Let me state at the outset that I despise drama.
For instance, I never blunder. I might slip-up, err, or make mistakes – none of that is as dramatic-sounding as a blunder. Does that mean that my mistakes are too insignificant to warrant being called blunders? Of course not! After all, to err is human, and all that. But it’s just that my emotional response to those errors is never large enough to call them blunders.
Similarly, if I was unhappy, I would just be sad, not miserable. Definitely not wretched.
On the other hand, the characters in my stories tend to be just the opposite.
They slam doors. They walk out of rooms in fits of anger. They yell at each other. They pound fists on tables. Sometimes they even whisper dramatically.
If these characters talked normally to each other, or discussed things in a reasonable manner, there would be no conflict and no story. Who would want to read about a character when all he did was live happily ever after? Let alone reading, who would want to write about a character like that? Banish the thought – it is mind-numbingly boring! Except that in real life, it would just be boring, not quite mind-numbing.
In real life, I would never crawl through mysterious caves to save some endangered ancient artifact possessing magical powers. I would definitely not sneak across borders of nations, no matter who was chasing me, or why. And there is certainly no question of taking a leap of faith across a bottomless abyss.
But my characters would. If they didn’t, they would not be in the story.
Stories need some kind of struggle, a disturbance, or a conflict. They need enormous amounts of confrontation. There would be no story if the characters lived in a happy world filled with beauty and light and perpetual safety. What would Scarlett O’Hara be if the Civil War had never happened? What would Harry Potter be if his parents were not murdered? What would Frodo be without his quest? A good story requires the darkness of Mordor to make the action relevant.
The things that people enjoy doing in real life – spending quiet evenings with loved ones, taking moonlit strolls on beaches, hiking in mountains, or doing something as simple as dining at fancy restaurants or watching movies – all these things would appear utterly mundane if they were all that a story was made up of.
Yet, a life made up of these is just fine. In real life, we are content letting things be as safe and conflict-free as possible. In real life, we would not want a dangerous adventure to befall us.
There seems to be a dichotomy between real life and fiction. The normal chains of events that a normal person calls life have no place in fiction except to be used as props. Similarly, the wild swings of fortune that happen in fiction would not be welcome in a normal person’s real life.
I think it is important to recognize this dichotomy. Doing so enables us to compartmentalize both aspects of life – real and imaginary. It allows us to relish a smooth, bump-free ride called normal life, while reveling in the vicarious pleasure that tales of fiction provide. Let the yells and the chases and imperilled lives be only imaginary.
Those who fail to recognize this often end up bringing drama in real life. Bad strategy.
I admit that human mind craves adventure in some form. But let’s face it – most of us are incapable of handling the relentless action which is necessarily an outcome of that adventure. We are kings of words, but paupers of actions; and real life is not compatible with drama, because constant drama is unsustainable. It requires too much effort and energy to participate in. Most people cannot spare that energy. If they do try, they cause instability – not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of people they interact with.
Perhaps that is where stories come into the picture. Good stories – whether in books or in movies – play a role of supplying the much-desired element of drama in people’s lives without being an integral and ongoing part of their routine. Good writers are content being gentle to the point of being called dull, reserving all the color and drama only for the works they produce.
Therefore, fellow writers, take heart if someone impressed by your fiery words finds you dull and boring when meeting you in person. That is exactly what a balanced writer strives for – to be content purring peacefully, letting the paper tiger do the growling.