I’d say Galaxy Quest was a guilt pleasure except that I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. If you haven’t watched the movie, it is about the crew of a show that’s a clear echo of Star Trek, many years after the show has been cancelled. This is not a spoiler, so much as a setup: the characters, while doing the con circuit, get recruited by real aliens to help save their world. The entire story is a send up on people confusing fiction with reality.
One of the “crew members” kidnaped was one of the “one episode” extras, the type that normally die, and so as things get dangerous, first he, and then the rest of the crew, become afraid he will die, because it would have happened in the fictional episode. Their anxiety is heightened by the fact no one knows his last name, which was the mark of a character who would die. That this has nothing to do with the reality they’re facing is, of course, the source of the humor.
It is, of course, all the funnier, because it is a persistent human failing, and one we writers are particularly prone to.
When I ran a small press magazine I continuously got letters from people protesting a rejection. “You can’t be rejecting me,” they said. “I wrote the story exactly to your guidelines.” (Of course most of the time I was rejecting the story because it was in fact VERY badly written, but sometimes I had to wonder what guidelines they’d read.)
This is why every writer in the world howls like an hyena at the cartoon of snoopy on top of his dog house, typing “Gentlemen, regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story, and send me fifty thousand dollars. Don’t you realize that?”
Because we know that in our hearts it SHOULD be that way. It’s the way stories are.
We’re not alone in this view – if we were the US would not now be full of young people with useless college degrees (or ones that just aren’t useful in this economy) crying “I did what I should have done, I followed the rules. I went to college. Where is my high-paying job?”
People listen to stories. You work hard, you follow the rules, you get your reward.
It is even true, to an extent.
If you work hard, if you follow the – sane – rules, if you look ahead to your future, you will be successful in some measure. You might not be successful in the field you wish. You might not be successful to the measure you wish, but you will (probably) keep body and soul together. You will (probably) not end up in the gutter. You will (probably) accomplish some part of what you want to do.
Why “probably”? Because if massive civil unrest breaks out in 2 years, all bets are off. It all depends on your skills at scavenging, not at whatever you studied in college.
Because if you tried to enter the field of buggy-whip-maker just after the advent of the automobile, nothing can save you from a fall.
Because stories are ordered, but life is a chaotic system. You are the main character of your story, but there are millions of other main characters. And there are chaotic, macro systems that spin things out of control.
While following the story – staying out of the forest, not talking to strange wolves – will keep you from the very worst outcomes, but it doesn’t guarantee the best.
Nothing guarantees the best outcome.
This is not a post saying “abandon all hope” – it’s just a reality check. There are no guarantees in writing, but there are no guarantees in life, particularly not in the time of catastrophic change we live in. (And no, the genii can’t be put back in the bottle there. Tech has reached a certain level. Human actors wants certain things. Even chaos has mechanics. The only way to stop the juggernaut is a civilizational collapse of such far-reaching horror that we are knocked back to the middle ages or before. And trust me, you wouldn’t like that. Well, I wouldn’t like that. So, do try not to do that, okay. Dude, don’t break my civ.)
Given the times we live in, almost any job you train for, almost anything you attempt is going to get upended before you get much further. Ten years? Twenty? The chances are that you will have three or four “careers” before you are done with your working years.
So, no matter who you are and what you’re doing, you have to remember that the story isn’t pre-scripted. This means there are no guarantees. But it also means that you’re not written to fail.
You’re not the red shirt. You’re not the disposable character. And if you are the plucky comic relief, it’s because you want to be.
There are no guaranteed strategies to get to the top, but that means you can take the rules as a guideline and experiment. And in publishing, right now – and in other work too – there are new ways of doing things that might give you results you couldn’t have hoped for under the old one.
I can’t say “you’ll fail for sure, because your characters are too wimpy.” I can’t say “You’ll succeed for sure because you’re so determined.”
Publishers believed these stories, you see. They believed if you had failed once you’d continue failing. In fact, they more or less made sure you failed, though that’s not (of course) how they saw it. They just believed in the stories: those who were destined to win. Those who were destined to lose.
But the stories were never true, not unless/until they could rig the system. They’re even less true now.
So, go ahead. Boldly go wherever you’re going. Work hard, study, keep your nose clean, apply persistence and…
You’re not guaranteed to succeed. But you’re not guaranteed to fail too.
Your future is yet unborn and yours to create to the limits of your ability and the system.
Maybe they won’t kill Guy. Maybe it’s some other character they have it in for. After all, you have a last name. And maybe you’ll be the plucky comic relief.