I read two quotes this week that set my little mind scurrying.
The first is by Kurt Vonnegut, author and satirist:
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
The second is from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon:
(for those who don’t read Greek like me, it’s usually translated “we gain wisdom or learn through suffering”).
When I first stumbled across these two gems, I smiled and nodded. All the most interesting characters in literature are the ones who suffer and then respond to their challenges in atypical ways. I love stories of perseverance, indomitable spirit and triumph. I’m moved or shaken by ones that show degradation or despair as a result of hardship.
Then I had an uncomfortable thought. Many of the best writers are ones who have suffered themselves and used their experiences to inform their writing. Rarely have I read about or met a successful author who grew up without a care in the world, was voted homecoming queen and upon graduation immediately created a Fortune 500 company.
No. Many authors’ life stories are full of hardship, trauma or abuse.
At first this struck me as foreboding, but then I realized what it really shows is triumph. These authors are the ones who overcome their darkness and shine a light for others, who expose suffering, apathy, hypocrisy or corruption through a memorable character and an irresistible story.
Some of them shine this light for a few, but other get to illuminate a truth for generation after generation.
All of us have experienced some form of suffering or heartache (even the prom queens). Maybe writing is the ultimate paradox, where a writer faces the demons, exposes them and then uses the experience to offer wisdom and hope.