This has been gathering momentum. I don’t know when the first person tweeted this quote — “A story consists of someone wanting something and having trouble getting it.” A year or so ago. Then it would bubble up occasionally. Some online writing coach would send it to subscribers and students. Then a month or two ago someone made an image out it. And then today some marketing content provider got hold of it, and suddenly it was all over Twitter on health, fitness, and, yes, weight loss Twitter feeds.
Obviously I have missed my calling. But now I see the light and NC is going to turn into a health & fitness advice and product site. We are already in the design phase for a line of clothing, also exercise devices, and sex aids. (The Numéro Cinq Midnight Rider is being tested as I write this. The ad copy will read something like: “Orgasmic bliss with the new Midnight Rider. A story consists of someone wanting something and having trouble getting it — but no more! Also helpful for losing weight and general cardiovascular fitness.”)
I’ve even forgotten where the quote comes from. Either The Enamoured Knight or Attack of the Copula Spiders. So I had to look it up. And there it was on page 11 of The Enamoured Knight, in the section called “Love and Books, an Introduction”. It is possibly the shortest sentence in the book. Here is the whole paragraph so you get a sense of where the quote fits. The paragraph also contains a lovely aphorism on the difference between literature and pornography.
The Greeks called their novels tales of suffering for love. If they weren’t about suffering for love, they wouldn’t be tales. A story consists of someone wanting something and having trouble getting it. There are no stories about people who start out happy and contented, remain happy and contented throughout, and end up happy and contented. Imagine the phrase “tales of not-suffering for love” or “tales of having fun for love” or “tales of finding pleasure for love.” The difference between pornography and literature is that in pornography everyone has orgasms all the time. There is no gap between desire and consummation. In literature there is always an element of frustration, displacement, delay and incompleteness (even if someone does eventually manage to have an orgasm). Don Quixote is the quintessential novel because it’s about a man in love with a woman who doesn’t exist. At the outset, Cervantes invents the limiting case.
There are some long sentences here, not suitable for Twitter. I am going to have work on style.