Finding The Way Home

Blog, On Writing, What I'm Thinking

As a storyteller, I spend a lot of time wondering what’s at the base of our very human struggles. We search for balance in our lives. Purpose. Meaning. We struggle to find, and to hold onto, the elusive awareness that we are okay, at a spiritual level, regardless of how rich or poor, happy or sad, healthy or ill, we might be.

But what are we really looking for? It’s an ancient question, and a luxury, newly minted by each of us as we try to make sense of the time we’re given. It’s only asked by people who have enough to eat and shelter from the elements; who have the privilege—and the ability—to rise above the clouds and to see sun-tipped peaks in the distance, and to retain that vision even when the clouds rise to obscure it.  

Even the most secure and grounded of us have moments of feeling a little bit lost. At such times, which often feel like life crises, what we’re really struggling to find is Home. Even if we’ve never been there, we struggle to find that place where safety and belonging feels absolute.

I believe the basic tension in every story is the tension between characters who are lost and their willingness to struggle towards what might be home.  I often find myself helping a character to move in a particular direction, without knowing precisely where home might be or what it might look like. Sometimes, like an overbearing parent, I’m too eager for my children to succeed in a specific way, and I push too hard. When that happens, characters have no hesitation about sabotaging their stories. They refuse to cooperate until I create another path for them, and they can recognize the smell of “home” at the end of it.

Sometimes it’s not that simple. Sometimes “home” is elusive and undefined. For example, in writing On the Sickle’s Edge, I felt several times that I had lost touch with my character, Darya. It was as if she had gone rogue, off the game plan. She seemed on a self-destructive path of her own choosing, regardless of how it might affect other characters in the story, even those she loved deeply. I thought I’d failed as the writer, that I was too eager to push her towards conventional personal and professional success. No matter how hard I tried to subtly influence her behavior, she acted out through me in a way that deprived me of all control. I realized eventually that, of course, I had no control. This was her life. This was her journey. If there was “home” at the end of it, she would have to define for herself what the word meant and search for it. When I stepped back and allowed her free rein, she seemed much more reasonable. At least, to me, her behavior became far more understandable.    

How readers respond to a story depends upon how close a cherished character comes to finding her way home. She doesn’t have to arrive—in fact, she probably shouldn’t. That would be tying all the loose ends in a tidy little bow. But if she can see candlelight in the windows, or the figure of that long lost Beloved pruning the roses in the front garden, that might just be close enough.

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