We writers spend our days and nights dreaming up new people (and nonhuman characters too), building new worlds and raveling and unraveling plots at a pace that would make the Fates envious. But, have you ever thought about your own life as if it were a story, just some points of action/tension on the plot diagram?
When I was a kid, I spent a short period of my life thinking about my life as a story, sort of like the Wonder Years with a narrator and everything (though I narrated in my head and not aloud). This wasn’t a phase that lasted long. But, over the years, I find myself coming back to the thought again and again, particularly in times of strife or struggle: what if my life were just a story?
This, of course, inspires dozens of other questions, including: What would the reader think of me as a character? Am I a hero, an anti-hero, or a villain? Is there really such things as a villain or is it all perception?
I feel like I’m kind of breaking the fourth wall here in a way….but I’ll continue and hopefully you’re still with me.
This way of thinking may sound completely out there and weird, but I do find that it helps me in a variety of ways. First, it allows me to cope with difficult situations and look at them from an outsider perspective. I often get caught up in the moment and I react strongly to things. Over the years, I’ve gotten better about holding back and assessing the situation before responding. Sometimes thinking about my life as a story helps with this because it encourages me to think about things from all angles. How might others view this situation? How might other people involved in the situation feel? Is this a fork in the road? If so, where do I see myself going next?
Second, thinking about my life as a story helps me in my writing because it reminds me that domestic plot points, particularly ones that are not steeped in violence, heroics, life-threatening situations or other scenarios, can and do make interesting fodder for readers. I just finished reading a masterful book called A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. The book is a family story about a family of first- and second-generation immigrants to the United States. For me, because I don’t have the same life experiences as a first- or second-generation immigrant, the story is about being a family and the twists and turns of life. I certainly acknowledge the role, experience and challenges of being a recent immigrant, just so we’re clear. But, there are several other layers to the story to be discovered and explored as well. Fatima does a beautiful job of pulling out small moments and showing how they have larger impact on life and on relationships, like the growing ripples in a pool. Also, her writing is just plain beautiful. She captures the senses in an extraordinary way in her descriptions and scene building. If you’re looking for a new read, I highly recommend this book.
Stories are all about perspective and experience. Why do we write them? To challenge the world to look at a situation, character or another concept in a new way. Historically, writers wrote to challenge the status quo, to point out the inefficiency of society or the nonsensical decisions that someone in a position of power has made. But, we also write for ourselves. We put the stories we want to see out in the world (thank you post-post modernism 🙂 ) When I think about my own life as a story and I see what I imagine to be a long stretch of time that goes dozens of years (hopefully) into the future, I see the haze of a path that, each day, becomes a little more clear. I still don’t know if I’m the hero, but I do know that I will stand up for what I believe to be right for myself (including writing whatever story I want) and I will defend those around me. I will live and love fiercely and I will stand proudly. And really, perhaps that’s all I need in this modern age…because it’s my story to tell and my story to live.