“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope . . . ”
One of the most courageous pieces of work I’ve ever read is an essay on envy by Kathy Chetkovich. I agree that emotional integrity is, in the end, the true measure of how good a writer you can be. Only so far as you can tell the truth to yourself can you put it into your work, and the weight of truth in the work is the measure of its worth. At the same time, we don’t write fiction to display our selves. And about one’s meanest aspects a decent reticence is best.
I will confess to series envy. Look at Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It begins with Colour of Magic, which is simple, scattered, lightweight and messy. Now, several dozen books into it, Pratchett uses the series to do what fiction does best; create a metaphor through which humanity can view itself. And Pratchett does this with such profundity that each new book brings new revelations. He also writes with humor and joy, offering a continuing lesson that joy is the best mask for painful subjects. It will carry along more readers, through amazing depths of passion and pain, than any unmitigated pounding along through misery, awfulness and despair. And it cannot be said too often that Granny Weatherwax is one of the greatest characters of modern fiction.
And then there’s Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The first one is fun. Good idea, nicely paced, fun characters, good writing. A pleasant excursion. Twelve books into the series he has released passion and pain to such depths than tears come to my eyes remembering certain moments, and certain lines, in the later books. What better work could a writer hope for?
You can’t start from there. Okay, it may be possible that there is a writer somewhere, sometime, who can begin at such a place of power. But it’s not likely, because it’s the hundreds of hours of character development, of story-line set-ups, of sounding the well of knowledge and understanding through your characters in order to bring more and more into the story, that gets a writer to such a place of power. And you can’t start there.
So, in these latter years, seeing what can be done, given such time and scope, I have been experiencing series envy. What a trip it would be to take a story line so far. To see where it takes me. Because the characters become the guides, the story opens up new aspects, new ideas, new directions, you never realized until you get to that point. You can see that happen to a degree in any story you write, when the plot runs away from you to a better position, as characters take over and lead you to new vistas, as one tiny set-up you hardly remember putting in becomes the key to the major plot eruption far, far ahead in the book. If this much can happen in one book, what might happen in five?
And I can confess to series envy because I just turned in to Night Shade the second book of the Moon Wolf Saga. Where I had the joy of seeing the possibilities of small set-ups in the first book opening huge possibilities in what I hope will eventually be the third, and the fourth . . .
Envy is seeing your own hopes and desires in the mirror of other peoples’ achievements, while yours are crushed by frustration. The cure is work, and more work.