September 30, 2003

I'm having some issues with the story of my life of late. One of the unfortunate side-effects of being a writer is a tendency to think the real world should follow the pattern of fiction. I've always been particularly bad in that respect.

It's taken me years to stop having panic attacks every time I realize I'm in a situation that would make for a perfect tragedy. I'm no longer horribly disappointed when what would have been a perfect love story fizzles out. Life doesn't really ever imitate art, in my experience.

However, I have to admit that I continue to be guilty of expecting my life to follow the correct outline. Considering I've never been good at getting the outline done before jumping into the story, it's somewhat odd to be caught in this. But maybe it's just that it's second nature for me.

Nearly every book follows roughly the same pattern, story plugging along, then hitting an apex when the big stuff finally happens, then there's the denouement, when everything's tied up. This is true in nearly every type of fiction.

In most relationship stories, the apex is when the couple finally gets together, the denouement when you know they'll live happily ever after. Alternatively, they finally break up, as a positive life change for all involved.

In a mystery/thriller/or espionage novel, the apex is solving the case, denouement is locking up the bad guys.

In a children's book the apex is the epiphany the child has about sharing or that individuality is good, the denouement coming with the child sharing or being him/herself.

Even in a cookbook there's a sort of apex in finishing up the main dishes leading into the denouement of dessert.

So naturally that's the way my life should work, yes? And yet...

I suppose I've probably had the story arc a couple of times already, if I think about it.

I went to college, had an internal crisis, decided to drop out, started a new life, learned lots of lessons and lived happily ever after, for a couple of years.

Then, a few years later after going back to college, had an epiphanic European trip, moved to SF, found a guy, we got together and lived happily ever after. For a couple of years.

Then I had unhappily ever after for a couple of years, then we broke up, as a positive life change for all involved. I've lived happily ever after for a few years now.

There's the problem. The happily ever after. Once you hit the apex in a story, usually there are a few pages of tying things up then it's over. There aren't 300 more pages of day-to-day denouement. Who would read that?

So here I am, happily ever aftering like crazy, thrilled with my happy little life, but starting to itch a bit. Shouldn't there be a plot twist coming up? Don't I need a conflict to resolve? What happened to the characters once everything was tied up? Was it this?

If I wouldn't want to read a book that was mostly denouement, why would I want to live the happily ever after? Where's the challenge in that? Where's the heart leaping into my throat with excitement? Where's the rapt attention that keeps me turning pages?

I recently read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, something I never did as a kid and thought I'd like to do. I won't go into long commentary about Tolkien's laborious style and excessive attention to detail, I'll just say ultimately it was an ok experience, glad to have done it, glad it's done.

The interesting thing about the last book in the series is--the apex of story, the big event you wait for throughout the entire series, happens a good 100 pages before the end of the book. There are 100 pages of denouement. And it irritated the hell out of me.

I fear the plot twists. I'm afraid of the conflict, the challenge. I can't imagine what they could be--what might come next. Part of me wants to write the rest of the story, even if it ends up being all more of the same.

But I fear the continuing denouement more. While I happily plod along, I look for the potential in each dialogue. I watch for clues to the mystery. I'm waiting for the moral to appear. And I dream of higher apexes and future denouements that will top this one.

Posted by Alyssa at September 30, 2003 08:06 PM

This is where being a control freak can come in handy. When you are tired of the humdrum, either good or bad constancy, you shake things up. By deciding to make the change, you can feel a little more like you are directing your life's drama, even though the question of freedom vs. determination still looms. Sometimes the changes help you avoid what would otherwise be a personal crisis, either by being busy enough that you don't focus on it, or being somewhere else when it would have hit. Sometimes you just find that you have ordered yourself up a double helping of stress and misery.

I know I have the bad habit of getting restless when things are good. When things aren't so good, you can justify the change, regardless of how radical it is, because it gets you moving. But when life is good, and you've been in that post-resolution period long enough to go beyond commfortable to restless, then radical actions can end up nothing more than self-sabotage. The fear of stagnancy drives me to find that line between status quo and recklessness to keep me engaged in living. I think it has been harder to learn how to appreciate where I'm at than it was to rush into the unknown.

Posted by: M on October 3, 2003 11:17 AM
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