“May you live in interesting times,” is a Chinese curse. Boring times may be well, boring, but they also tend to be stable, safe, and predictable. All the things that make those times boring also make them less dangerous.
By contrast, “interesting” times are unstable, dangerous, unpredictable and in a constant state of flux. Those times make for great fiction, but aren’t such fun to live through while everything is being decided.
In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, Tris Drayke has the misfortune of living in interesting times. The king’s murder touches off a chain of events that lead to Tris running for his life with a few close friends, trying to outwit bounty hunters and figure out how to unseat the despot who has usurped the throne.
The chaos that makes things interesting for the reader bring hardship and misery to Tris as he fights his way through a dangerous landscape where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. When times are “interesting,” rules change, old ways of doing things don’t work anymore, and there’s always a dangerous power grab as the chaos of the moment unseats the previous top dogs.
As society reshuffles itself, there are winners and losers, and the people who were on top under the old order rarely end up keeping their spots (or their heads). Sometimes, the entire social order is upended, as when a country is overrun by invaders from a foreign country. A natural disaster, a bad harvest, or a plague can bring down the mighty and raise the powerless, and when the dust settles, nothing is the way it had been.
Creating “interesting times” is one of the fun parts of being an author. We love to torture our characters, and it’s a challenge to make things bad, then worse, then even worse to see what the character will make of it. It’s also a great way to learn about your characters, because you won’t really know what they’re made of until they’re in hot water. Some will turn out to be heroes. Others will betray their friends, run from the fight, or sacrifice themselves for others. Even we authors don’t always know for sure what’s going to happen until we put the characters in the situation and see what happens.
“Interesting times” are at the heart of great stories. All stories focus on something that changes, or else there is no tension, no opportunity for growth. So here’s to “interesting times”!
Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books. My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.