A month ago, we took an hour and wrote about pain as a literary theme. Today's theme is CONTROL. At times painful, at times rewarding, control is one of those elusive, dynamic, yet ever-present forces in human life. It shifts colors the way chameleons walk across the street. It mesmerizes deeper, faster, scarier than you can bungee jump. It prickles the skin and it haunts the psyche.

But control also gives you unimaginable freedom and possibility. Will you embrace it?

Photo by Kevin Eddy

Photo by Kevin Eddy

Let's explore some of the ways Control winds its way into our hearts and souls… and our writing.

Control of Self

If we didn't have that wondrous organ called skin to hold all our drama in, and a skeleton to carry our infinite and sundry burdens, we'd probably explode. No wonder the meditation industry is doing so well.

Seriously though: controlling the self tends to be a life-long occupation. Whether it's lustful impulses (oh go on! I'm talking about dark chocolate!), negative thoughts (I can't do this, I'm too this I'm too that, “s/he” will never love me etc etc), violent tendencies (who's never hurt an innocent inanimate object in a fit of fury?), assumptions, gossip, intrigue, revenge, and a cornucopia of other… er, “interests” that boil human blood, walking that silken tightrope of self-control is a pipe dream for most of us—and a cash cow for the self-help authors.

And so it is for our characters. Enter: limitless internal conflict!!

Control of Others

Infinitely more interesting (replace with your adjective of choice: frustrating, exasperating, dramatic, lethal, etc), of course, is that psychological tug-of-war so many real-time humans and literary characters alike get caught up in one time or another. If you're above and beyond that, fantastic, you've evolved, congratulations here's your Enlightened Being 2.0 diploma now go away and let the rest of us worms sock it out.

Just think of it: the struggle, the strategy, the agony, the ecstasy when you've finally won and your opponent crumbles like a sack of spring potatoes at your steel-toed feet! Hopefully you're not the sack of potatoes.

Anyway. The concept of control over others accounts for 97.4% of the dramatic tension in world literature.*

*I got that figure from a source who is now in my power and is allowed to eat only roasted potatoes with garlic and parsley.

Control of Circumstance

We've covered the inner me and the outer you. What about all the stuff that “just happens” to a perfectly balanced, calm individual? Let's review the endless possibilities:

  • natural disaster
  • stock market meltdown
  • losing a contract to the CEO's nephew
  • guy in the sports car cutting us off (third time today)
  • the ‘black hole time warp' effect: post office / doctor's office / grocery checkout / comments from your editor
  • spouse/sig other changing their mind about how attractive/desirable we are
  • children changing their mind about how worthy of their respect we are
  • alien abduction (related to the point above)

How do you control the world around you? How do your characters control their worlds? Lots of great literary mulch here, especially if you're writing an action thriller or a film script. (I swoon for Jason Bourne…)

Control of Nature

Mankind has been struggling to conquer his environment since Cave Drawing of Mammoth Hunt One. We've done too good a job over the centuries, I'd say, in some respects. But Mother Nature is more fierce and more furious than anything we can throw at her. I still don't understand why we're trying to subdue or monetize her. Besides, the Sun's going to go postal in a few billion years so it's really pointless to fight.

In the meantime, however, we can stir up a few more million iterations of dramatic tension between man or woman and nature. But please please please no more angry birds knock-offs (as in, Hitchcock not Rovio) and above all no more zombie-supertornado-storms-Manhattan plot lines…

Control as Creative Freedom

These are just four expressions of the concept of control that typically play one role or another in life and in literature (and many other kinds of writing, including business). Best part is, you get to play with the controls!  You can focus on one type of control in your work as the main narrative (a Kafkaesque tortured first-person POV) , or play one off against another (man against himself and Nature… can you say “Moby Dick”…), or go all out and throw them all into the mix (Desperate Housewives? oh sorry wrong genre).

In dance or martial arts, you cannot achieve your best moves until you master control of the tool of that expression: your body. Only then can you experience full freedom of expression. And so it is in literature. Master your understanding of the profound currents that tug and pull at the human psyche, and you'll master the art of dramatic tension.

Control gives you freedom. What will you write today?


Take firm, unequivocal control of sixty minutes of your day and flesh out the tendrils of conflict and tension of today's theme in a WIP or a random scene. Or, if you prefer, relinquish all control and go where your imagination takes you!

Post your highly (un)controlled writings here, and be sure to critique your fellow writers. You know the drill: praise is fine, critique is better.

Birgitte Rasine

Birgitte Rasine is an author, publisher, and entrepreneur. Her published works include Tsunami: Images of Resilience, The Visionary, The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, and various short stories including the inspiring The Seventh Crane. She has just finished her first novel for young readers. She also runs LUCITA, a design and communications firm with her own publishing imprint, LUCITA Publishing. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter (@birgitte_rasine), Facebook, Google Plus or Pinterest. Definitely sign up for her entertaining eLetter "The Muse"! Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online ocean, er, web site.

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