THE ROLE OF BELIEF IN WRITING FICTION.
In my previous blog , I had discussed the difficulty in creating two different avatars of a character being reborn. I had suggested that changes in the society in the interim would shape these different avatars differently. While some of the emotions would remain unchanged , some emotions , or at least their expressions , would change with the passage of time. The most visible source of these changes would be the technological advances. I had described in my previous blog how the current incarnation would have a different way of expressing her emotions. In this blog , I would focus on different aspects of emotions. Our emotional universe defines the kind of beliefs that we have. This is the basic premise of characterization in fiction writing. However , in this blog , I would invert this paradigm and look at the role of a novelist’s own beliefs in creating characters. If it is true that our emotions decide and define the kind of beliefs we have , then it must be true in case of a novelist also. The problem with this reasoning is that if the characters created by a novelist were to have different kinds of beliefs , then the novelist can not herself /himself have mutually contradictory beliefs of these characters. More importantly, what if the novelist’s own beliefs were to be contradictory to the beliefs of one of the characters present in the novel. This is the point that I want to delve on in this blog. The question is whether a novelist ought to share same set of beliefs that the characters in her/his novel have ?
Let me begin with my own experience while writing my second novel. I am basically a rationalist leaning towards agnosticism. For instance , I don’t insist that science and logic can explain everything in this world. At the same time , I do not believe that the things that logic can’t explain are proof of divinity. I think that we , collectively as a species , are still learning about what the universe is really like. Therefore , when I decided to write a novel based on the theme of reincarnation , I was doubtful whether I would be able to do justice to the idea of reincarnation. I was afraid that my own rationalist upbringing would not allow me to appreciate the reasons why we believe in the idea of reincarnation. I was afraid that the intellectual arrogance that comes so easily to us , the educated Indians , would make me dismissive of this idea. I was torn between my own rationality and my respect for the collective wisdom of our culture. However , I knew in my heart that the correct approach is to use fiction as a way deconstructing not only our cultural ethos , but also my own internal contradictions. That is why I created a protagonist who at some level believes in the idea of reincarnation and yet , somewhere deep within himself , doubts this idea of reincarnation.
Actually , I thought that this was very clever strategy. However, as the novel progressed , I realized the reason why everyone believes in reincarnation is not based on logic but on their emotions. The belief in the idea of reincarnation arises because our emotions dictate that we do. At the same time , I realized that just because we believe in the idea of reincarnation due to our emotional compulsions, does not imply that the idea of reincarnation is wrong. At that point , I rediscovered the fundamental nature of ourselves that has been known to some of our greatest novelists. It is fundamentally true that we , human beings , live our lives in trying to make sense of our own emotions. We don’t live for or live by reason. We live for and live by our emotions. Just because our emotions influence our reasoning and just because our emotions are hidden from our conscious self that we make a mistake of looking for reasons of our beliefs rather than understanding the emotions that give rise to our beliefs.
Therefore , a novelist’s job is not to justify beliefs, either her/his own or those of the characters in the novel. A novelist’s primary role is to describe the journey of the characters present in her/his novel from the emotional turmoil to the emotional resolution. It is possible that the characters in some cases would reach wrong conclusions in their lives and that too by a wrong reasoning. A novelist is not required to justify her/his characters. A novelist is responsible for portraying the emotional journey of the characters as faithfully as possible. If , in the process , the contradictions were to surface in these characters , then it is inherently tragic. But then again, the life is tragic whether we like it or not. The tragedy of life is not because we eventually realize our own emotional contradictions , but it is tragic because we conjure up some convenient explanations for these contradictions
The question that I have not resolved , so far in my novel , is how would the protagonist eventually reconcile his own belief and disbelief in the possibility that his girlfriend has come back to him in her next incarnation. Of course , I would write about it, when I finish my novel.
In my next blog , I would discuss another aspect of my second novel. I would describe my own difficulties in trying to understand and give expressions to the mentality of younger generation. I have mentioned earlier that the protagonist suspects that his dead girl friend has come back in his life in her next birth. As a novelist, my main concern was how to create contemporary expressions for that character. In my next blog , I would describe my problems with idiomatic expressions of modern life.