Want a sure way to rejected by every publisher ever? Start your query letter with, “This is a character driven novel.” I guarantee you’ll be getting the “Thanks, but this is not for us” email before your tea gets cold. Characters create feelings, give insight, and spur our desires, but in Western culture they don’t drive the story. Readers flock to plot driven stories because, let’s face it, we live in a plot driven world. Nowhere is this more evident than the daily news.
Every news story, 24/7, is some combination of “action,” “reaction,” or “the next act/reaction/implosion/explosion/backtrack/side-track/thing to get us all killed.” Day after day we endure countless assaults on our psyche with our fear center targeted as ground zero. When your day starts with, “What will happen if I lose my health insurance?” and you take a lunch break to ponder, “Is someone going to walk into my child’s school with a gun today?” before watching where the bombs (literal and figurative) are falling while you cook dinner, it’s a sure bet peace of mind isn’t what you’ll be having for dessert. Petty lies, personality politics, devastating injustice, and this horrendous weather (Spring shouldn’t feel like December) – it’s all too much. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.
There seems to be two choices – shut yourself in a cave and learn nothing of the world, or continue to endure the daily carpet bombing of breaking news until the foundation shatters and you plummet into despair. Fortunately, there’s another choice – a chance to be aware, but not overwhelmed, involved but not consumed. Sit down, breathe deeply, and see the story through a different motivating lens. Transcend the plot.
We are taught in meditation that every single breath matters. Every inhale, every exhale, is another chance to take in courage and send out compassion, take in trouble and send out comfort, take in lies and send out truth. Like a tree that absorbs toxic gasses and releases oxygen, we can mindfully bring life, hope, and happiness back into our narrative – one breath at a time.
How it looks in my practice:
News: The family of a burglar, who died after being stabbed while robbing a home, put up a memorial in front of the house where he was killed – only to have it torn down by angry neighbors supporting the elderly man who killed the burglar to protect his wife and home.
Transcend the plot: Take out the judgement, the action, the labels.
Breath in: A human being is dead; another human being was frightened and took a life. A family is in mourning. A neighborhood is angry.
Breath out:Peaceful passing to the next life for the man who is dead; healing and comfort to the homeowner who is damaged. Compassion for the ones who mourn. Wisdom and patience for the ones who act in anger.
News: President Trump announced the US, France and UK did a joint operation to bomb Syrian weapons factories after Syria was discovered to have used chemical weapons in an attack earlier this week. The possibility of Russian reprisal is feared.
Transcend the plot: Take out the action, the personalities (yes, it’s hard to do), the fear of the unknown future.
Breath in: A war torn area has seen death and destruction. There is so much suffering. Leaders are manifesting what they think is best for them or their country. Conflict is high. Fear is present.
Breath out: Compassion and kindness for the weary people of this land. Communication and collaboration to all leaders. Empowerment and support to those who can ease the suffering of the people and the land. An awareness that we are not separate from one another, no matter what the boundary lines say. Courage, fearlessness, life in this moment.
Once you step out of the plot, the world isn’t any less wounded, but you are more able to see past the illusions of partisan ideologies, privileged judgement, and mind-numbing frustrations to the single most important hopeful truth we hold: none of this rests on us alone; we are all in this together.
A good character may never sell your novel, but being a person who sees beyond plot – to truth – can make your story a better one every day.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
- The news is often a toxic ocean of fear. You can swim in it, but don’t drink the water.
- You cannot change what happens outside of you. You control what happens inside of you and what you bring out to the world around you.
- It’s not what they show you, but what you see, that matters.