Appreciation and Envy in Fiction

Working with Appreciation

During the pandemic, I decided to devote time to appreciate the good people and experiences in my life. In May 2020, I started a gratitude journal. My goal was to write down a minimum of three things each day for which I was grateful. At first, it was difficult. My husband and I were staying home to be safe. He had broken his back in March. The pandemic raged around us. We had completely changed our shopping and entertainment habits. We hadn’t seen our friends or family for several months. Everyone was worried. Fortunately, no one close to us was sick. Thank goodness, little rays of sunshine floated in from Madagascar via videoconferencing on at least a tri-weekly basis as our daughter checked in on us to see how we were doing.

My efforts to express gratitude proved productive. I discovered that deliberately focusing on gratitude each day helped me to establish a positive mindset during a difficult period. This personal daily practice led me to ask myself, “What does appreciation have to do with fiction?”

Appreciation in Fiction

What exactly is appreciation? First it requires recognition, that is, identifying what one appreciates. For example, “I am glad you were willing to edit my book.” Second, it requires expression, “Thank you for your work on my project.” This expression may occur in face-to-face communication, in writing, or sometimes in solitude—as in prayer. While a person might feel appreciation, it is best to demonstrate it through action, express it orally, or through the written word. Sending flowers expresses appreciation. Words of respect, gratitude, or admiration communicate appreciation. For example, readers might articulate the pleasure they experienced upon reading a book by filling out an online review form. But how does a writer integrate appreciation when composing a novel? Does appreciation have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction?

Themes are often about what characters cherish or treasure, that is, what they appreciate. Even though I had never thought about it this way before, I realized that in books I have read recently, appreciation is often a central, if hidden, theme. In The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, the family values education. In The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, the main characters prize old manuscripts. In The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, the lexicographers relish words and their etymologies.

Protagonists’ motivations might be based on what they appreciate. Their actions might derive from what they value. Antagonists on the other hand might be motivated by displeasure or disapproval. They might criticize or scorn the main character. Their contempt might be at the base of their damaging actions.

Plot and action might also be based on appreciation. Consider the enduring story of Raiders of the Lost Ark which is based on the value or appreciation of a historical treasure. The writers took readers’ interest in the lost ark and aligned it with their appreciation for an exciting competition. Thus, the race between competing good guys—Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood— and bad guys—the rival archeologist and the Nazis—created an action film that viewers watch again and again.

Envy in Fiction

Envy on the other hand involves desire for what someone else has. Remember the Tenth Commandment about not coveting anything thy neighbor has? On this point, I see a parallel between Christianity and Buddhism because one of the three poisons in Buddhism is defined as desire, greed, or attachment, that is, coveting. The person who covets is an envious person who resentfully wants what someone else has. This yearning creates painful behaviors, such as being suspicious or distrustful of others. The envious person is usually bitter about not being able to have what someone else has or to achieve what someone else has accomplished.

Does envy have a place in theme, character, or action in fiction? Clearly, envy can cause problems for self and others which makes it a workable theme in fiction, particularly for the antagonist. When writers think about motivating a character, the antagonist, for example, might be motivated by jealousy, possessiveness, or greed.

Appreciation and Envy in Current Fiction

In The Liar’s Dictionary, appreciation and envy are themes that interweave throughout the novel in professional and interpersonal relationships. Williams uses the word “appreciation” several times in the book. The appreciation theme is apparent in the lexicographers’ interest in meanings, forms, and uses of language. It also threads through her remarkable portrayals of amorous relationships when she describes individuals through the eyes of their lovers. I don’t recall reading the word “envy” in the novel, but it is the undercurrent that drives the creation of Swansby’s publishing house and its ultimate demise.

Envy surfaces in action when the antagonist takes steps to bring the protagonist down in some minor or major way. The inheritor of Swansby’s is envious of the success of other publishers of dictionaries in English. Even though he has inherited property and the publishing rights to the dictionary, he not only handles the situation poorly, but his yearning for fame leads to his own destruction.

In The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, one twin envies the ease with which white people function in dominant white settings. She abandons her former life, her family, and her past to pass easily as a white woman with a wealthy white husband. Her identical twin instead marries a handsome dark man and produces a beautiful black child. Her child, who appreciates and values family relationships, serendipitously ends up participating in the same social setting as her long lost aunt and eventually brings the family back to the truth.

Appreciation and Envy in My Fiction

In my first novel, a loving relationship develops because partners appreciate the creative work the other one produces. Envy, on the other hand, leads the antagonist to malfeasance.

In my second novel, appreciation builds relationship between an old man and a group of young siblings. Envy creates friction when a drilling company wants to lease their parents’ land.

In my third novel, appreciation for each other’s talents leads two men to build a successful business. The antagonist’s envy leads to disaster.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the last month, I clarified my main character by studying more references to make sure she will be authentic as viewed by experts.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I wrote a new chapter for my second novel.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

This month I reworked one character.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

The results of the contest I entered were announced. My poetry book, Moon Chimes, did not place.

I spent some time adding to and editing my Moon Chimes Workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I worked with the BWA Newsletter Committee on the first edition of our newsletter which was e-published on June 1, 2021. In Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read group, we analyzed The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.

Denver Women’s Press Club:  I attended a Zoom talk with Zaina Arafat, a Palestinian-American writer, who discussed her well received debut novel, You Exist Too Much. I appreciated one of her comments. She said, “Persistence means you keep going through resistance.” A good motto for all writers! I look forward to reading her novel.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: I attended an extraordinarily helpful Zoom session titled: Between the Margins: A Critique Panel. Seven panelists, who have participated in critique groups over long periods, discussed the importance of sharing one’s writing with others. They emphasized the importance of listening to reviewers’ comments on what works or doesn’t work in a short piece of fiction. Although I have not yet participated in a critique group for fiction, I will join one when I am ready.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is June 7, 2021, I am posting my sixth blog of 2021.  Some of my regular monthly responsibilities are reduced over the summer months which has allowed me to devote more time to my writing. This month felt rewarding because I made some good progress.

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