Monday, May 23, 2011

Law 5: Fidelity and Faith in our Work

Making Monday

Fidelity is a word we rarely hear unless it's attached to banks or investments. Outside of those contexts, the word seems quaint. Perhaps because of the constant stream of novelties and the ease with which just about anything can be replaced, it has become unfashionable to give any thought to fidelity at a personal level.

My 1886 edition of Websters defines fidelity as faithfulness, continuing with:
  • adherence to right; careful and exact observance of duty, or discharge of obligations;
  • adherence to a person or party to which one is bound; loyalty
  • adherence to one's promise or pledge; veracity; honesty
  • adherence to the marriage contract
To adhere is to stick to something. It is the essence, for example, of the common wedding vow of, "for better or worse." The same is true of loyalty and discharging obligations--you can't only do what you said you'd do when it's convenient.

In addition to resolution, there's an element of steadfastness in each of the senses of the definition of fidelity.

The faith of the makers encompasses all these things. Makers understand that the process of making involves swings from elation to disgust and that the work will never be done if they let either extreme undermine their fidelity. This is why among writers we constantly encourage you to keep writing: if you never finish the book you can't go back and fix it.

High fidelity, in the sense of the truest possible reproduction, is a shade of meaning that hadn't emerged when my old dictionary was compiled, but it is another aspect of the faith of the makers. While no made thing can be the perfect embodiment of an idea, makers, who give little thought to absolutes, strive for the highest fidelity in their making. This means revising as often as necessary to perfect the story for writers.

The final dimension of fidelity--the last duty and obligation of makers--is to finish the work and give it its place in the world. It is an act of faith to trust that you have done all that was necessary and that the work can stand on its own.

Image: Bill Longshaw /