Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Stories: Alternate Realities

I just read Life of Pi and found it interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the two-story concept—if you don't like how one life story goes, make up another.

It struck me that we all live two lives—the one we actually live and the one we tell ourselves we're living. Of course, this translates to the writing life. If we didn't believe we'd be published, few of us would keep writing. Through the vehicle of our imagination, we tell ourselves how life will go and what its outcome will be.

Also in the writing life is the concept of creative duality, especially in endings. Charles Dickens originally wrote a different ending for Great Expectations but changed it on the advice of a friend to make it more satisfying to readers. In Life of Pi, the writer intentionally provides a second story for readers to consider. Why? Maybe so that we’ll see something of ourselves, as in a mirror darkly. It’s an interesting writing technique—this concept of duality, and one we can employ for contrast like a Rembrandt where light and dark are so clearly what they are because they’re presented side by side.

At one point, Pi, the overarching narrator in Life of Pi, asks the two men whom he has told his story which is better. Both say the more palatable story is better, the one easier on the heart. Pi responds, “And so it goes with God,” as if God has created two stories of our lives, one easier to take because it’s not real and one harder to take because it is. I, too, found Pi’s easier story better, maybe in part because it was the story I was told all along. Only in the end does suspicion arise that this was not what really happened.

One thing, however, is clear—duality makes for a powerful creative tool. The author used it to convey a truth that was evidenced in a paragraph on fear midway through the novel. “real fear … seeks to rot everything … so you must fight hard to express it … to shine the light of words upon it … if you don’t … you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

So, instead of being afraid to create, let’s shine the light of words on the next blank page.

For a way to put today's musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list. As always, let us know how it goes.

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