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Posted by Priscilla on March 14, 2013

I’m sure someone, somewhere, lives an ordered life where every goal is met, every dream is achieved, and every idea bears fruit.

Not I.

I find life full of surprises and unplanned events. Bends in the road, those ninety-degree turns that send me careening down a new path are not the exception. They are the rule. And they mess with well-laid plans.

One day I’m a teacher; the next, a freelance editor. One day I am mother to three mostly grown children; the next, mom to a six-week-old foster child. One day, my husband brings home the bacon; the next, he’s on disability. The same things happen to countries: one day, the dictator reigns supreme; the next, he’s gone and the people are enmeshed in civil war.

Each change comes without warning, without instruction.

Thomas Hardy wondered how to explain the chaos of life. Is “Crass Casualty” the reason we suffer? Are “dicing Time” and “purblind Doomsters” responsible for life’s wild swings? He thought so. Or are events caused by an “Immanent Will” that guides two people, two forces toward each other until they collide with world-changing significance? He thought that, also.

In any case, it is evident that at some very basic level, my life, your life, everyone’s life is out of our control, as if “NO” were emblazoned above us.

What does this mean for the writer?

A James Joyce scholar once told me that “The purpose of the artistic conscience is to say “Yes” rather than “No.”

So, how does the writer change the “no” of the universe into a “yes?”

1)   The writer embraces his calling.

Every writer is uniquely gifted to carve order out of chaos. He chooses one word over another, structures a novel in this particular way, or explores that theme over another. In all these ways, the writer subdues chaos. In so doing, he calls forth beauty from what had appeared to be wasteland. When a writer cares about beauty, he says “Yes.” When he cares about both the world that is and the world that should be, he says “Yes.”

Beauty, order, and creative genius are both the tools and the finished product of every writer.

2)   The writer accepts her responsibility.

The writer must understand that she is the divine governing agent for every character she creates. Yes, we often say things like “My character told me what to do.” That is only true at one level. Dig deeper and you will see that the writer must play God with characters’ lives. A wise man once pointed out that the person who lived most for himself, who lived just as he pleased, was the person most in bondage. The same is true for characters in a story.

As the governing agent, the writer must provide her protagonist with a disturbing element--she must send the character off at a ninety-degree angle or we will not have a story. The purpose of disturbance is so that the character may progress. Readers yearn for characters to make discoveries, to grow, to find redemption. None of that happens without struggle.

In my WIP, Wild Gander, Nicholas thinks he can make life work by being perfect. Obviously, the only way he can learn differently is for chaos and terror at the randomness of life to take over. So, I provide him with disturbing changes. If I were God, he might shake his fist at me. And that would be okay, because I know where I want him to end up. There is method to my governance of his life.

Don’t make the mistake of listening solely to your characters. As the governing agent, you can give them something better than what they think they want: you can give them the adventure of trouble and the pleasure of learned joy. Once your characters reach epiphany, your reader will share that joy. 

What do you think?


Posted by Elisabeth Crisp on
This reminds me of an article by Tina Fey, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/12/tina-fey-30-rock-star-success_n_2458102.html
She says to always say yes. "The fun is always on the other side of a yes."

Thanks for sharing your blog link. I'll be reading you here.
Posted by Kate MacNicol on
What a great post on so many levels.
I couldn't agree with you more, we the authors can always make things worse for our characters and therefore make their "new normal" so much more satisfying for our readers.
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