Donald Miller, in “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” says that when you write a story, even though you hold the pen, the character does what it wants.
I once wrote a story for a fiction workshop about a girl who had a patriarchal father, a weak mother, several patriarchal brothers and a 5 year old sister who couldn’t speak.
The characters did what they would, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
In the story, the mother nurtured her daughters when the males in the family were out. Because nurturing is what a mom does.
The mom didn’t nurture her daughters when the males were around. Because she knew the men would torment her and her daughters if they saw her being gentle.
Everyone ignored the 5 year old. Because that’s what Dad told them to do.
Enter the creepy pedophile neighbor who grooms the sweet, innocent 5 year old with the gift of a puppy. Of course, the innocent little girl took the bait. Because 5 year olds love puppies.
Creepy Pedophile Neighbor grooms Dad with legalistic religious jargon. Because manipulation is what creepy pedophiles do.
Of course, Dad took the bait — because patriarchal fathers are drawn to legalistic religious jargon.
Creepy neighbor wanted the older daughter. Dad was willing to give his daughter to him because that’s what patriarchal fathers do — they arrange marriages. Who cares if he’s 14 years older than her and she is afraid of him? It’s the nature of patriarchy.
Older daughter is terrified of the idea of being given to the neighbor — she doesn’t know a thing about sex, but she has noticed the neighbor has an unhealthy obsession with Little Sister, and Big Sister is afraid for her sister’s life.
The main character in my story is Big Sister. And, if I could have had my way with the story, I would have had her somehow miraculously have learned some kind of self defense, beat the crap out of all the men in the story, ran away with her sister and her mom and lived happily ever after in a make believe world where everything ends happily ever after.
But that’s not the nature of a daughter of patriarchy.
I was as incapable of writing the happily ever after as Big Sister was of experiencing happily ever after.
Instead, the day Big Sister found out she was being sold to the neighbor (yes, he was going to pay her father for her), Little Sister communicated to her, through her artistic abilities, something about the neighbor and herself and her drawing ended with herself lying in a coffin with a knife in her chest.
And that was when Big Sister said enough is enough.
That was when Big Sister sneaked out and walked several miles to the nearest town.
Because a daughter of patriarchy doesn’t do anything for herself. She makes decisions based on everybody else’ needs. She will put up with abuse, neglect, more abuse, more neglect — but when she sees the person she loves most being threatened, THEN she will act. But only if she sees no other options. At least, that’s been MY personal experience.
When Big Sister finally reached “town,” she didn’t know where to go. She happened upon a church and decided to stop there to ask for help because she had been taught religion, even though she’d never set foot in a church. When she went inside and told the pastor she needed help, the pastor called the police and the police informed her that sometime during the time that she was out walking, Pedophile Neighbor had kidnapped Little Sister and her lifeless body was found tossed in a ditch along the side of the road.
Characters will do what they will do. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Miller stated in his book that this is what is frustrating about being a writer.
He is right.
When I wrote this story for my class, my professor and my classmates criticized it ruthlessly. They told me to put it on a shelf and never look at it again. Because stuff like that “never happens” and “isn’t realistic.”
Oh yeah? Tell that to people who have lived it their whole lives. It’s more realistic than you would think. So, maybe most daughters of patriarchy aren’t sold to be the neighbor’s bride. Maybe most daughters of patriarchy aren’t murdered. Maybe most patriarchal fathers don’t forbid the family to interact with another member of the family. But these things are not outside the realm of possibility.
I’ve been thinking about characters and the fact that I’m the main character in my own story all day today.
The Bible talks about how God is writing a story about each of us as we live our stories.
Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to be God?
I can see Him up there with His scrolls and golden quill. He starts a sentence, but as He is writing, we do our thing — whatever “our thing” might be. He wants to write a beautiful, thrilling best-seller with our lives. But then we make choices. Sometimes our choices are things like getting high one too many times and getting sentenced to prison for several years, during which time, God has to put His script on the shelf for a while. Or, maybe we might be clinically depressed because of one thing or another, and we just can’t see a way out, so we abruptly end the story forever. Or it may be something as trivial as being too shy to speak to someone who will turn our mundane story into a thriller.
Our task in life is to allow God to write that best-seller. It requires being sensitive to His promptings. It requires obedience and laying down our little wishes and desires, our fears, habits and traditions for the sake of The Story.
How do you do that? I don’t know. I’m still learning.