Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love.”John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 30
And at this sound [the descent of the Holy Spirit] the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
— Acts 2:6
Find your voice. Every writer has her own.
Find your story. My story is mine. Yours is yours.
The Holy Spirit speaks universally, but He does so to each of us in our own language. Let me take a liberty with Scripture and expand the definition of language to include temperament, family of origin, culture, and life experiences. The Holy Spirit speaks His universal Truth to each of us within the context of our individual personhood. He speaks my language.
I’m a firm believer that writing is a charism of the Holy Spirit. Given this, the idea of finding our voice is, in some sense, speaking in our language. I cannot write the books Cormac McCarthy wrote, because I’m not Cormac McCarthy. His voice is not mine; his stories are not mine.
This matters for the reader as much as it does for the writer. After all, what good is it to speak in tongues without someone to interpret? When a story resonates, it’s because something in that story speaks to my individual experience as much as it speaks to some universal truth. I “get” it. We are kindred spirits. I could even say that we share a charism in the same way the Franciscans or the Dominicans share a charism. We’re speaking each other’s language.
In this light, I suppose I shouldn’t worry about whether or not I’m writing a “good” novel. All that matters is that I’m speaking my language. My Holy Spirit language.
Image credit: Detail from the Corsini Triptych by Fra Angelico (Wikimedia Commons)
I could see / the whole span of human love / and its precipitous edges. / When someone slips over such an edge / he finds it very hard to get back, / and wanders alone below the road he should be on.Karol Wojtyla, The Jeweler’s Shop, 53
Your approach to editing is quite striking. Your characters have this very composed manner, but what adds a dose of realism is that you often cut into a scene late and cut out early — so that the conversations are often in medias res, and we get the sense that we really have walked in on life proceeding, like we’re catching a documentary glimpse of it.
Absolutely. It makes things much more interesting if the audience has to fill in some of the blanks. It keeps them on their toes. You get a lot of grief from development people about this: “Well, people won’t understand what’s happening in the scene.” But if you found some way to explain it at the beginning of the scene, then the rest of the scene would be completely boring. Nunnally Johnson, the screenwriter and later producer, would say that the most boring lady at a party is the one who tells you everything. Don’t tell people everything; let them figure it out.
Movie poster of Love and Friendship via Wikipedia.
While we’re on the subject of rare books… another book I needed to hunt down—this time for Josiah—was an 18th century edition of the letters of Saints Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna, all first and second century Christian bishops.
For a variety of reasons, religious matters interest Josiah, to the point that he’s something of an armchair theologian. Like most Bostonians at the time, he’s a Congregationalist, but he has a lot of questions. And he’s not one to accept another’s say-so with having first examining matters himself.
Such things run in Josiah’s blood; he’s the grandson of a minister. And thanks to the father of my main character, he received a private education that included the study of Latin. In the 18th century, knowing Latin opened intellectual doors: most everything worth reading could be read in Latin. And Josiah has a knack for languages.
Following the Reformation, theologians were increasingly interested in the writings of the early Church Fathers, as the differing Christian factions sought to establish themselves against Catholicism. The argument was that the Catholic Church has veered from its apostolic moorings and needed to be purged of its accumulated trappings. (Disclosure: I’m a practicing Catholic.)
Being married to a theologian and patristics scholar, I knew that if my character was going to read the Church Fathers, then I had better find the actual book, double-check its contents, and come up with a plausible account for how my character acquires said book. Not the easiest task! Fortunately, Josiah is an officer on a merchant ship, and with that comes mobility. When one travels the world, one is more likely to find things that other people wouldn’t.
What I found was this:
Once again, hat tip to Google Books.
This edition was edited by a Lutheran divine name Littig, who published the volume in Leipzig in 1699. It includes an opening essay by Professor Littig, followed by the letters of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp in both the original Greek and Latin translation on facing pages.
A rare book, indeed! And when Josiah finds it in a Savannah, Georgia bookshop owned by a grumpy French ex-pat, he knows that this is the book he wants!
But will he manage to haggle his way to a bargain? When that surly Frenchman knows exactly what kind book he has, beyond a shadow of a doubt?
Good luck, son. Good luck.
We only love truly if we love in a sphere which is superior to us.Jean Guitton, Human Love.