For best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, the choice was easy – create characters in his novels with many of his own faith-driven values.
In Sparks’s novel The Notebook (also a film from New Line Cinema), Allie has to choose which man to marry. Does she play it safe and follow through with her engagement to Lon, a wealthy, powerful lawyer? Or does she follow her heart and go back to Noah, with whom she shared a romantic summer?
These choices, says Sparks, are what life is all about.
“Everybody confronts these issues on a daily basis – what kind of person we want to be, the kind of life we want to lead, which values are more important to us,” says Sparks in a 2004 interview. “Sometimes you make the right decision and sometimes you make the wrong decision. In Allie’s case, she made the right one.”
Sparks has made many choices since he graduated with honors from Notre Dame in 1988. A business finance major who ran cross country and track (he helped set an Irish school record in the 4 x 800 relay), Sparks held a number of jobs before renewing his interest in writing novels. After selling The Notebook to Warner Books and feeling good about his work on Message in a Bottle, he chose writing as his fulltime profession.
But he still makes choices about his writing, especially what he won’t include in his novels.
“I don’t write about adultery or profanity. I don’t write gratuitous love scenes. If there is a love scene in the novel, it’s between adults. It’s not lust, it’s love based. There’s a sense that the couple will end up together in the long run anyway. They’re not perfect, but introduce me to the perfect Christians and I’ll write about them.”
The characters in his novels are usually Christians with strong faiths that play important roles in their lives. Sometimes that faith is front and center, such as in Jamie, the daughter of a Baptist minister in A Walk to Remember. In other works, the faith is reflected in the character’s values toward family, community and doing the right thing.
In The Notebook, Allie’s faith is reflected in trusting herself to make the right choice, despite the hurt it will cause another. She ultimately makes up her own mind, drawing upon her values to guide her decision.
This instinct, a strong belief on one’s own values, is similar to what Sparks uses to make decisions about his novels and his life.
“I rely a lot on intuition, but my intuition is based very strongly on faith and morality. This all comes from being raised in a very value-driven household. I was born and raised Catholic, my wife is Catholic and our kids go to parochial school. I think about the values I’d like to instill in my kids, how I want my wife to view me as a person, how I want friends and other family to view me as a person. I’m very well read in the Bible, having read it about seven times from cover to cover.
“It’s the same thing as asking me how I write. You have a lifetime of experiences drawn from a number of areas and then the answer comes. Hopefully you have a deep well [of values and experiences]. If you have a shallow well, you have nothing.”
For example, Noah writes a love letter to Allie every day after their summer together. Similarly, Sparks wrote his future wife “about 150 letters” during the two months after meeting her during Spring Break. “You have to draw your characters from somewhere. You draw them from yourself, from people you know,” says Sparks.
The Notebook was originally inspired by the story of his wife’s grandparents. “They had a truly magical relationship, one that withstood the test of time and circumstance,” says Sparks. “But The Notebook is a novel, not a memoir of their lives. Above all, it is the story of everlasting, unconditional love. It is a story about a couple that loves each other through every challenge that life throws at them, from the beginning of their lives, through the middle of their lives, to the very end of their lives.”
Based upon his success with eight best-selling novels and some very popular movies, Sparks has made a number of good choices with his writing. Millions of readers would agree.
Originally published in the July 18, 2004 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.
© Christopher Fenoglio