Past Imperfect

Looking back

‘Don’t let what happened mess up what’s possible.’

It’s a simple enough sentiment, however you phrase it.

Don’t allow your past to get in the way of your future. Don’t let memories and regrets hold you back. Look forward not back.

Maybe it’s safer to cling to memories than create new ones in an uncertain world.

But memories can weigh you down, make you question your judgement, your abilities, your worth as a human being.

Maybe we’re programmed to recall past failures because they hurt us. Or is it the hurt that imprints itself on our memories? Is it the fear of more pain that makes us think twice?

For a writer, these questions fuel internal conflict, where a past failure becomes another obstacle to conquer on the hero’s journey. The possibilities are almost endless, depending on the past experience or failure.

DoubtPeople run from their pasts, shut them away in denial, or interpret them as something different. People can do whatever it takes to deal with those feelings of failure and doubt that can riddle us all.

But sooner or later, the feelings resurface, usually in moments of great stress or challenge, often at the lowest point in the hero’s journey, immediately preceding the climax. Doubt piles on doubt, undermining the already exhausted hero. There’s no way forward, no solution, no hope of success.

The tension becomes palpable, almost unbearable.

That’s when a hero digs deep to find his or her true nature, something or someone to believe in or to fight for. The hero casts off the shackles, breaks free and triumphs against the odds.

But not always.

The really wicked authors let their heroes carry the burden across several books, offering more opportunities to put them through the wringer.

Either way, the past is invariably at the heart of a hero’s flaws. Without it, these characters are not as interesting or intriguing.

We all carry the past around. We can haul it around in a trunk for all to see, or lock it away in a place we never intend to visit. Possessions, like memories, can make us look back, make us consider what we did or didn’t do.

As long as we learn lessons, understand what happened and improve, the past can enrich the future. But in novels, the past has to cast long shadows. Characters have to suffer before they can grow. Characters have to face their demons … eventually.

‘Don’t let what happened mess up what’s possible.’

The words tumbled out of Kelly’s mouth. She’s one of my favourite characters in No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher mystery. The moment I wrote the words on Wednesday this week, they struck a deep chord.

For many years, especially as a teenager, I believed the world was against me, punishing me for no obvious reason. Every failure, every opportunity missed, supported this belief. Mistakes ganged up on me to confirm that I would never succeed.

Even my successes became flukes, strokes of luck that had to come my way sooner or later. Even when I discovered that hard work and effort that led to these successes, I still dismissed them as luck.

Until I achieved something I never believed I could.

I quit smoking.

If you’ve never smoked, it may seem trivial, but smoking’s an addiction that your body and soul don’t want to let go of, no matter how rational you are.

Maybe past failures can be an addiction – an excuse to be lazy, to underachieve, to avoid risks, to blame everything and everyone but yourself.

So, I’m heeding Kelly’s advice in No Remorse, and looking forward.

I’ve waited most of my life to become a full time writer, so let’s see what’s possible.

Looking back

No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher murder mystery will be available in early May 2018.

To find out more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries, please click here to visit my Amazon page.

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