How are we going to get out of this?

Dragon Smaug by Tim Kane“The best stories don’t come from good vs bad, but good vs good.” – Tolstoy

If you’re a plot geek like me, this quote is both interesting and instructive. It’s been pinging at me lately, because I think it holds an interesting nugget about the challenges of our times. And it speaks to so many things; Terrorism, Trump, Brexit, Egypt, Palestine, weight gain and tweets.

In stories that are good vs good the conflicts are more internal. Everyone is both a good and a bad guy in a way. It’s about how each of us has our reasons for doing what we do. These are the hard stories to write, because they’re about moving targets we all deal with every day. At their best, they are metaphorical or philosophical.

Plot lines that involve bad vs good feature a clear black hat vs white hat. Detective vs murderer. Superhero vs Dark Menace. FBI vs Terrifying Terrorists (or choose from a broad assortment of racial delineations).

I’m starting to wonder if the predominance of such clearly delineated conflicts has impacted how we all think. That perhaps, by scarfing down simplistic stories, our brains no longer recognize that moral lines are usually complicated and confusing. We yearn for simplicity in a complicated world, so we reach for what’s easy. There are bad people. Here are good people. There’s no in-between. Period. End of sentence.

Life is about change. Stories help us to rehearse for the emotional aspects of life’s challenges. At their best, they show us how to look beneath the easy surface answers. To recognize that a bully bullies because he was bullied himself. How one blow leads to so many more. How we are all human, we all need food and shelter and love and acceptance. That really, there is no “us vs them”. And when there is an “us vs them” (aka duality) we end up in dangerous places. And I think we’re in one of those places now.

In these conflicts, the black hat-wearing dame has a huge ego. She wants to rule or destroy the world and take all of the riches and keep them to herself. She is the dragon hiding in the mountain, sitting on her pile of gold.

But ya know what? The white hat is just as egotistical as his black hat wearing sister. Because although he doesn’t want to destroy the world or rule the world, or keep all of its riches to himself, he is adamantly certain of where to draw the line between good and evil.

It’s all about judgement: Above the line, below the line. Good enough, not good enough. In this climate, negotiation isn’t possible, because that would involve giving in to evil. Life is about competition not collaboration. Rules apply to everyone else, not me. In fact, they’re for dupes and need to be broken. The other side is always entirely wrong. Lock them up, they’re crazy.

Plus, because everyone is delineated as entirely good or entirely evil, none of us are allowed to make a mistake. One false slip and you’ve “gone to the dark side.” You’re garbage. Go away and hide.

A desire for simplicity, for clarity, has got us here. But it’s a mental habit that has obvious down sides. So, how can we get out?

The only answer I’ve found is to look for what is common between us. To find ways to stop thinking in judgemental ways.

What do you think? Do the stories we tell have an influence on our society? Has the predominance of stories featuring good vs evil as opposed to good vs good made us expect the same in real life?  Share below.

FYI: Comments involving partisan politics will not be published. This blog isn’t about that. We need some safe zones, right?

Advertisements

A metamorphosis

0_hor_beach-fence

The publishing game, like the recording industry, is in evolution. Book publishers are struggling. Many authors with impressive publishing records are finding it hard to place their work. Bookstores are disappearing. According to some, the novel is a dying art form.

Dying or evolving?

I would argue, however, this kind of hyperbole is the easy way out and it does nothing to pinpoint where the real change resides.

Will Self wrote a compelling (and long) piece for the Guardian about the novel’s demise, pointing out that the long narrative form is in an evolutionary stage, not a death rattle. I think he’s got a point. The novel is just one type of long form narrative. Prior to the novel’s prevalence, Dickens was publishing his stories in magazine serials.

In the New Yorker, George Packer wrote a piece, Is Amazon Bad for Books? about how Jeff Bezos used the book industry to gather data and figure out how to sell stuff to intelligent people. In doing so, he removed the publishing gatekeepers from their castles and turned publishing into a two-tiered system. On the one hand, there are the Harry Potter Shades of Grey trends that go from page to movie screen to McDonald’s plastic lunch figurines. Below that there’s a swamp of cheap unknowns. Gradually, the masses are becoming the gatekeepers.

If his version of the trend is correct, we’ll we end up with picture books of cats and dogs.

Cats and dogs

As much as I like cats and dogs, I don’t think I could survive on a steady diet of them.

I bet there are many others who feel the same. More people than ever are curling up with their kindles or kobos or iphones. They’re reading on packed streetcars and planes. They’re drinking too much wine at reading clubs trying to remember explain metaphors. They’re hearing and participating in Canada Reads debates and lapping up Oprah’s recommendations (I’d link to her, but her site is weird and I don’t think she needs the promo 😉 ).

We crave those moments, sitting alone, allowing our imaginations to take wing. Where the stage of imagery is on the screen of our minds, rather than constructed for us. Where stories allow us to explore places and experiences outside the realm of normal day-to-day schedules.

The gatekeeper role is changing places, but it doesn’t mean that, in all cases, they’re lowering their standards.

Less talk, more action

A few initiatives are out there that are helping to figure this conundrum out.

In a new blog on self-publishing, The Guardian makes a very good point: The trouble with many self-published projects is quality. New authors, so proud of the plain act of stringing so many words together, get their work out without much reflection or input. Then they’re defeated when their work doesn’t catch on. Or, writers who do manage to find quality are not so good at promoting their work, and get lost in the deluge.

But how do you get a one-man band to realize they may be very good at playing the harmonica, but may need some help with the bass drum?

Indie Author Land has a competition to find the 50 best self-published books of the past year. They received 5,000 nominations in 2 weeks. (Yikes!).

Should book publishers be morphing into book development midwives? Change the emphasis from putting stories on printed pages and focus on developing the writers? A model similar to that has existed for playwrights in Canada (PDCC). These organizations read early drafts of a playwright’s work, provide feedback and when ready, hold a reading with professional actors. These organizations are government funded, but so are literary presses.

If anyone out there knows of another indie author community, please let me know in the comments. Or do you have something to say on this topic? Go for it.