by Mindy Tarquini

In a forest sits a rock, a sword trapped deep within the stone. The king has died without heirs, and the local wizard prophesizes that he who pulls the sword from the stone will be the true king, a wise and just ruler who will lead the realm out of chaos.

Along comes a young man, squire to a knight. The knight fails to draw the sword from the stone, but the squire is successful. The squire is declared king. He unites his land, and rules with wisdom and justice, thus fulfilling the prophecy because, as the reader has already been informed, the squire is actually son to the dead king, raised in ignorance of his role, and so should have been king from the outset.

Nice story, kind of dull.

Predeterminism is the belief our destinies are decided and all circumstances necessary to achieve that destiny will occur.

The stuff of legends, like the legend just described. Thankfully for the snoozing reader, the squire’s legend is not so tidily wrapped up because the squire has a free will, and he does not obey his mentor, the local wizard. Instead, the squire has sex with the wrong woman, then marries the woman he loves despite being advised she will bring him misery.

Destiny smacks the squire upside the head for stepping out of line. His wife has an affair with the squire’s most trusted friend, and the son the squire conceived with the wrong woman shows up to claim the squire’s kingdom. The wife and the friend run away after much personal and political strife. The son and the squire kill each other in a fight to decide who will rule the kingdom.

The wizard’s prophecy falls into ruins, along with the kingdom, for a long, dark time.

Ah, not such a nice story, definitely more exciting, and the reader goes his way secure in the message: mess with Destiny, Destiny messes back.

But what if the squire’s Epic Destiny Fail is not the product of his willful rebellion, but the manipulation of a local wizard seeking a little street cred so he can raise his prices? What if the path we presume we must tread would be better tread by another, and a different, far more interesting path were available just a block to the left if we would only look? What if the squire’s ignorance of his heritage was Destiny’s design meant to open the way for another, one who truly would rule with wisdom and justice, sire heirs as wise and just as he, and set the kingdom on a path of peace and prosperity, growth and enlightenment, destined to last a thousand years?

Let’s make that other a humble farmer, intelligent and of good heart, not one to buck the system and, unlike the squire, aware he’s an unknown son of the king. The farmer arrives a day before the squire and easily pulls the sword from the stone. Except the farmer, happy in his humble estate, doesn’t want to be king. He just wanted to see if he could pull out the sword. So he returns the sword to the stone, pretends he never pulled it, and goes his merry way.

Free will, 2; Destiny, 0; Happy Endings, 1

My most recent novel, Deepest Blue (Sparkpress, Sept 2018), follows the lives of three brothers, sons of the duca, who is the ruler of Panduri, a mythical land visible only at twilight. As happens in fairytales, the brothers’ lives are predetermined, each expected to fulfill the role designated by the Deep Lore and charted in their stars. The first son is to succeed their father as Panduri’s Duca, the second to succeed their uncle as Panduri’s Legendary Protector, the third to guide his brothers as Panduri’s Gentle Guardian.

Very organized. Except the first brother doesn’t want to be first; he wants to be second. The second brother resents that he’s forced to be first. He rebels over the first brother’s rebellion, who drags the third brother into a cockeyed plan to placate the second brother. The plan goes sideways, everybody’s stars go into a spiral, Panduri’s course goes on a tilt, and the Deep Lore, unaccustomed to being ignored, goes haywire.

Unlike typical mythology, Deepest Blue is not a tale of hopefuls fighting for the top, but a saga of free spirits racing for the exits.

Our everyday world is often about following the expected path, saying the expected words, performing the expected role. Story offers an escape, a clue, a way to manage under the dreadful weight of all those expectations. Enter us, the writers, laptops open, masters of destiny, captains of fate, and eager to invite our characters across the threshold of presumption and over a cliff.

We are storytellers, meant to wrangle intrigue from the mundane, circumvent expectations, block any option that might be easy, and open worm cans wherever possible. Be strong. Head those characters down the wrong road, have the trees throw apples at them along the way, then switch up the road signs at the fork. Character growth is painful, and our characters can’t thrive unless they receive the wrong message, go to the wrong appointment, then show up at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, wearing the wrong clothes.

Don’t hold back. Throw every wrench into their works. Gum up every gear. Drop them into every awkward situation. Force the characters to hack through every jungle, fight every monster, pick every lock and master their own destinies, to arrange and rearrange, tease out the tangles, unravel the knots, reweave the threads,until the story barrel rolls along with the characters onto at an inevitable and improper, yet perfectly un-predetermined landing.

Then recharge the laptop, figure out what’s supposed to happen next, the expected and destined path, ask yourself “What if?” and do it again.