The Real Tragedy

I am a father of two, and though I know better, I still fall for the typical parent trap of wishing my children will lead very boring lives. If they suffer no heartbreak or failure my wife and I will have succeeded in our parental duties. I would not, for instance, wish upon my children or friends any of the miseries I visit on the characters in my stories.

It’s a strange thing to wish.  When I was schoolboy, my friends and I had an unspoken competition to see who could tell the best story.  Any misfortune I endured was quickly spun into a tale, and the greater the misfortune, the greater the tale. My favorite involved my first girlfriend leaving me for a middle-aged man. It was disorienting and keenly tragic at the moment, but oh what a story.

We all know that stories begin when the conflict starts, and end when the conflict resolves. Every day when we sit down to write stories we are sitting down to heartbreak, misfortune, misunderstanding, loss, disease, and death. Misery is the heartbeat of fiction. Yet most of us, writers fully included, dream of a life free of it, believing even that our own tides of unhappiness are somehow an indication of our failings as a human being.

Like most writers, I have wanted to tell stories since I was a boy of nine; I was an excitable boy who wanted to tell exciting stories.  But it was not until middle age that my stories became truly exciting, as that was the point at which I accepted that the suffering necessary for good fiction was just as necessary for life—even mine, even my children’s.

Everything in life teaches us, and in my own life I have suffered most when I have resisted what events were trying to teach me. We call certain events tragic, yet what makes a tragic story tragic is not the death—because everyone must die—but that the hero did not learn what the story was trying to teach him until his death.

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