April 3, 2012

The Joy of Writing God's Story

Those of you who know me personally will probably agree with me when I confess that I take myself way too seriously. It hurts to admit it, but it's a fact.
Another flaw I struggle with is getting way too focused on and wound up about minute details. Kind of like tunnel vision. Sometimes this can be a good thing, true. But when a situation calls for a look at the bigger picture, it can be a problem.

No, this isn't 'The Confessions of Mary', it's just a bit of intro into the thoughts I've been mulling over for the last day or two.
As I'm sure you can imagine, my tendency to take myself too seriously often attaches itself to my over-active attention to detail, and the results on my writing can be... oh, how shall I say it?... frustrating.
It's really nothing that extraordinary for me to find myself agonizing over the same section of a WIP for hours - occasionally days - because of some minor detail that really doesn't matter to the story, but that my sense of self-importance won't let slide.
Recent case in point: Should I, or should I not, give names to the different sectors of the capital city in Son of the Shield?
No, this decision will have no effect whatsoever on story or characters, it's just a detail that I had considered putting in to help flesh out my fantasy world. But I worried and stressed about it until it finally dawned on me: it doesn't matter! It has no effect whatsoever on the story, so why am I wasting valuable writing time stressing over it?
Naturally, my detail-obsessed, self-important side was quick to chime in. Isn't depth of detail important to creating a vivid, life-like fantasy world? After all, look at the kind of detail J.R.R. Tolkien built into Middle Earth - and The Lord of the Rings has been a best-seller for how long, now?
It was quite a heated little internal battle, let me tell you, but I eventually found the bottom line. It's this:
I am not J.R.R. Tolkien. I have not been tasked with building the next Middle Earth or writing the next international, multi-generational best seller.
I'm Mary Pursselley, and God has given me my own unique story to tell. My job is to do the very best I can in telling it... not to equal or even rival anyone else.
Somehow I don't really think God is all that interested in whether the sectors of the capital city have their own names. I get more of the impression that He just wants me to tell a great story about His grace and sovereignty.

So, I'm working on easing up a bit with the obsessive attention to detail and the exaggerated sense of my own importance. Sure, detail is important in building a fantasy world, and as a writer and a Christian I'm committed to always doing my best 'heartily, as unto the Lord'. But for now I'm putting away the microscope and working on just telling God's story, not building the next great fantasy world.
Interestingly enough, I'm having a lot more fun.


  1. Good post! I don't really obsess over details, but I do sometimes tend to feel like I have to make my world as detailed as Tolkien's, and it kind of throws me off track when I realize that I don't know enough to make it like his. So I wonder, should I research for years and world-build exclusively, just writing backstory until I'm in my fifties or whatever, or should I just do the best I can and write? I think the latter is the right answer :D Although I do try to put in as much attention to detail as possible.
    Thanks for reminding us that our job isn't to be the next Tolkien (or Lewis!), but to glorify God. I totally agree!

  2. I lean toward too little detail in my worldbuilding, and possibly too many minute ones about characters, which leads to a shortage of action sequences.

  3. Same as Lostariel about worldbuilding...I suffer from a lack of detail in general, actually.


What are your thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear your comments, questions, or ideas, even if you don't agree with me. Please be aware that I reserve the right to delete comments that are uncivil or vulgar, however.