i had an interesting convergence of events yesterday that led to an equally interesting thought experiment. I’ve decided to share. it’s a little long, but that should not be a surprise.
A coworker and i are currently reading the same book, so she and i were having a small discussion about it yesterday afternoon. In the course, she mentioned that, because she was a little farther than i am, she knew what was going to happen to one of the characters, a nice librarian whose had a tough life. (i’m not the type to get weird about spoilers.) I usually listen to my books to and from work, and while i was anxious to hear what was going to happen to the character, i opted to listen to music on the way home instead, unsure if i could handle the tension that would undoubtedly accompany putting that character in danger.
Also, i’ve been on a roll the last week and a half of writing everyday. The key has been this one stupid app that i have on my phone that lets me push a big orange button every day that i write, like a trout at the fishery learning to bump the button that feeds me. Also, i’ve been breaking up my projects so that i’m working on Venus a couple times a week, a post for this or another blog once a week, some stuff for the card game, the writing prompt short story, etc. So yesterday i worked on Venus, and i decided to stop writing on a part of the story that i know very well: where the leader of my merry group of thieves throws himself in harm’s way to save his crew, ultimately getting himself captured. I’ve written the part before, but this recent draft has been a near total rewrite, so i’m going to get to write it again.
What i realized, however, is that i left both of these characters in a state of suspension, from my own perspective. I know that the character in the book has already had her future written, and that thousands of others have already celebrated or mourned her fate. But for me, she’s still living in Reno, working as a waitress for the summer until the start of the school year, safe as houses. From where i sit, anything could happen: she could decide to stay in Reno for good, she could move to Japan, she could go back to Texas and live happily ever after, or she could die in a car wreck or a fire–i have no idea.
To an extent, the same is true of my character. In this moment, because it is not on paper, his future is literally unwritten. The next time i sit down to write, he could suddenly run away like a coward, turn on his crew, go mad and jump out an airlock, or turn into a fish and fly away. Anything is possible. Of course, most of that is out of character, off the story, and not practical, but i like the idea that these fictional characters, for this moment, are floating in an uncertain vacuum, just like the rest of us.
I don’t believe in fate in the sense that our destinies are written on some starry ledger just waiting to reach the correct milestones to create the correct convergences. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. This is why i don’t see god as a writer. i am not governed by a specific plot line: there have been a thousand inciting incidents in my life, some of which i have responded to, others i have let float on by. So, in my world, there is no way to know whether i will fall into another dimension on the way to the bathroom or live a long a boring existence in this accounting department. Some of that is chance, some of it is my own drive and ambition, and the rest is the will of the other individuals around me.
This is a quality that i like to attribute to my characters. We all have plans and dreams, and characters certainly have plans and dreams, but we all know that plans can fall apart and dreams can change or be crushed. And, while i, the writer, know which plans will work and which will not, my characters are ignorant to the future that i’ve laid out for them. This is why, i think, writers are always saying that characters guide us through our own stories: we give them life and point them in a direction, but sometimes they surprise us in how they handle what is, to them, and uncertain future.
How many more characters are suspended in the mental amber of a day-dreaming America, much less the world? Some where out there Moby Dick is still the torment of one mad captain; Neo has yet to realize that he is The One; Elizabeth Bennett is still allowing her prejudice to cloud her true feelings for Mr. Darcy; and Harry Potter is still living in the cupboard under the stairs of his aunt and uncle’s house, unaware of exactly who he is. And those are just the characters we already know about! Millions and millions of fictional people are just waiting to discover what life has in store for them. Who am i to hold them back from their destinies through fear and procrastination?