Is a diarist a “writer”? Can we say we have written many “books”? (Don’t they look like books?) If life is story, then are you a novelist? Possibly a novelist of tedious prose, with far too many details, a novelist in need of an editor? When you have written about your life for nearly fifty years, as I have, it becomes a sort of opus perpetualis, a never-ending novel, although it will, of course, come to an end some day, and that’s called the denouement.
I enjoy reflecting on the similarities and differences between diaries and novels. The truth in a diary might be stranger than the fiction in a novel. The protagonist of the diary lives in the ongoing present moment yet possesses the ability to transgress time – relive the past and imagine the future. A future reader might know the last chapter of the story, even as the diary writer can look back in time and know the outcome of all the choices of his/her past.
Although a diary certainly lacks the cohesiveness of a novel, I agree with Patricia and Robert Malcolmson, editors of Nella Last in the 1950s, that “The unifying force in a diary is usually the mind of the diarist …”
All the elements of a novel are present in a diary:
The protagonist – complete with flaws (some tragic)
The main characters – family, friends, pets, allies or enemies
Minor characters – side-kicks, cameo appearances, angels and helpers, imaginary friends, antagonists and villains
Plots and subplots – challenges, entanglements, misunderstandings, conflicts, spicy sexual liaisons or tepid dalliances, insights and changes, and possibly the evolving of the protagonist
Settings – what an amazing variety in an average life!
Action and adventure
Depending on the unique tapestry of your writing you will either be a fascinating read in one hundred years or mundane and boring. Who knows? Who cares? I write my journal for myself and seldom think about how shallow it might be. I suppose I should care but I wish neither to entertain or enlighten anyone but myself.
My continuous novel looks like this:
Strengths: perseverance, mellow personality, even–tempered, honesty, reliability, courage, knowledge in certain areas, relative lack of prejudices
Flaws: indecisiveness, slowness to anger or take action, inability to play social politics, tendency to be too diplomatic, lack of energy
Weapons: the pen, determination
Stumbling blocks: often misjudged, seen as a threat, wrongly accused
Main characters: family, friends, pets, boyfriends, husbands, acquaintances, bookstore customers
Various settings: five states, cities and rural towns, a ranch, a farm, a cottage, bookstores, travels
Antagonists: sometimes those I love – family, friends, boyfriends; renters, technology, machines, weather, predators, Fate, Time, lack of money, cancer
Theme – good question
Plot – the protagonist attempts to:
1. make enough money to live on in a variety of jobs (day care, landscaping, pet sitting, bookdealer)
2. create a wonderful, community-oriented, thriving bookstore
3. love and support family
4. grow organic vegetables and beautiful gardens
5. maintain prosperous honeybees
6. live a totally conscious life with awareness of and respect for nature and the environment
7. participate in activities that will encourage community
8. create a National Diary Archive
That’s the outline of my never-ending novel, a best seller for sure. Comments? You may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org