It pretty much drives the story, doesn’t it? Some would say it is the story.
It also drives real life. I faced a recent setback, serious enough for me to stop and take measure. Unfortunately, I don’t deal very well with serious adversity. I tend to ignore, deny, pretend, avoid, eat, sleep, play, cry, write, eat again, and many more things. Not good. I’ve been in worse places in my life. I’ve been in better. I’m at that middle ground, I guess. I have a roof over my head, and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I have access to a computer and the internet. I have clothes on my back and a car to drive to work. But I’m not totally independent. In fact, I’m not really independent at all. I’m facing some significant financial issues. And, as my mom has pointed out, I’m single. (Thanks, Mom.)
But I’m a writer, and I’m writing. And for me, that’s really all I need. That is, if I wasn’t writing, if I had the block (which has happened before), then I’d probably admit that my life kind of sucks. As it turns out, I tend to write a lot more when things aren’t going well.
When I write fiction, (which is pretty much the only thing I write), I love conflict. I enjoy–maybe pathologically–putting my characters through the most harrowing circumstances. Kill people off, maim them, break up happy couples, it’s all much more interesting to me than when things are going well. When I watch TV, I have a very complicated love/hate for seeing my own favorite characters suffer their own personal hell. I love it, because I know there’s a point to it. (At least I hope so, trusting the writer/producer knows how to craft a story.) And then I also hate it, because to me, pain–even the fictional kind–isn’t that fun to watch for individuals I care about. It’s been a rough season for beloved TV characters, too. (Downton Abbey and Person of Interest come to mind. And let’s not forget addictive killing-sprees like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead!) Even when it tears us up, even when we throw the remote, we thrive on adversity.
Maybe because we hope the deeper the valley, the greater the glory when our hero/heroine climbs out of it. Rare is the show or movie (or book?) that will take us on a suck-fest without showing us some light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, I’m a narrative sadist, but even I know that life isn’t just a series of bummers. There’s good in the bad. There’s mercy. There’s balance.
Like my job. It’s great, no doubt. I love it. It’s 95% peaceful, giving me time to think, chat a little with co-workers, and sometimes even read or write a little. (Not much, of course.) But it’s the 5% that’s really not that great at all.
Like my “love life.” Yes, I’m single. No, I don’t really love that, not being able to chat with someone special about philosophy and pie, TVD and Joseph Campbell, politics and Halo. I definitely miss the physical stuff. (Not just sex, you pervs.) But I must also admit, I love the independence. I love not being accountable to a significant others. I love having my time for me.
Like tonight. My buddy at work fixed my old desktop–which is a wonderful thing since I paid out the yin-yang for it years ago. But I needed him to fix it because my new desktop broke and is in the shop. (Yes, I know, first world problems. But they’re still problems!) I wasn’t even sure I’d get the chance to toss up a post tonight, which would have been absolutely unforgivable. I had planned it to be every Thursday, and clearly the last few have been on Fridays. To bump it to Saturday would have been a surrender that I just didn’t want to accept.
Anyway, I may have gotten a little OT. I was talking about adversity. As many of us who may have taken an English class, literature course, or gone to film school know, characters evolve through conflict. It’s sort of the water and sunshine to their chlorophyll. Without an antagonist, without obstacles to overcome, our characters–main and supporting–stagnate. They don’t grow. They don’t change. Characters that don’t grow get boring. Okay, so yes, Joey from Friends pretty much stayed the dumb Don Juan all ten seasons, but he did mature in some ways. He learned some degree of responsibility, purpose, and even the value of platonic love. Maybe it’s a stretch, but that’s how I saw it, otherwise I never would have survived ten years of that show. I definitely wouldn’t have put up with daily DVD marathons of it in college with my Friends-fanatic roommate. And I’m not going to talk about animated shows. They play by different rules. But animated films don’t. Disney, Dreamworks, and all the rest understand that the hero/heroine must face a major challenge and must come out the other side a changed person.
I recently had to stop and examine my own book. Oh sure, it’s full of action, violence, and conflict, but did my hero face a personal challenge? What was it? Was she changed by the end of it? Thankfully, yes, I could check those things off, and that brought me one step closer to completion. But I still have hurdles ahead before I can step back and say it’s ready. Finish editing, add one last scene, proof it. Or if I go another route, the route I prefer, find an editor–a significant challenge in itself. I know so many writers, but so few editors.
Well, hopefully, I’ve made a little headway on that. I have a couple of possibilities that I’m in the process of following up. We’ll see how it goes. Then… then… well, I guess then on to the next conflict!