The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 16: Faith

December 10th, 2012 by

This week I continue to explore theological themes in relation to screenwriting, considering them metaphorically because in my view, we see these themes in movies all the time. By understanding them, we can use these theological themes to enhance the meaning and depth of our stories.

For background on the general subject, you may read my introductory comments in Part 1 here.

Today in Part 16: Faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I would guess that would work for most people, whether we used the word in a religious or secular context.

It’s confidence or trust in a person or thing. A belief not based on proof.

I prefer this articulation by theologian Frederick Buechner:

Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps.

Isn’t that a fantastic way to think of story?

For our characters – and in particular Protagonist – there is some sort of call to adventure, some type of event or moment which propels the narrative out of the Ordinary World and into the Special World.

The Protagonist may have a destination in mind, a goal, but how to get there? Even if they have a map, the very nature of story – at least good ones – mucks things up, creating complications, roadblocks, detours and reversals.

Yet with all that, the Protagonist keeps going. And that dynamic, that movement, that keeps going is an act of faith.

Faith as an ongoing process fits like a hand in glove for story because the Protagonist — again in good stories — is continually challenged by events. Each test, each challenge represents the opportunity to lose one’s faith, to turn back, to reverse the process.

But as the stuff of the Authentic Self emerges, the Protagonist’s faith can be empowered. It’s no longer a leap of faith, as it was when crossing the first threshold, but becomes over time in middle of the journey acts of faith.

Verb. Not noun.

Inevitably the Protagonist confronts his/her stiffest challenge, a Final Struggle in which their faith is put to a major test. In some ways, this moment is the whole point of the journey: to determine if the Hero has grown in faith to such a degree they have the self-confidence to prevail.

More often than not, faith prevails.

The ironic thing is that like so much of what transpires with our characters, we – as writers – experience something similar. Consider again Buechner’s words in terms of writing a story:

Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps.

The very idea of writing a story is itself an act of faith. The entire process from concept to final draft is a process of faith, on-again-off-again, a constant challenge at every step. We may not be sure where we’re going, but we go anyway.

Every day, every scene, every line we write is an act of faith.

Tomorrow: Despair.

5 thoughts on “The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 16: Faith

  1. Yossi Mandel says:

    Further: Psalms 37:3, the end phrase in Hebrew is “shepherd faith” (as a verb) or “feed faith”. What feeds (encourages, grows, educates) the faith of the protagonist and other characters is grist for the development of story and character.

    1. Scott says:

      Thanks for that, Yossi. Check out today’s upcoming post as it includes quotes from the Psalms.

  2. John Arends says:

    Further: Revelations 1:N — “Go forth in faith, Scott, and take up these sheaves of wisdom, these scrolls of theological insight into the world of storytelling. Bundle them into a stand-alone book — leather-bound or e-volume — and proclaim them to writers and creators everywhere.

    “For there is among your flock an unquenchable thirst for spiritual sustenance. This we find missing as we slave over pages in the Fields of structural dogma, under the storied lash of McKee, in the cold shadows of the pyramids of Paramount and the others. The existential questions clanging high in the vaulted ceilings of our dreams beg for answers…for a belief system that will keep us steadfast during our mapless journey, as we time and again…
    go into the story.”

    1. Scott says:

      John, as with most things in my life, I’ll just keep going with my gut on this series. Hard to imagine there would be much of a wide reach for a book called “The Theology of Screenwriting.” I find it interesting, but of course I have a background in the academic study of religion. Thanks for your idea. Has me thinking…

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