Let me warn you up front, most distinctions are unpopular. They take general (read undistinguished) beliefs and mess with them. If you are comfortable with your world, and the system of beliefs you have created to keep yourself at a distance from it, stop now. Fair warning.
Oh, and before you get into the “what the hell as this got to do with writing” mode, remember this. If it is about the world, if it is about people, if it is about life… it is about writing.
I will start with what may appear to be a harmless everyday phrase:
“Things always work out for the best.”
You’ve heard it all your life. It is comforting. Almost an aphorism. Unfortunately this particular phrase has a nasty side-effect… abdication. Surrender. It epitomizes the horror that is fate. What else? It may define a character (or two) in your latest fiction work. It might even describe your personal philosophy.
A character for whom “everything always works out for the best” is one who is at effect of the world. This is a person who has no say in what happens to him or her, but can only look at what occurs and smile at life when if serves up goodness. When life serves up ugliness on a platter that same person will bitterly complain about that strangest of life components, another instance of being at effect, luck.
Do you believe in luck? Before you get your knickers in a twist, understand that I do not mean chance. Luck is chance with an attitude. It is like saying that rain isn’t just something that happens, but something that happens to you, Luck is another way for your characters to give up on themselves and be tossed about in what must feel like the rapids of life. Luck might be an interesting partner in one of your stories, but, honestly, keep this in mind. Persons who rely on luck are not in charge of themselves.
But what is the alternative, you ask? Glad you did.
Another phrase that we’ve heard all of our lives is, “I always make the best of everything that happens.”
On the surface “…I always make the best…” and “…things always work out…” appear to mean the same thing.
Hang that one up. They don’t. Unlike being at effect in the world, a person who claims to always “…make the best…” is a person at cause.
Yeah. That’s it, pretty much. Being at cause in your life is an extraordinary thing. It is also a tough thing to do. We are brought up to be the victims of our world. We are told that we can only reach so high (oh, yeah, we really are. We are given the old “you can be and do anything speech, but when we try it is patiently explained to us why we’ve attempted to overreach ourselves.) We are told that some etherial force has written our every move—in advance—in some great book. We are set up to go just so far. We are set up to fail.
If your character (dare I say it, if you) can make the subtle change between “…everything works out…” and “…I make the best…”, your, erm, character cannot help but succeed, and feel good about doing it.
Today’s challenge is to write studies of two characters. Make one who is at effect of the world, and one who is at cause.
OK, I know I’ve just trodden on a whole mess of toes. Let me have it.