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How to Write Fiction

1) The Ten Commandments

Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: Month of the Seven Sorrows, 25th Day, Year of Our Lord 2023

This will be a part of a larger series of articles which are tools for me to form together a basic and general course on writing for my local town, God willing. Because of the nature of it, I will assume that you are reading the article in order to learn what I have proposed with the title. Therefore, I will not attempt to tickle your ears with any other frills in the introduction..

(Edit: I have recorded this lesson here: https://youtu.be/l7qTows9nm4?si=tSp4MWobEdLAaPIM The content is different than this article.)

There are two problems which tend to prevent advancement in writing: that is, moral and technical.

For the first, it should be understood that God is a just and merciful God. “Just” means that He will remove your pleasures if you offend Him with your writing. “Merciful” means that He will deprive you of inspiration to protect your soul from your ignorance. All that you write, so far as it is permanent and affects others, continues to affect your own eternal reward even long after your death, and might raise or lower you as time goes on. This according to the priest with whom I spoke when I was attempting to discern how to write without damning myself.

To address the moral problem, then, we ought to look at the Decalogue. The first Commandment is to have no other gods before Him. For writing, this is often violated even by Catholics in how they glorify evil, feature demons, permit false teaching to be attractive, and portray false gods in a titillating manner. All this is very dangerous, and must at least be properly rebuked and remonstrated over the course of the entire book, so far as I can see it. But most writers, particularly those who take Christ’s Name— and even Catholics— fail to do this. And this out of a mistaken idea of honesty or sincerity, which truly is the justification used for most of the sins within writing. How is it sincere to portray something so ultimately destructive to the soul as well as the body as if there were no danger to it?

The second Commandment is not to use the Lord’s Name in vain. Blasphemy is the highest misuse of language so far as I can see it. Our business is language. You ought to be far more willing to have a poor and unpopular book than ever to offend God. After this is cursing. This is done sometimes by characters. It is a common mistake to think that it is more realistic or that it adds anything to plainly repeat a curse. But, instead, cursing is almost always easily avoided, and if not avoided, then alienated: “She cursed him”, rather than the word. The next after cursing is vulgarity. People are more offended by this than blasphemy, and so it behooves you to avoid it— though it is a lesser sin. Also, it invites demons.

The third Commandment is to honor the Sabbath. If you write in a disciplined manner, do not do so on the Lord’s Day which commemorates His Resurrection, the first day of the week, when light was made. Also, remember that the central pursuit of life— indeed, the only pursuit— is Heaven, not any book. All will be revealed at the Final Judgment, including all books and meditated books. They are not that important.

The fourth is to honor your father and mother. Often, writers put real places and people in their writing. Avoid mockery. Pursue meekness. Do not abuse authority’s honor when it is subject to your tyranny within a book. Many good authors are worthless on this point, such as Dickens.

The fifth Commandment is not to murder. Violence is an imitable sin, unlike blasphemy. It is our natural subject within writing because it is the essence of drama, and because if poetics, drama, and fiction be understood ultimately as a portrayal of man’s experience upon earth for the purpose of virtuous reflection, then violence is the most difficult and most certain thing which man encounters that can be helpfully encountered within the imagination. We all will die, most of us will die violently, the vast majority of us will die very painfully. It behooves us to prepare and meditate upon death. Within writing, it is good to know that God considers every death precious, and no one dies in a meaningless manner, nor even loses a hair. To fail to attempt to imitate God in this when you take up the labor of portraying death and violence, is to severely dishonor Him. That is my understanding. It has very much improved my writing.

The sixth Commandment is not to commit adultery. Lust— like blasphemy and unlike violence— is not an imitable sin. That means that you cannot imitate it without committing. You cannot portray it without sinning, whereas violence you can easily portray. And the same goes with blasphemy. To portray it is to commit it. Therefore, treat it within your books as you would within your life: Avoid all risky scenarios, phrases, and words. Use a distant metaphor or apply your perspective somewhere else. This is a classic method: a husband and wife are married and approach their first night, suddenly we see only rolling waves or, better yet, the rooster crowing the next morning. But first try not to even suggest it. Your modesty will improve your writing more than you think. Lust, unlike violence, is very cheap.

The seventh Commandment is not to steal. People are very sensitive and fearful of plagiarism, but it is absurd. Monks used to copy books. Classic literature is full of other people’s work. There is no intellectual property. It is alright to be inspired by others, and you must not be so scrupulous about footnotes. Obey the law, and enter only into just contracts, if you should get any at all.

The eighth is not to lie. This, perhaps, is the lifeblood of real authors: They want to portray reality. Our Lord taught in parables, albeit to obscure His words, as He wrote in sand. But He did say that a scribe was like a good house steward, bringing out of the stores treasures new and old.

The final two commandments serve to remind us that sin is in the heart, and our judgment will be very stringent upon things of our imagination which we have not only meditated thoroughly, but also made every attempt to propagate to others.

My next article shall deal with the other problem that I mentioned at the top, namely, technical holdups.

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