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Two Are Better Than One

Posted by Priscilla on May 1, 2013

More, today, on journeys. I’ve taken plenty of trips by myself, driving across multiple states, flying to various countries. I’ve also shared trips with friends and family. Traveling with a companion is always better.

What fun is it to see the deep green of a flooded rice paddy as the plane flies low over the Japanese countryside if you cannot grab your loved one by the arm and say “Look! Have you ever seen anything so cool?” Who cares if you drive around a curve on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and suddenly see an array of lavender  hills and valleys laid out below you if you can’t turn and sigh, “Wow. That makes me so happy.” Two are better than one.

Here’s another journey that is better together: helping our neighbors through life. Poverty and hunger are on the rise in America, and yet our charitable giving remains flat. Of that charity, very little goes to help our neighbors eat. I’m not surprised. When a crisis is well covered in the media, and when we see the face of someone in need, Americans open both hearts and wallets. But we live today in such economically segregated communities that most of us never see the hungry child. “Most Americans,” says the director of Domestic Social Services for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, “have no idea of the scope of poverty” (see The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1, 2013). And so we allow those who are hungry to journey alone. But traveling with a companion is better.

Stories are journeys as well.  Stories must go somewhere. Without a character’s struggle, her choice, his change, the writing would not be a story. The best stories keep traveling companions together. The plot drives forward, characterization deepens, language soars, and traveling speed is balanced with stops at roadside stands.

What does this mean for the writer? 

We need compassion in our daily lives if we want to have stories that do more than sit at rest stops. Yesterday’s post on Writer Unboxed (http://writerunboxed.com/2013/04/30/the-new-era-of-self-publishing/) was a great discussion on the relative value of royalty vs. self publishing. Literary agent Donald Maass had this to say during the discussion: 

“When good novels fail to sell, it’s not because they’re bad–they’re not, as reviewers affirm–it’s often because there’s something in the writing itself that makes it hard for readers to climb on board and sail along too.

The most common factors I notice are: dark, hard-to-like characters; cold, objective writing; tragic stories unleavened by compassion or humanity; middles that spin in circles; a patina of originality painted over a canvas of conventional story or character tropes.” 

Is not Maass saying that every fast moving plot needs some traveling companions?  Of course he is.  Two really are better than one.

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