Silk’s Post #54 – Last week I was in Budapest, Vienna, the Wachau Valley, Melk, Saltzberg, Passau. Today I’m in Prague. This trip has taken me to four modern states – Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic – that all share centuries of history as territories within the monumental Habsburg Empire. While each has evolved differently, there is a stunningly clear and present theme that haunts every landmark I’ve seen throughout this trip: struggle, disruption, conflict and change.
The layers of culture revealed in the architecture, arts and various types of memorials in these cities map the military conquests, natural disasters, political occupation and religious domination that propelled Central Europe from feudal states to the modern European Union. Our herd, tethered by our earphones to our guide, would shuffle from one spectacular monument commemorating death and destruction in some form (the murder of a saint, the black plague, a bloody battle, a flood) to another.
And yet, from these cataclysms came magnificent art, spiritual seeking and inspiration. Struggle, conflict and tragedy led to revelation, change, even beauty and celebration.
Sound familiar? This is what storytelling is all about. We’re told to put conflict on every page. Why? This pattern of human history, of struggle and survival, is deeply ingrained in our DNA.
I’ve never experienced a better demonstration of this than our trip through tumultuous European history. All the foundation tales – the classical “hero’s journeys” – are here for all to see, built into every ruin, every castle, every cobblestone street, every battlefield, every shrine, every historic trade route by water or land. Conflict, conflict, conflict. And the greatest stories ever told.
None of these dramatic tales arose from a comfort zone. All came from the gut-wrenching, life-disrupting spectrum of human actions and emotions that jolt people out of their comfort zones.
For me it has been the best lesson a writer can learn: if you want to tell the kind of story that moves people – that resonates with readers deep in that place in our DNA that understands the human condition of struggle and survival – then you must get out of your own comfort zone. Writing should be a challenge. It should be an emotional experience. It should echo the dynamic drama we want our readers to have when they lose themselves in our story.
Life is messy, in turns painful and uplifting. How can writing about it be otherwise?