Monday, August 19, 2013

Should an Author’s Worldview Intrude on their Writing?

 Occasionally when I am reading fiction I notice that the author’s viewpoint on certain issues intrudes on the story. Of course, I realize that if we follow the advice to write what we know, all stories will be influenced by the author’s worldview. Sometimes, though, particularly with fantasy, but even in contemporary stories where the story’s world is not the author’s, the intrusion of the author’s worldview pulls the reader out of the story.

As an example, I recently finished Rae Carson’s Crown of Embers, the second in her Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy and, while I enjoyed and would highly recommend it (the third book comes out this month and I am looking forward to it!), there were a few spots where I found myself thinking more about the statement she was making than about the character’s motivations. Toward the end of the book, a minor character offers the main character, Elisa, a natural birth control remedy so that Elisa can feel free to act on her attraction toward her guard.  She accepts the remedy (after a brief inner struggle) in order to “be prepared.” The issue of birth control for teens aside, my main objection to this incident stems from Elisa’s role in this highly religious trilogy as the chosen one, a person of prayer destined to act heroically for the good of her people. Though this is a fantasy, the story’s religion as described closely adheres to Christianity, even quoting real scriptures. I have no problem believing Elisa would struggle with an attraction for a man she can’t marry, but she decides very quickly to give in to temptation. To be fair, the characters ultimately do not act on the temptation, but the lack of inner conflict about her desire vs. her religion sends the message that it’s okay to have sex and ignore your faith if your desire is strong, but be protected. That message contradicts much of what Elisa does as the chosen one so it’s unbelievable to the reader, though the author probably assumes it shows how much she loves her guard.

My own works to date are fantasy tales, where I am free to create a worldview and I have tried to make the rules of my fictional worlds fall in line with my personal beliefs while avoiding obvious real world intrusions. The next work I am considering is more of a contemporary story and I am already trying to decide how much, if any, “real” religion and values will enter the story. Again, I am thinking my beliefs as they impact the story should be invisible, not necessarily absent, but I want the reader to be immersed in my tale so much that it’s the characters’ beliefs, not mine, that affect their actions. In my opinion the more the character's beliefs match their world and experience, the more effective they are in drawing the reader deeper into the story.

So fellow writers, how do you deal with your worldview in your works?


  1. I don't think a person can keep their worldview from intruding on their world. It's just the way they think and they'll reason through their worldview in a story, too. It's one reason I have trouble reading sci fi, because the atheist worldview is so bleak.

    Now, preaching that worldview is when it gets really annoying. I know people lampoon Christian writers for it, but have you ever read the Rolling Stones by Heinlein? There's an entire CHAPTER extolling the virtues of having evolved from a worm in the mud. I skipped page after page to keep from throwing up in my mouth.

    The thing you mentioned about the characters and birth control--ugh. What was she thinking? Maybe nobody pointed out to her that this kind of compromised the entire point of her book.

    I try not to preach in my writing. I've written preachy and not-preachy, and people prefer the not-preachy stuff. Imagine that! I do like to grapple with fun questions, though. Like, the one I'm currently chewing on is how is it possible to ever be good when our true hearts are so black? (Dealing with a girl who's been split into good and evil sides).

  2. Preaching a worldview alienates readers that don't share all your values, especially if they are reading mainly as an escape from the conflicts of reality.

    I do think "the fun questions" make a story very interesting. One of my challenges in writing is that I don't think I have nearly all the answers, so solving a characters' comlex problems in a truly wise way is difficult.