5, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    The struggle is real. My thoughts and words don’t come from my Sunday school lessons, but they come. I’ve struggled with characters and what they do to each other. When I do give them permission to move about the cabin, it’s only because I’ve finally decided to use an assumed name for the fortieth time. My ladies at church – my elders at church. Would they think they completely failed w me? Couldn’t I just clean up my stories and make them nice? No, in the end – my characters come to me fully formed, with a mind (and a mouth) of their own. Thank you, Laura. I’ve barely discussed this with anyone – thinking it was a sign of my immaturity as a writer or my lack of dedication to my work. Bless you for choosing to write about this now. Love you always.

  3. Laura Benedict November 5, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Katherine–I’m so glad to have your perspective on this. It still feels worrisome to me sometimes. But when it comes to life and the deeply held beliefs of so many individuals, nothing is ever simple, is it? Keep writing–treasure your gifts!

    Lyzz–I can’t imagine anyone feeling like they failed with you–you are not their project! Don’t give them the power to judge you, especially when you’re writing. That’s *your* work. It’s okay if they don’t understand or appreciate it. You can still love them. Trust yourself. xx

  4. Patrick Balester November 5, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Good article. Although I think most men would not be asked why they write dark fiction. A gender prejudice? Perhaps. But you don’t need to justify your work. Your work is your work (and it’s good!). I also sometimes find myself wondering, “Do I really want to write a novel about a sexual predator pursuing children on the internet?” The creepy element can make you hesitate. But it’s been done before, by people who are just as normal as me…LOL.

  5. Blake November 6, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    What a great piece, Laura. Thank you for sharing! I love your gumball machine analogy. We *don’t* get to choose our gifts, but I’d much rather end up with the white gumball (your green) than no gumball at all. 😉

    Patrick’s comment resonated with me. None of you may particularly *want* to write about the dark side of life, but as Laura said, you provide “safe excursions into scary places.” You give your readers the opportunity to explore uncomfortable thoughts or ideas in a safe place and, as in the case of cyber predators, perhaps even heighten awareness. Keep doing what you do so well. It is a blessing to you and your readers.

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