Handling Worldview Conflicts with Kelsey Bryant

Everyone has their own opinion. And, tempting as it might be to make every one of your characters agree with you ... it's not realistic.

Kelsey Bryant is the author of two contemporary novels, which I have not read yet, as well as a Depression-era retelling of Sense and Sensibility where she deals with many of the conflicting worldviews of that time. Beautiful story. (And just goes to show that you can apply many lessons to multiple genres!)

Kelsey Bryant
Christian/Contemporary/Historical Fiction/Retellings


Fiction has the unique ability to mirror real life. So when we include worldview conflicts in our novels and short stories, we can look to how we’d ideally approach them in flesh-and-blood interactions. This is especially true for contemporary fiction because this genre is the closest to the life we live every day.

When I think of a novel that handles worldview conflicts admirably, I think of Christy by Catherine Marshall. This Christian classic is set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 1912. Now, it’s historical, not contemporary, but Marshall wrote it to make an impact in her contemporary world, and her techniques carry over into the genre we’re discussing today.

First of all, Marshall confronts worldview differences head on. She has strong beliefs and isn’t shy about presenting them in her novel. Christy, the protagonist, is striving to settle what she believes about God. Her seeking is portrayed honestly, realistically, and relatably. Throughout the book, she encounters different views about God and Christianity: Alice Henderson, a Quaker missionary, believes He is a God of love; the mountain people believe He is a distant God of fear; David Grantland, the minister, doubts the Bible’s accuracy; and Dr. MacNeill says there may be a deity who set things into motion at the beginning but has been inactive ever since.

As the author of her fictional world, Marshall thoroughly understands each of her characters and their worldviews. That’s an important key to remember for our own fiction: we should do our research and strive to understand why our characters believe what they do. That’s a principle in our real-life interactions as well—if you understand the opposing belief system, you can be a better witness.

Coming across as ignorant, biased, and accusatory is a surefire way to make readers shut our books and their hearts to anything important we’re trying to demonstrate. But if we create realistic characters who have coherent (if misguided) reasons for what they believe, and then we address those beliefs carefully, sensitively, and knowledgeably, we’re more likely to affect our readers.

In the novel Christy, Marshall makes a distinction between indisputable truth and equally legitimate differences of opinion and practice. Christy, an outsider missionary teacher trying to help the mountain people of Cutter Gap, must learn that not all of their customs and manners need to be changed—such as their rowdy, joy-filled worship services. As authors, we might have strong opinions or preferences about lifestyle choices (clothing, education, entertainment, etc.), but we must take care in how we present the characters who hold the opposite opinions. If we’re trying to make a point, casting those characters as irredeemable villains won’t help. Divisions fill our real world; shouldn’t fiction be a way to encourage peace and reconciliation?

A certain type of character can be useful if our stories are delving deeply into worldview conflicts or even more minor differences of custom and opinion: a bridge character. In Christy, two people fill this role—Alice Henderson, the missionary who started the work in Cutter Gap, and Dr. MacNeill, the doctor who’s part of both worlds, in and out of the mountains. Since they see all sides, they help Christy understand the mountain people so she can better serve them. In the process, her mind, and more important her capacity for love, are broadened.

Marshall’s readers are encouraged along with Christy to love people who are different from them and use that love as the basis for all interaction. Remember that in fiction, we’re trying to portray lifelike individuals for whom Christ died. They have good and bad qualities. How would you treat them in the real world? Use that standard in your fiction, and you’ll have a book that reaches into the hearts and minds of your readers.


How do you handle worldview conflicts in your contemporary fiction?

Comments

  1. Great advice! Making sure that your characters have reason for what they believe is definitely important. Thanks for the advice.

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  2. I really appreciate your insights above. My husband, who is famous for taking the "on the other hand" position even if he doesn't believe in it, has taught me the value of working to understand both sides of all issues. It helps gain the respect to those you are conversing with and thereby making them more inclined to hear what you have to say in your defense.

    I frequently get stuck in my plotting, planning, and writing until I understand the villain's motivations, what they are trying to accomplish, and how they plan on realizing that goal.

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