Write Your Own Story

Here is a story idea:

It is the early 20th century. Think Anne of Green Gables or To Kill a Mockingbird; an innocent time with innocent children. Think of a red-headed girl with long braided pigtails and a freckled face, a tom-boy in a skirt who climbs trees and “duels” with sticks and does all the things boys are supposed to do. Her family decides to hire a maid, a black single mother with a daughter of about the same age, a tom-boy in trousers. Our protagonist meets black people for the first time in her life, and when see meets the black girl, she is struck by an overwhelming emotion she is too young to recognize as love. Since this is long before people started talking about lesbianism or feminism, the relationship that starts is tumultuous. She starts out picking on the black girl, then become fast friends, then torments her again. The amplitude of her swings continues to enlarge until she adopts racist ideology early in her adulthood (about the time it was in vogue) and the black girl lashes back in a way that could land her in jail, at which point the white girl about faces and takes great risks to keep the black girl free. They suffer through failed marriages, tragic parenting and separations. They do not understand that they are lesbians until their husbands start accusing them as such, to which they at first respond with distaste. Divorce is followed by social isolation for the both of them. They finally come to peace with the true nature of their relationship in middle age. When the civil rights movement, and later the gay rights movement appear on the scene, they take turns being offended. What right do these newbies have to demand rights they grew up and suffered without? They have to learn, in later life, to support causes they might have benefited from in their youth, which they find to be a struggle.Eventually, they become mellow old ladies who die in each other’s arms. The End.

Not a bad story. If I managed to pull it off it might grow into a pretty good book. But isn’t it strange that such a story will pop into the head of a middle aged Japanese man who had spent most of his life in Japan? You would expect the author of this story to be an African American woman.

Sometimes, an elaborate story just pops into your head and you don’t know where it came from, like, once every all the time.

But then again, a story about a couple who are too stubborn to admit to themselves or each other how much they love each other is a common trope of romance novels. The only thing novel about this mixed-race gay romance is the pre-WWI-through-post-WWII timeline. I don’t generally write romance, but it is not really an original idea, so it should not come as a big surprise that such a story should come to me.

On the other hand, if you think of the controversy that followed the publication of Remains of the Day, a story set in an English manor written by a writer of Japanese extraction, or the brouhaha that followed the publication of The Incarnations, a historic novel set in China written by a British author, it does not strain the imagination to see what kind of animosity will be inevitably generated if a straight, middle-aged, Japanese male wrote a story of a race-tinged love/hate relationship between Caucasian and African-American lesbians.

Woody Allen once said that you cannot control who you fall in love with. In that respect, creative writing is very much like love. It hits you out of nowhere and leads you into the most unconventional of relationships. If a fifty-year-old man fell tragically in love with a twelve-year-old girl, he cannot un-fall in love. The best he can do is to keep his feelings to himself and not act on it. Suppressing pedophilia in that way should raise no objections in a first world country in the 21st century. But what about suppressing your love of writing? When you stumble into an unconventional affair with a story, is it a good idea to pursue the project? Or even if it is clearly NOT a good idea, socially and politically, is it acceptable to forfeit on the story in fear of being ostracized? It may not be a good simile, but if it is true that you cannot control who you are destined to fall in love with, and can only control what you do about it, and it could be someone from a different class, a different race, or the same sex, each of which were forbidden at one time or another, and still carry consequences in some societies to different degrees, at what point is it cowardice not to run with it? I wouldn’t be jailed for writing the story I outlined above, but I will definitely be asking for trouble. Is it cowardice to shrink away from that?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would know the answer to that. He believed all silence to be lies. It is a matter of integrity for the writer to not cave in to the potential harassment of whatever political body that may oppose him.

But why so serious? This is only fiction. This is only a story. Even in the off chance that I managed to finish a decent novel, and an even slimmer chance that the book was represented and published, how many people would make the effort to pick it up and read it? Why fight for principle when there is little chance that the story will be published, sold, and bought? What sense is there to make the effort if you know that the book will give you nothing but trouble should it survive? It is just a bad lottery ticket.

Fortunately, I am not so madly in love with this story idea. I can discard it without much thought. And that’s the thing. I could write this story if I tried. But I do not have a reason to fight for this story to be told. In that sense, it is not my story.

I read somewhere that you should ask yourself why you are writing your story, and find a good answer to why you need to have your story told. I thought that was rather pretentious. What profound reason did Agatha Christie have to write Death on the Nile? Did she feel that she needed to tell that story? Not every story needs a good reason why it needs to be told. But, as in the example above, sometimes an idea pops into your head with a warning label attached. Why pursue this story if it doesn’t mean anything to you? Why tell if you do not need to tell it?

I am not saying that I will not, nor that you should not write a story that is not about you. Writers are perverse that way. And whether or not you are emotionally invested in your story has less to do with your life experiences than the work you put into its creation. Any random writer could be struck with an idea for a story that is sure to get them in trouble, and fall madly in love with it. And that is the dangerous thing about writing.

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