I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Private Victory

I'm probably a lot like most other people who love to read or watch movies. I find characters I can identify with and for a brief period, I live vicariously through them. These characters are often willing to act, rather than sitting around waiting for life to come to them. They are willing to say things that need to be said, rather than holding their tongue and hoping things work out. They pursue their own dreams, rather than the dreams that other try to impose upon them.

Real life isn't always that easy, and it requires more tact than fiction, but fiction draws us because we see the raw, unadulterated, realness of the characters and we long to live that way. In a way, fiction allows us to entire a private world in which we are freer to feel the exhilarating triumphs, and the gut-wrenching pains, and thrills of living life they way we'd really like to.

With all of this in mind, I came across a passage recently in a book called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain that really spoke to me. The book is about how to write and sell novels. It was published in 1965, so most of the anecdotal information is so outdated that I'm not even familiar with the movies and books that Swain references, but his instruction is the best I've ever read or heard—part of which advises readers about how to make characters seem more real.

Swain makes the case that novelists must be observers of people if they expect to portray humanity properly. In his mind, novelists must understand what motivates humans and their subsequent actions. In one particular section, under the sub-heading How do you give a character direction? Swain says this:


"Each of us wants to feel adequate to his world…in control of his situation and, thus, of his destiny.

"Anything that endangers a character's sense of control indicates a lack in him…an inadequacy. If my wife nags, or my jokes fall flat, or the promotions I seek go to other men, I may eventually come to doubt myself.

"When a man becomes aware of such a lack, and even if he can't figure out precisely what disturbs him, he grows tense and restless: unhappy, discontented, ill at ease.

"To relieve this tension, he takes some sort of action…escapes from the nagging wife in work, abandons humor for books, eases the sting of disappointment at failure to get ahead by taking refuge in gossip or sullenness or hobbies. Defeated, emotionally speaking, he substitutes one kind of behavior for another, in order to achieve a private victory. He pays for what he lacks, his inadequacies, with conduct designed to make up for them."


I love his phrase, "a private victory" because it captures the essence of what we long for—even, and maybe especially, in public defeat. All of us have places we retreat to in search of our own private victory when public victory is elusive. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Private victory can give us courage to attempt public victory and it can infuse us with hope when our circumstances in real life look bleak, but private victory ought to never become a substitute for real life. That's the struggle that we face, but for me, just being aware of the battle, gives me more courage to fight.


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