The Art of Fiction

     Fiction doesn’t necessarily mean that the story is not true. It is made up, sure, but these fictional things still happen; the characters aren’t real, but their stories represent hundreds of untold stories silenced by hundreds of silenced voices. Fiction is honest—oftentimes more honest than we’re willing to be in our real lives. It is by fictionalizing real-life pain that we are able to distance ourselves enough to understand why it hurts.

     We are all our own protagonists in the stories of our lives, and we need to learn who and what our antagonists are, who and what are our adversaries. Fiction helps us identify them in our own lives. Emphasized time and time again in my writing classes is the fact that antagonists aren’t necessarily negative; they simply get in the way of the protagonist reaching his or her ultimate goals and desires. Once I learned that, it became much easier to accept my own antagonists, to identify why they have impeded my journey and accept that it isn’t always bad to be interrupted in this journey of mine. Just because I’m my protagonist doesn’t mean I always know what is best for me. Oftentimes antagonists are the key components to the protagonist’s growth and understanding. Without strong antagonists, the protagonist remains stagnant.

     You are someone else’s antagonist as well, and that’s OK. If a character in a fiction story is in a relationship of any kind, it is almost guaranteed that the significant other acts as his or her antagonist at multiple points in the story. When someone or something gets in the way of our desire to be who we want to be, we fight back in different ways. We all have our own desires, and when love is involved, we mix our desires with the desires of those whom we love, and that’s when things get complicated; that’s when tension rises and disputes occur. That’s also what makes a story.

     It’s sort of beautiful that what makes people want to give up in real life is what makes the reader hold on even tighter in fiction. I think when I realized that, I saw my own conflicts as much greater than simply disputes. They were setting me back from achieving my desires (what in writing is called a “reversal”) but also creating beautiful, intriguing tension that embellishes my story into something greater. I was able to see what was at stake instead of simply what I was losing.

     Life is beautiful. Life is also confusing. Everybody goes into it as an amateur, and we’re all sort of figuring it out together, which means we make a lot of mistakes. I have a friend from high school whose father is an abusive alcoholic. He has been in and out of prison her entire life, and she tells me often that she wonders why she feels so conflicted. She loves him even though he has done so much to harm her and her mother, yet she’s also infinitely resentful. I wrote to her the other day after one of my writing classes and told her that the all-good and the all-bad characters don’t work. The reader doesn’t buy into them—because they’re not realistic. Instead, the reader longs to connect with the characters; they’re reading in such a way that they love the characters in spite of every wrong decision. We want to root for characters, but we also want to see the wrong in them, because we’re the same way in life. That’s what love is. When we love somebody—even when we hate them—we have a connection with them; even when they’re at their worst, we root for the small part of them that we once knew and loved. It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s how our hearts work. We don’t celebrate beauty unless we can see it breaking through the darkness. Creating characters is art, and it is through the pain represented in art that we find beauty. It is through secretly caring for the villain that one finally understands why she can’t hate her alcoholic father. It is through reading fiction that we are able to understand our own truths, and it is through writing fiction that we are able to be honest with ourselves without being the protagonist. We are the storytellers, and life is worth telling, even if you tell it through a lens of a character vastly different than you, even if you don’t agree with your characters’ truths. For you will unveil your own truths through the beautiful relationships you find in the characters of fiction.

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