Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.
I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.
One way of thinking about it is to dissect life into four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with your feet and hands in each of four colors. That's about how it feels most days, too.)
How does this translate into the art of writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they must try to restore balance through their actions. (In the case of the villain, this is often through unconventional or illegal means.) The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or making the decision they’d rather have oranges.
As a reader (and as a human who strives for balance), I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life path…better them than me, I say. I'd rather live vicariously through them any day. Especially since suspense typically involves some rather stressful (i.e., dangerous) ways of pushing the characters off balance. And the more of those four realms involved, the stronger the conflict.
For example, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life, invading her (social) sanctuary, putting her in (physical) danger, and dredging up (emotional) issues she's shoved aside for much too long. In Avenging Angel, the heroine's world (social & emotional) is rocked when her intern is murdered, and she has the (social) expertise to help find the killer, which puts her in (physical) danger. Beneath it all is the more spiritual concept of hope versus despair, and the desire for justice. My entire Mindhunters series was the result of an extreme imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).
Human beings have an innate desire for balance, and stories resonate with people because everyone knows what it's like to have that balance upset...and to try so hard to regain their footing.
So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.
What are some of the imbalances characters face in the books you’re currently reading (or writing)?