As my story “Mail” is set for publication in Issue #14 of The Quotable, I thought it best to address an issue concerning augury—a major component of my piece, but not in the piece’s creation.
Let me start by making this clear: I’ve never understood the draw of fortune-tellers.
It’s not that I’m skeptical about one’s ability to see what’s in store in my life (although that’s not entirely accurate; I am quite skeptical), but rather the idea that I’ll know what’s going to happen. Sure, there will still be daily mysteries, but because I know the outcome, I’ll never have to put any semblance of thought into a decision ever again. No more bad decisions. Only right ones.
So why would we want to turn over tarot cards for our characters?
Though everyone’s writing process is different, the outline can mean the death of authenticity in fiction. Create as overly-detailed a character sketch you please, but if we decide destiny before dropping her neck-deep into conflict, she’s no longer making decisions for herself; you are now a puppet-master, and that’s not the writer’s role.
My first sizable fiction escapade was an overly ambitious novel for my undergraduate thesis. I knew the character (hint…it was me). I had the idea. So off I went, constructing a 22-page outline that had in-depth synopses of every chapter I would write—summaries of writing that didn’t even exist! That’s insane! When I finally returned to it, after having it stowed away with the hope of one day returning to give it an oomph, not much was salvageable. I had 194 flat, predictable pages. No reader would invest any ardor into my protagonist because he seemed so…well…fictitious. Unnatural. Alien. The entire draft was recently recycled, most likely on the verge of being reincarnated into something practical, like a roll of paper towels.
The writer’s role is to present their characters’ version of reality. That’s it. Seeing the role as anything else risks a loss of natural character development. If we know their fate before their circumstances, the handling of said circumstances turns cliché because, as my novel writing taught me, the destiny is cliché. Why wouldn’t it be? According to a popular axiom, there are only so few stories to tell, but a bagillion ways to tell them (I’m paraphrasing here). In essence, we’re picking one of these stories to tell as opposed to being the bystander making sense of and enjoying the story as it unfolds. Gardner preached the writer’s creation of the “vivid” and “continuous dream” and the readers’ desire to be seized by it…let’s writes in a similar way.
Living is a series of heuristics. Our characters are (or should be) as complex and authentic as the writer himself if we expect readers to care. Let characters make their own decisions and, most importantly, their own discoveries. As for the writer, just watch and take notes.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to break open this fortune cookie. Powerball is coming up and I can’t wait to play these numbers.