Okay, that last post was sort of a cheat. This was something I thought about in reading Ann Packer’s “The Dive From Clausen’s Pier” (very good so far). I’m not sure how it will relate to writing, but I have confidence that somehow it will.
One of the characters in her book lives with very few possessions. The main character (at first) envies him his uncomplicated life. This is a pretty common emotion, commamdments notwithstanding (or maybe there is a commandment because it’s a common emotion). We envy the person happy with their job and say, “I want to work there!” We envy people who are content in their situations because we imagine that the situation and not the person is responsible for that contentment. And we imagine that because we want to believe that our situation, and not ourselves, is to blame for any unhappiness we feel.
What we really envy, though, is the contentment other people feel, not the specific situation they’re in. If the guy with no possessions was filthy and miserable, we’d say, “man, I’m glad I have my car and my library of books and my collection of Hummel figurines.”
Packer actually uses this in the book. Further along, the heroine starts to examine her possessions more critically and then to criticize the person living without. “Would it be so much trouble for him to hang one painting, something he liked?” (paraphrased). So she took something common (envy) and probed it, exploring the real foundations of it, and turned it around. Without the heroine actually saying, “I realized that I envied his contentment and not his sparse life, so I decided to become content with my life,” she eases us into that realization.
See, I knew I’d be able to bring that back around to writing somehow.
She also does a good job with suspense, often peppering the book with little teasers like, “it was only a week later that I saw his bedroom. [...] But first, we walked.” She lets you know what’s coming, just enough that you wonder, “how do they get to that point?” It keeps the book exciting. I am actually anxious to keep reading and find out what happens. But more about that in the review, when I finish.