I have a delicious secret. I am building a universe. I wonder whether Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Grant Morrison felt as I do, a little terrified, a little in awe of their dreams and sometimes with the desire simply to laugh out loud MWA HA HA, because with one stroke of my delete button, I could decimate lives and level cities.
The question is not why. Why is the easiest question. And the answer is because I can.
In real life we all have this power of course. In real life it is not a stroke of the delete key, it is the slice of a machete, or the administration of a poison. We can all create. We can all kill. We can all destroy. But we don’t; for fear of the consequences on ourselves and the pain we would cause others. We find it most difficult to kill our own kind. But as a writer, I have power without consequence. The creations on my page are not human, they are spirits of my own imagination. And with them I have unlimited power, I am a God.
Let’s say that there is a God, he of the bible who smites cities, he of the old testament who drowns armies in seas. I understand why he might do such things, without compassion or a twinge of remorse. We are his spirit of imagination; breathed life into us, and so, he creates, kills and destroys – just for fun. And then watches how we evolve. If he doesn’t like it well hey, there’s always a plague of locusts he can send in chapter three. He can press his delete key at any moment because what he gives, he can also take away. Or can he?
Just as in early literature the deus ex machina was a popular concept, but is now traditionally believed a lazy plot device, God the author might have thought in the beginning, that ‘oh a burning bush would do the trick here’. Later as he became more accomplished, he realised that plot twists would be far more satisfactory if they respected the laws he had already created. Burning bushes didn’t cut it any more. Because as an author doing otherwise upsets your own ideas about your universe. Authors are vain. It’s not easy to believe that you created something less than perfect, that your meticulous planning – well – wasn’t very good. If you have to use a burning bush to get your point across, well, you probably wouldn’t get a publisher nowadays. Unless your universe already allows for it.
My characters surprise me. I give them powers, I wind them up and set them off. And then they come back doing something perfectly in keeping with their natures, and yet I never thought about it, never imagined it. When I wake up in the morning and I realise ‘ah, that’s what she’s going to do’ I feel awed and humbled that I didn’t think of it first. And then I have the choice. Do I like that? Or should she simply die in a hit and run? If her boyfriend were to kill her, why would he do so? What drives him to this desperate measure? And so grumbling, I go back and I plant seeds, I develop the backstory, I write someone’s history to include a motivator. And it gets really complicated.
Sometimes I feel just like stopping writing. And of course I could. I could just leave them suspended mid sentence, mid action with no knowledge of what comes next. But that’s a last resort. As an author, I must write and rewrite their story. No matter how painful it is for them, no matter how difficult. When my characters ask me why they must experience such pain, I say “because I created the world with light and dark. And it is the way of this world, if you want to live in it.”
On the whole, they prefer life, over death. Were I to create a world with only happy people, nothing much would happen. No one would be interested in those stories. Because we the readers do not live in that world, it is only half a world. There is no conflict, no tension. Without which there can be no resolution, happy or sad. Above all we seek resolution, because unfinished stories are the worst kind. So if there is an all powerful God, I think he’s an author. He writes pain and suffering because he imagined a world with polarities. And if we want to live in it, we must accept that it exists. Thankfully, we can always rewrite our own stories. We can come to our creator and say, “I’m doing this now. And you will have to write it in the story, or kill me off.”