Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dorothy Sayers Story/Mind of the Maker

Want to write like God? Wait a minute, don't throw me to lions yet. Do you realize that when you're creating characters, situations, worlds and stories you are acting like God? It's no wonder then that someone studied this very topic.

The Mind of the Maker is a book by mystery writer and academic Dorothy L. Sayers is one that I recommend to every writer. Although she presents a specifically Christian look at the creative process, I think any writer of any persuasion will find plenty of thought-provoking substance in this work.

Sayers lived from 1893 to 1957 and was a popular British author, translator, student of classical and modern languages, and Christian humanist. A contemporary and friend of CS Lewis, she created an amateur aristocrat sleuth named Lord Peter Wimsey who appeared in most of her mystery novels (the best is perhaps Gaudy Night). Professionally (as an academician), Sayers considered her translation of Dante's Divina Commedia to be her best work. Along with Agatha Christie, she is considered to be one of the Queens of the Golden Age of the British Detective.

The Mind of the Maker takes an in-depth look at what makes stories work. Sayers’s work elevates the artist, and the author in particular, to the level of a god. (Don't you like it when someone elevates the stature of the artist/writer!)

Sayers makes the case that since we are created in God’s image, and He is a Creator, we too are (in our finest hour) creators. As God conceptualized and created the physical universe, we as artists conceptualize and create works of art. We are in fact, creators like God and as such the process of creation is a high calling – it is in fact the most important role any human can play in this world – to imitate God and to use the resources He has created in us to emulate His creativity by producing works of art, music and writing.

Like God, we become a trinity in the creation process, taking on three distinct roles. Awesome....

God the Creator made the heavens and earth, we are told. But what happened before He created? He had to think up the idea. Somewhere before the first tick of time, God thought about how He would create the universe. He conceptualized His creation, figured out details. He knew what He wanted to it be like. In an ideal world, when we conceptualize a story, we know the “big picture” of what the story is about, know how it will end, have intimate knowledge of the characters within the story. In Hollywood terms, we have a “high concept” at least in our own brains – we know, see, visualize, feel the story. Sayers discusses the fact that an author would rarely know every turn of events within a story – characters and events sometimes take interesting turns within the creation process. Nevertheless, if the story is not cleanly conceptualized, it can get out of hand and turn into a mish-mash of events that don't work. Therefore, step one is to (like God) have a grand idea before “On a dark and stormy night…” is ever written.

Jesus is also God. His role in the Trinity is that He “wrote the story.” In fact He is “The Word.” He was with God in the beginning and participated in the creation. (See the Gospel of John.) Furthermore, to carry out the critical part of history, Jesus came to earth physically to complete the most important chapter. As His life unfolded, He said that he could not do anything that had not come from the (mind of the) Father. Jesus, was in fact the “Creative Energy” that brought God’s idea into reality. A Sayers notes, this is like the process of writing your work. You had the idea – a clear conception of the story, characters and elements. As you write, your story can (if it stays on track) do nothing except what comes from the original idea. If you stray from that idea, your work becomes something else. It is not the same story – in fact (she says) authors who do not have a strong “second part of the Trinity” are those who do not have or use the skills to successfully tell their story – they fail to communicate their original vision.

The Holy Spirit is the third role of the Trinity. He is the disseminating "Power.” When Jesus’s earthly work was done (after his resurrection,) He told his disciples that He was basically now turning everything over to the Holy Spirit. It is His (the Holy Spirit’s) task to take what the Creator has conceived and what Jesus has brought into reality, and to complete the story – manifesting the story to the world. That is, once the process of writing the story is complete, the story must go out into the world to fulfill its mission. The sculpture must be seen by the public. The music must be performed and heard. The novel must be published and read. The art must have life within the world. Without the Holy Spirit taking the story to the world, no one would experience God's story of grace, forgiveness and salvation. If we keep our stories in a drawer, in our head, or on a hard disk, no one will ever "experience it."

When we as creators emulate God’s creativity, we are in fact, participating with God and fulfilling our destiny. Artists come closest to knowing the Mind of the Maker by being what He meant for us to be – creators like Him.

See, you can act like God. Or at least like a god. This is slightly heavy stuff, but worth reading. In fact, like most books worth the glue in their covers, Sayers’s work must be read again and again to glean the depth of its message. This pittance of a description only scratches the bald surface of its content.

No comments: