Today we have a great guest post from editor and writer, Victoria Mixon. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Victoria!
Has anyone ever told you that? It’s true.
There are two ways in this world to get into trouble: with other people and on our own.
If we want to get our protagonist into trouble with others, we give them a relationship. If we want to get them into trouble on their own, we give them a quest.
How many kinds of relationship are there? Well, there are romantic/sexual relationships (with women, with men), family relationships (with children, with parents, with siblings, with extended family), friendships (individual, group, crowd, close, distant, estranged), business relationships (with bosses, with subordinates, with peers, with allies, with competitors), and antagonists (original enemies or any of the above gone bad). We can also have relationships with things, as the narrator does in Marie Redonnet’s Hotel Splendid, but unless they also involve either other people or a quest they’re going to get boring pretty fast.
How many kinds of quest are there? Two. The kind where we actually go somewhere, external, and the kind where we stay in one place, internal.
See? Only a handful.
So how do we write something new, something unique, something that wasn’t already beaten to a fruity pulp long before we were even born?
These days everyone knows about Monty Python, that pillar of British non-sequitur and daftly logical conclusions. And many of us are even conversant with The Meaning of Life. But how many actually know the lyrics to The Galaxy Song?
Along with a plethora of cosmological facts (apparently first disproven and then re-proven, causing Eric Idle to demand ‘the bastards’ make up their minds), the song gives us that nihilistic reminder how amazingly unlikely were our births. And although it’s meant, in context, to scare us, I for some reason have always found it rather encouraging.
After all, if my birth was amazingly unlikely—which isn’t debated by scientists on either side of the argument—that means I’m unique, doesn’t it? And if I’m unique, then my experience of life can’t be duplicated by anybody, anywhere, at any point in history, can it? At least, not without my express written permission.
Take this to heart. You are unique.
We may have to paw through the minimalist slush pile of potential stories to find the ones that strike our fancy, but once we do we’ve got unlimited rein to do with them what we will.
No matter what story we want to tell, relationship or quest, we must look to our own lives to teach us how to tell it uniquely.
We must be alert wherever we go, whatever we do. There is only one person in history in a position to perceive and note down the specific, telling details of this life—nobody else’s—in all their extraordinarily singular significance. Does cheese remind us of telephone wires because of our cheese-slicer? We give that to a character. When we’re scared, do we finger our buttons? Some people do. When the one we love tells us they don’t love us anymore, is our first thought of tango’ing off an Argentinian cliff to the anguished wail of Tito Luisardo?
Does it, in fact, inspire us to travel to Buenos Aires and there meet the ravishing grandson of Tito, who tells us of the secret amor of his grandfather and the violet-eyed Amelia Bence? Is it our passion for 1930s Argentinian music that teaches us, in its complex, magnificently-detailed, ultimately poignant way, what it means to be alive?
There is only one person who can discover the links between one detail and another that illuminate the workings of their own bizarrely convoluted human brain. (Have you ever seen a human brain? Convoluted doesn’t even begin to cover it.) There is only one person who loves the unusual conglomeration of hobbies each of us loves in exactly the way we love them. There is only one person who will ever come up with the strange and unusual meanings each of us knows, in our heart of hearts, lie just beyond the surface of everything we do, everything we say, everything that ever happens around us.
It’s not getting our books on a bookstore shelf that makes writing worthwhile. Believe me, I know.
It’s getting to spend our writing time scrutinizing ourselves and our own lives for the devastating, electrifying, inherent beauty of living that is the essence of us—all that we will take with us to the grave.
Victoria Mixon has been a writer and editor for thirty years and is the creator A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. She is the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and the recently-released The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, as well as co-author of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, published by Prentice Hall, for which she is listed in the Who’s Who of America. She spends a lot of time horsing around on Google+ and Twitter.