Do you believe in Destiny? The Plan the Universe has for you?
~ Or ~
Do you believe that the path of your life is directed by your actions? The sum total of your decisions, both good and bad, that lead you to where you are?
Yeah, these are questions best suited for deep discussions over coffee or wine between philosophy majors with endless hours to debate each side and every nuance of questions pondered since the Roman scholar Boethius first fixated on Fortune's Wheel in his work The Consolation of Philosophy....
....but these are also things novelists and playwrights think about when lying awake at three in the morning. Writers have been pondering these questions for centuries. Shakespeare himself once wrote "It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves." * If you think about it, fighting against fate was a running theme in so many of his works. And yet, if ever there was a writer to make Fate an actual character with power over others, it was Shakespeare.
I feel like it's more than the plotter/panster division of thought, because there are pantsers who go into their story knowing what the ending will be, just not how their characters will arrive at their ending.
Maybe the question of "destiny" is unfair in the context of writing novels. As authors, WE ARE the ultimate arbiters for the fate of our characters. We decide who lives, who dies and who gets the Happily Ever After in the end.
We are - or can be - the wielders of the deus ex machina, twisting the plot to reach the desired outcome... but books are more interesting to read when they make sense. When for every action there is a reaction - and a consequence. Plot twists that include Divine Intervention or Suddenly Revealed Superpowers... not nearly as interesting as a story that builds layer upon layer, brick by brick, to allow the characters to learn, to stumble, to grow... and to find their own destiny.
I keep coming back to the idea of consequences. I truly believe there should always be consequences and it bugs me when there aren't. In books and in life. Insta-love is too easy.
What do you think? Do you think about these things when you're twisting your characters and their emotions into pretzel-shaped knots on the page? Do you make them pay for transgressions? Learn from their mistakes? Earn their HEA?
Chime in and let us know what you think about the philosophical nonsense I'm ranting about today. C'mon, if Shakespeare could throw in his two cents on the topic (and more than once) so can you.
Which brings me to the asterisked quote above - I came across that particular Shakespeare quote on a magnet in a bookstore - but it didn't cite the play. Does anyone recognize it as a real quote, and from where? I've had it taped to my computer monitor for over a year now, and I'm starting to wonder if it's a bastardization of Cassius from Julius Caesar, where he's egging on Brutus, a quote made famous by John Green. Extra points if you can tell me the Green book I'm referencing.
Happy Writing to ALL!
Despite being an English major, I have no idea about the quote. Sorry. But as to the rest of your questions, I struggle with them constantly both in life and in writing. My biggest problem is that I hate conflict and so I'm always giving my characters the easy way out, only to then have to go back and redo it, wincing and ducking as I go. In real life, I really believe we are responsible for what happens to us, not a Divine being--but that's a discussion best had in person. :)ReplyDelete
Ah, but conflict is what makes stories interesting. And consequences make it real.Delete
And thanks for the offer of the ninja shirt - I may have to get one, but we'll see how the bruises turn our first, lol.
I definitely think it’s Julius Caesar. And the Fault in our Stars.ReplyDelete
Bringing up that John Green is book is perfect because my belief as a person and as a writer is that it is not what happens to us maybe cancer but how we react to it.. A little fate and a little proaction.
I try to put my characters in difficult situations which you could say is fate but how they react is up to them ie choice. Anyway that’s how I see it.
You're right with the Fault in our Stars, but if it's supposed to be Julius Caesar they messed up the quote on the magnet. Which is too bad cuz I like the quote so much.Delete
Thanks for chiming in - I agree with your assessment, that people (and book characters) must choose how to react to the situation. As a writer, though, I dislike when the author lets characters make choices that should have consequences but "get away with it."
I have to admit, I kinda like wielding ultimate power over the fate of my characters, probably because I so seldom have ultimate power in everyday life. But then those darned characters will go ducking and weaving on me, and take their fates into their own hands. Enjoyed the post--and your locked house story!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Laura. Shhh, dont' tell my husband, okay? LOL!Delete
I believe in fate, up to a point. My daughter just had her second car accident in three years in Denver, and I truly believe (and have almost convinced her) that it means she's not supposed to live there. She's also had other calamities since she moved there: having her car stolen, getting evicted when the guy who sublet to her decided he wanted his house back immediately, etc. I really believe all these things means she needs to change direction and look somewhere else for her future. And yet, a lot of things happen that don't take people into good places. And I can't quite believe fate can be blamed for a lot of the terrible, evil things that are happening in the world right now. That's on us. Although maybe climate change is fate's way of forcing us to go back to a a more basic kind of life, to return to true living instead of our current virtual lives.ReplyDelete
As for my characters, they have to struggle because all relationships take work. I have no trouble creating conflict for my characters and making the stakes high. Because that's what makes the happily ever after moment so much more satisfying. Thought provoking post.
Sorry to hear about your daughter's troubles in Denver (although they are crazy drivers there)Delete
As for the evil things happening in the world, is it fate or the consequences of human action - or inaction. If you don't pay attention and let other people run the show, you can't complain when they do things you don't like. Or you can decide to take action into your own hands and be the change you wan to see in the world. Although I'm think that has less to do with fate and more to do with politics...
thanks for stopping by and chiming in!
