By Aaron Ritchey
So, in a story, you have the hero with a flaw who overcomes their flaw to beat the villain and win the day. Hurray! We all love a good story arc because it gives us hope—deliriously flawed creatures that we are.
Let’s flash back, oh, I don’t know, five years. I was a writer full of envy. I couldn’t go into bookstores because all the names and all the covers reminded me that I had so far to go and I probably would never get there. While other people had. At conferences, I met those successful people and my jealousy raged! I withdrew to my underground lair to seethe in isolation.
Yet I soldiered on. I was the heroic writer. I practiced celebrating the victories of my writer friends. I went to book stores and enjoyed the hunt. I overcame my jealousy.
Five years later, I am published. I have books out in the world. And my envy was dead. I had slain the dragon. Or if this was Disney, I had engineered the demise of the villain without doing anything blatantly violent. Like shanking them for instance. You don’t see a lot of Disney villains getting shanked nowadays.
Victorious! My envy was gone!
Then, something happened to me that people hate in stories. I went backwards. I began to compare my career with other writers. I began to look on Amazon, not for books, but for other people’s rankings. Were their rankings better than mine?
Slowly, the envy demon slid back into my soul, like this was season thirteen of Supernatural and once again, either Sam or Dean was all secretly evil and stuff. I hated. I loathed. I envied.
They say a rising tide raises all ships, that the success of one writer nurtures the success of others. I didn’t care about that. I wanted to torpedo their ships, watch their decks sprout fire, and then laugh as the black water sucked ‘em down.
So yeah, no character arc for me.
Then I picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Amazon ranking is 620 with over 4,000 reviews). I started listening to the audio book; Wil Wheaton does the narration, and man, that book is JOYFUL! Mr. Cline breaks the “rules” left and right: he has long pages of exposition, he doesn’t have an inciting incident for like fifty pages, and then he zaps the tension right when he could’ve put on the screws. So yeah, I can pick it apart, I can get envious, but do you know what?
The book won’t let me. Because there is JOY in the pages. He wrote the story he wanted the way he wanted; he throws in 80s references in his supposedly young adult novel that even I don’t get, and I was a teenager right smack dab in the frickin’ 80s. In the end, the book is so very wonderful. I don’t want it to end. My life is better, richer, because Ernest Cline wrote Ready Player One.
Where does this leave my envy? In tatters. Yes, I can envy him and his success, but that doesn’t feel right because though I want to hate him, I can’t. I can only celebrate his story.
Loving Ernest Cline’s book to loving my own stuff might seem like a big leap, but it’s not.
The wonder of being an author is that I get to write books I love. I get to choose the kinds of characters I like, put in the story twists that always shock me, and have tears, lots of tears and emotion.
This is the reality of being human versus being a character in a story. Being human means I will always cycle around to envy; I’m just built that way. However, getting unstuck from envy, or despair, or resentment, or any of the other emotions gets easier the more I write and the more I do all that authorly stuff I need to do to be successful.
The morass of self-pity gets shallower each time I find myself trudging through the well-trudged mud.
Like playing a video game. That Cyberdemon from Doom was hard to kill the first time, and even the second, and even third, but the more I played, the easier it got.
Ready Player One.