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Saturday 6.4.05: A Universal Truth

Murrah is working on a story and writes me:

I am struggling to develop a type of mindset in a character that is destroying a town, and the mindset is like a contagious disease that is slowly spreading.

I think of it like so:

A darkness unlike natural darkness, one that doesn't flee from the light, but
is suspended, imperceptible, like a small dose of poison dissolved in water, and each sunrise the dosage is increased slightly. It is not a poison that brings immediate death, but a slow agonizing suffering. It changes the focus slightly, shortens the horizon, lessens people's

I want my character Fintan to sense this different type of darkness, feel it in his heart, and realize that it causes conflict. But the conflict has to be in comparison to some universal truth and/or compassion. Without becoming religious or maudlin, where do you think these universal truths and compassions come from?

For me, the most troublesome kind of darkness is disguised as light. I'm plowing my way through a book on Irish history, so this is on my mind.

For me, the most troublesome kind of darkness is disguised as light.

You have a traditional society "A" (or organization of any kind) - poor, inefficient, stable in the short-term, but destined for disaster or extinction.

Innovative society "B" (or company or person), wants a "mutually beneficial" relationship: A's raw materials for B's know-how.

Maybe it's England colonizing Ireland. Maybe it's Wal-Mart moving into small-town America. Or a super-power delivering freedom to a country broken by dictatorship. (Or a blogger seduced into putting ads on her site.)

Transitions - from traditional to modern, or whatever - are always hell. Confusing, disorienting, full of ethical dilemmas.

Where the darkness creeps in: the modernizers get greedy. They promise resources, but they don't quite deliver. Then they blame the lack of progress on the lazy, disorganized nature of the people they set out to "partner with."

Enter the Hero. Here's a woman who believes in the righteousness of the cause, who believes that with intelligence, compassion, and very hard work, the doomed society can transition to the society of tomorrow. She is even willing to cut her bosses some slack when they are out of touch or cut a few ethical corners. After all, it's the good fight, isn't it?

But of course (for a good story), the bosses or top politicos turn out to be terrible evil-doers who have little use for the Hero once she starts whining (or holding them accountable or whatever behavior begins to annoy them).

John LeCarre is the master of this scenario in my opinion - all his heroes consumed by their own white-hat governments.

So - the universal truths always come from our own nature. Most of us like throwing ourselves into a good cause, but how do we react when we realize the cause has been corrupted? Do we blow the whistle? Do we quit? Or do we shrug our shoulders and remind ourselves we have bills to pay?



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