It was Gaiman who said: “Stories are ways that we communicate important things, but … stories maybe really are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance.”
So I find it perfect in a way that my novel Ink Calls to Ink is being compared to Gaiman. He is a big influence on my writing. American Gods is a particular favorite. We seem to be on somewhat of the same page on how stories, and their characters grow.
That was what got me writing Ink Calls to Ink, at least.
These characters, removed from the relative “comfort zone” of their familiar texts find themselves in unfamiliar lands. All that they have left is their sense of self. Their stories. But at what point does the comfort of that known story become more crutch than comfort, more excuse to not change rather than grow?
We’ve all been there, believe it or not.
All our lives, we’ve had people try to fit us into boxes, held us up to their expectations. Whether it’s the gender-role expectation that girls want to be princesses who will grow up to be good wives and boys will enjoy sports and cars. Whether it’s the well-meaning societal expectation that we’ll go to college, get a job, and get married and raise the next generation. We’re fitted with labels that become scripts that become the paths society expects us to take.
Some are harmless. But I’d argue that most of them, even the benign ones, hinted at rather than articulated, are, at best, limiting. And it’s too tempting for us to use those same labels and expectations as excuses. Take for example something as simple as Astrological charts. I’m a Taurus, and if you know anything about Taurus, the Bull, it’s likely that they are stubborn. And yeah, I can be stubborn. You know who else can be stubborn? Pretty much everyone. Every time my stubborn streak is challenged and I react with “Well, I’m a Taurus,” then I lose–I lose that opportunity to do better.
It’s easy not to work on your own story. It’s easy to look at where you are and not challenge it.
Want another example?
I’ve been married. Three times, actually. The “Why” of the beginning and end for each of those is kind of immaterial. Suffice to say they all started with the best of intentions. They all seemed like good ideas at the time. And when they ended, that was also a good idea. But the “Why” of the overall narrative bears examining.
I always thought I was supposed to get married. I bought that social narrative. It was expected of me to get married, get a good job. I was sold a lie that that would make me complete. And when it didn’t I felt like I failed. The problem was that I was trying to follow a generic plan for a happy life that just didn’t fit. And as long as I tried to follow that script I wasn’t going to be happy.
It wasn’t until I had been alone for a while, throwing myself into my writing and making it my primary focus, that I realized what did make me happy. It wasn’t until I shed off any notion of what was expected of me, what other people’s idea of my happiness should be, that I was able to find my own. It’s at the very root of Existentialism, that the universe has no meaning for us and our lives that we do not find for ourselves. I found my better story by writing it myself. And it’s an ongoing process. I am constantly trying to evolve and grow my view of the world, to make myself a better person and the world a better place around me. We change the world by changing ourselves first.
But we have to be open to some brutal self-examination. We have to challenge ourselves and our preconceptions. And, ultimately, we have to change.
Which brings us back to the characters of Ink Calls to Ink.
The characters are shaped by their text. Even more so by people’s expectations based on what they know of the text. Judas, for example, is known primarily for his act of betrayal. His death is known, but there are different translations and editions of the bible and his manner of death is not consistent in all versions. Judas remembers all of them, because in that way he is myriad. But where is the deeper reading of his text? How does he fit into the larger story of which he was a part? Without his betrayal, could the rest of the tale happened? Does that make his act holy because it allowed the crucial martyrdom of Jesus? Does that, in turn, make Judas himself a martyr? Is he a villain or a victim? That is something that he’s left to struggle with throughout Ink Calls to Ink. Is he condemned to a limited reading of his text, or is he capable of more? Is he worthy of redemption, and if so, what form does that take?
Removed from their text, removed from that sense of predetermination, is it possible for the Fictional Personae to evolve and grow beyond their stories?
Do the Fictional Personae accept someone else’s story, or do they learn to write their own?