A number of years ago when my daughter was in sixth grade, she was studying for a spelling bee, and one of the advanced words was agathokakological. It took us a while to track down the definition: “consisting of both good and evil.” What a fabulous word: agathokakological.
We humans have agathokakological hearts, motives, dreams, passions.
Chesterton called us “broken gods.” Pascal called us “fallen princes.” Philosophers have long wondered how we fit into this world, somewhere between the apes and the angels. To make us into one or the other is to deny the full reality of who we are because we have both animal instincts and divine desires.
A friend of mine told me that we are each Cinderella in the moment of transformation—half dressed in ashes and rags, half clothed in a royal gown ready to meet the prince.
We can tell we’re from here but don’t belong here. We’re meant for more than this. We are an odd race capable of both martyrdom and murder, poetry and rape, worship and genocide. Search the ragged terrain of our hearts and you’ll find that we are both nurses and terrorists, lovers and liars, suicide bombers and little grinning children with milk mustaches.
So what does all of this mean for us as writers?
Well, I believe that when it comes to fiction, we should tell stories that express the full measure of humanity—stories that reveal both the glory and grandeur of life, while also honestly acknowledging the darkness and deviance that is there as well.
How to do this? Here are three specific ways.
#1 – Avoid Worn Out Cliches
In your fiction, stay clear of simplistic and trite themes such as “Follow your heart,” “Pursue your dreams,” or “Be true to yourself.” After all, serial killers follow their hearts. Rapists pursue their dreams. Pedophiles are true to themselves.
We need to follow something greater than our hearts, choose very carefully which dreams to pursue, and be true to something more trustworthy than ourselves.
Pursue virtues which are universal, not “values” which are subjective and personal. Why? Because what if someone values cowardice? Or greed? Or killing endangered species? Stick with exploring virtues.
#2 – Be Honest About Evil [Read more…]