by Hannah Roveto
We have all heard it, the curse wrapped into bland pleasantry: "May you live in interesting times." Each morning when we wake up and turn on the news or open the papers, we indeed find ourselves in interesting times and few if any of us are feeling settled about them.
Truth is, we all have interesting times that go beyond today's headlines. We all have worries and fears, not just about the stock market, but about job security in any year, about our health, about the wellbeing of our friends, family and children. As writers we borrow those jumping heart rates, the crawl of apprehension, and transform them into interesting times for our characters. We create tension, strife, nemeses and tragedy, and we find ways for characters to make their way around, through and beyond, showing the why of how people act under stress and how they might succeed, whether or not they do in the end.
It's a fascinating pursuit we have chosen. We take bits and pieces of reality -- a wince of frustration, the honeyed sweetness of a rose, the angst of being sixteen, jaw-grinding tension -- and filter them through our own unique perspectives. We create a single, fresh reality that becomes a genuine experience for those who read it. What is real and what is made up, we are asked, over and over again. It's all real, we answer, and it's all made up. It is what we make it.
Take the "interesting times" phrase above. Turns out it is a fiction, created perhaps by an English writer around 1900. The real Chinese saying from which it seems to be derived does not involve a curse at all. Instead, it goes as follows:
Heroes are made over turbulent times.
This I like better, for my real life and for my writing. Life is what we make it. We can either feel falsely cursed to live in interesting times, or we can seek heroes made from turbulent times. Better yet, as writers, we get to take it yet a step farther. We have the opportunity to create heroes who rise from fictional turbulence to speak to readers riding the waves of the real world. The challenge to do so can be daunting, but how wonderful it feels to take that chance, and how beautiful the stories are from those who do it well. Lucky, lucky, us to be a part of it, yes?
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
by Hannah Roveto