Friday, August 24, 2018

Every Story Deserves a Good Dose of Chaos

Since I just got back from three weeks holiday in the States, chaos is the perfect topic for today’s post. I never come home to an ordered world. I always come home to chaos because I almost always leave in chaos – never mind that I always swear to myself that THIS will be the time I will head out the door with my world well ordered and pristine. It hasn’t happened yet, though I am ever hopeful. 

It’s amazing how much I can overlook when I’m writing. I’m always reminded of that when I come home from holidays. Usually, because I write till the last possible minute before I pack and get myself out the door, the house looks like a bombsite by the time I actually do get out the door. That, of course, means when I get back home all refreshed and anxious to get down to serious writing again, it still looks like a bombsite. 

Usually I’ve fantasized about that moment all the while I’m on holiday and all through the journey back home – that fabulous moment of being back in my own space with just me and the laptop and words… lots of lovely, delicious, inviting words waiting to be written and shaped and infused with story. I never fantasize about the unpacking or the laundry or the clearing up of said bombsite. I never fantasize about making my outer world orderly before I get about the business of being creative. In fact, I usually do my best to pretend the unpacking doesn’t exist, at least until I need clean clothes to wear.

It’s not that I don’t like order. I like order a lot. It’s just that my version of order is, well… a bit different. My world seems most ordered when I’m creating chaos. Yup, that’s right. My world seems most ordered when I’m writing fast and furiously and I’m completely in the throes of the story. That always involves creating chaos. And if I’m doing it right, the chaos in my outside world will be completely dwarfed by the chaos of the world I’m writing into existence. 

Then, once the chaos has reached critical mass, I set about restoring order with words put together in sentences, then paragraphs, then scenes, then chapters, and finally whole novels. I do my best to create a world that begins in order, blossoms into seemingly insurmountable chaos, then resolves into an even higher form of order. Isn’t that what story is all about? 

The first thing a writer does is create chaos for her main characters. With no chaos, no conflict, there’s no story. Happy endings are just that – endings. What comes before that happy ending is almost always a voyeuristic romp for the reader into chaos and catastrophe with plenty of anguish thrown in for good measure. All the while the writer turns the bull loose in the China closet and wreaks havoc with hearts and relationships and, well, generally with everything. Writers love it when the situation is just about as chaotic as it can possibly get, when it begins to look like all is lost, and the reader is anguished for the characters and white-knuckle-page-turning, wondering how there can possibly be a happy ending in this mess. It’s at that point that the writer, in ways only writers can, sets about creating a higher order, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Viola! All is restored, love conquers all, and there might even be dancing in the street.

When I look at order and chaos through the eyes of a writer, and through the filter of story, it all makes sense, really. And I find myself less inclined to worry overly much about unpacking right this minute. The chaos hasn’t yet reached critical mass. And eventually, when it finally does and I turn my attention back to the world outside my head, it’ll all get sorted, one sock, one shirt, one pair of trousers at a time. And all the while I’m creating order in my outer world, I’m already scheming more chaos in my head. 


  1. I'm a bit jealous, KD. When I return from traveling, I really can't relax and write until I've dealt with all those mundane realities like unpacking, which I dread almost as much as packing (I actually have nightmares about packing!)

    Perhaps this is because writing is not my profession, only my passion. So I feel that I cannot justify giving my time until I've fulfilled my responsibilities as the "real world" me.

    Indeed this tension between Lisabet Sarai and my official identity is itself a sort of chaos.

  2. My house is usually in chaos, but I do unpack as soon as I get home. It's a way of coming down from the trip and re-orienting to home. Also, I have to admit, a way to procrastinate getting down to actual writing.

  3. Not only do I have to unpack when we get back, but I have to do laundry (mine, sometimes husband's as well, though he usually is good about doing his own). I also have to grocery shop, because son and husband understand on a theoretical basis the idea of walking into a place with money, and walking out with less (or no) money, but with food. But I'm the "quartermaster" and I'm expected to keep them in groceries. Then I'll have to make up salads and things, to get me through my workweek. Then put the clean clothes away.

    All the while, husband will be sitting, reading the paper, watching TV, in general, relaxing. Sigh. I want to be the man next time around, so I get to sit while someone else works on household chores. (Though I will admit, he cleans the bathroom, and gets our son to vacuum...both of which I detest!)


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