Someone called me a Satanist recently.
He’d read my book and was making a joke in passing. I know him, I love him—wasn’t a big deal. But it did get me thinking: how do I justify writing a novel where Lucifer—the Devil—is my protagonist? And who the hell would want to read it?
My novel, The Road to Hell, is the story of Lucifer’s fall, the war between the angels, and the creation of man. My Oprah answer is that the book is meant to be an allegory about humanity, about our own worth and what we must have cost God to make us. It’s supposed to make us evaluate ourselves a little better, maybe make us think about us, about each other, in a different light.
And Michael was supposed to be my hero. It was supposed to be his story.
If you don’t know Michael the Archangel, he’s the warrior angel who crushed the rebellion and ultimately had to exile Lucifer from Heaven. Michael was my main character. I loved him. I cared about him. I wondered how tough it must have been to truly have the responsibility for tearing Heaven apart. For knowing how it would end and having the resolve to do it anyway. Sure Lucifer was the catalyst, but Michael was the hammer. I wanted to see the story through his eyes. And it was personal. I was going through this crisis of faith and I gave Michael that cross to bear. His story was my story. It was a tale about the loss and reclamation of faith in the face of adversity, even when Heaven was falling down.
But it was boring. Sure, there was action in it and there were passages that were some of the best writing I’d ever done. When I reread it, I smiled, I laughed, I cried. I loved Michael but he was “flat” (that’s what my friends said.) He was a flat two-dimensional character that was more cliché than compelling. But Lucifer! Now here was the most vibrant, interesting voice in the book. He was fun to write, he was funny, mean, focused—and there was nothing I couldn’t do! He’s the Devil! I had all the latitude my imagination could conjure up.
Here is the point where the storyteller in me conflicted with the author who desperately wants to be successful. I knew my market; I knew I wanted to reach the Christian audience. While the story might be slightly unorthodox, I knew I was hitting all the major themes of redemption and faith and obedience. But the story sucked! I wasn’t breaking new ground, not with this approach. John Milton, Wendy Alec, Brian Schaefer, Stephen Brust and others had already done it. Sub-par story, flat characters—it wasn’t worth it.
In the end, this is what this post is about: being a storyteller vs. being in the business of telling stories. I don’t knock a single soul who has the guts to put their prose out there for the world to see. Whether you are in it for the money, for the story or for some combination of them both, I have mad respect for you. I have dreams and hopes and delusions of grandeur too. I daydream about getting my book optioned or seeing royalty checks with more zeroes than I can imagine or discussing the narrative themes in front of crowds of people. But I can’t live with a substandard story. I can’t. And I can’t believe that that route gets me to those things that haunt my dreams.
So I listened. I listened to my gut and my family and friends. And I listened to my characters. Michael wasn’t some sad sap of an angel wallowing in his lot in life. You don’t kick the Prince of Darkness out of Heaven by being a punk. That’s not how it works. That’s not what made sense to me. So I recast him into a much darker, brooding, angry rendition of himself who was decidedly on the side of righteousness regardless of the circumstances.
And Lucifer…well, he was the most compelling one of all.
So why did I make him my hero? How could I resist? Here is an angel, a brilliant, beautiful, majestic angel who waged a rebellion against God. Think about that. Whether you buy into the religion or not, the story is fascinating. This is a character that found Heaven—Heaven—so distasteful under God’s rule that he convinced one-third of the population that his way was better. You don’t go from Beloved to Betrayer without one hell of an emotional arc. He was begging to tell his side of the story. How could I resist?
My point is simply this: tell the story you are meant to tell. The one that truly resonates in your gut. The one that wakes you up from your sleep, that has you whispering the words of your characters when you think no one can hear you. Tell that story. The world has millions—literally—of writers who tell the stories they think we will buy, the ones they pray will sell. Hell, I’m one of them. But somewhere in the midst of the platform building, social networking, tweeting, Facebooking madness, we are storytellers. Let us resolve to tell the stories that deserve to be told. How can you resist?