I used to believe we were responsible for our future. But recent events have made me reconsider. Though no action of our (hubby and self)own, things happen to make us alter the path we are on. Only time will tell if its good or bad. But I have to admit I'm tired of things like this happening. Ok, shoving my soapbox back under the bed. LOLReplyDelete
They say things happen or a reason, and that even bad things can make you stronger in the end. That Shakespeare quote "...not in our stars but in ourselves" means take things into your own hands and work to make it better. Wishing you good luck with whatever it is you're going through, Tena. (((hugs)))Delete
In my opinion, the fate vs destiny question depends a great deal on whether one believes in a higher power having some influence on one's life. I don't, and I believe that we are the architects of our destiny. Which would be fine if one lived in a vacuum but that dang "real life" has a habit of getting in the way and messing with one's plans, hehe. Also, being in the right place at the right time ( or wrong/wrong ) is all down to a toss of the dice. We can make plans and work toward goals but if lightning strikes the house and it burns to the ground - no one can plan for that.ReplyDelete
As for my stories, all I can say is, the brain works in mysterious ways. I'm a pantser/plotter hybrid who has a good idea of where the story needs to head. But quite often when I write the first 50 pages to discover the character's faults and foibles, one or the other ( or both ) characters throws out a curve ball. If I try to corral them to fit my preconceived idea for the story, I stall and get reeeeeealy cranky. So while it's MY brain that's thinking up the plot and scenes and dialogue, it's my characters who are directing the action.
Terrific post that's got me thinking deep philosophical thoughts on this gloomy, wet day.
Luann, I'm with you with my characters directing the action... and when I write down what I thought was the right path and find out it isn't I have to walk away because the words won't come until I figure out where I went wrong.Delete
Thanks for adding to the conversation!
Cassius: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Yup, Julius Caesar.ReplyDelete
I think fate sometimes takes a part, but most of how are lives turn out is shaped the the consequences of our choices.
And I'm with you on the insta-love. I find real(istic) love that blooms slowly much more interesting. I think, for most women, insta-lust isn't really a factor either. Sexual attraction also builds as characters get to know each other.
So my bookstore magnet is paraphrasing. Darn. I was hoping it was a "real" quote.Delete
I disagree about insta-lust though. Women must feel that too or there wouldn't be such a thing as one-night stands, right?
I do believe FATE has a strong say in our lives, though we can choose how we deal with that fate most times. In my stories? I love to use symbolism and theme to show that what has happened long ago affects us now and will continue to have power in our future. My spirit/ghost characters symbolize Southern guilt over slavery, for example. We cannot escape that fate unless we DO something to change how we think about and react to it now.ReplyDelete
Nice post--it made me think!
I love the idea of symbolism and recurring themes. I feel like those are marks of a good book - and a good writer. Thanks for stopping by and chiming in!Delete
Very interesting Blog. I definitely believe in fate. I'm very superstitious. There has to be a reason for what happens.ReplyDelete
So here's a tiny little Cape Cod-centric superstition, in that when you find a piece of sea glass that isn't "ready" (still glass, not cloudy yet) if you throw it back the ocean will give you another. It always works for me.Delete
Sometimes there are no logical reasons, especially when bad things happen to good people. But as others have noted, it's how we respond to the situation that defines our destiny.
Deep questions for my over-edited mind right now (too many manuscripts reading back to back...). But good ones! In fact my characters had a very similar convo along the line of fate or coincidence. I do like how our characters need to suffer the consequences of their good/bad choices! I lean more toward fate. My one character - yup. The other one, she is unsure.ReplyDelete
Serendipitous that your characters are debating this when you find my blog and this discussion. Like it was meant to be...Delete
Thanks for stopping by! Even if fate brought you here!
I remember some of those long discussions from college days--:) Whether fate or consequence, some things can also be viewed as existential absurdities. I definitely agree on the layering of developments in our writing. If something happens at the end of a book that has not been foreshadowed at all throughout, or has not had the foundation built for, I feel miffed.ReplyDelete
Exactly. In the context of writing a story, you shouldn't take the easy way out. Things have to happen for a reason.Delete
Glad you stopped by, Barbara!
I definitely believe in fate--I loved The Celestine Prophecy back in the day--that there aren't coincidences, instead reminders or pokes from the universe. In yogic talk, I like to say we don't have control over external events (think hurricanes, etc) but we can control our reaction to said events. That's where life gets interesting.ReplyDelete
I also dislike personal conflict so sometimes it's tough to write it! I do believe in insta-lust because it has happened to me in prior relationships. I'd meet someone, feel drawn irrevocably to them and then mistake physical chemistry for love. Then I'd wake up and have to break an engagement to someone who I was attracted to, but wasn't a good person. It's all so personal!
Great blog, as always!
Totally agree about the insta-lust. I think it happens to men and women who maybe have yet to experience real love, and can sometimes confuse lust with deeper emotions.Delete
Although "break an engagement" makes it sound like more of a story... your next second chance romance perhaps?
Thanks for chiming in, Claire!