Wise Words for Writers: George Santayana

I was reminded in my post concerning writer’s block that sometimes people simply don’t know what to write.  Maybe this will help.

The quote appears in many different forms, but credit tends to go to the poet and philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Santayana’s quotation, in turn, was probably a slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

I knew this quote for years and thought it wise enough, though not exactly accurate.  History never precisely repeats, though it plays some tight harmonies at times.  When this crossed my desk recently, however, I suddenly saw it in an entirely different way.  I found it inspiring for numerous story ideas and plot twists.  Follow:

1.         This might be a kind of Hell for the evil character in a story after he loses the final confrontation – to have to go back and constantly lose over and over. 

2.         Of course, it need not be a literal Hell.  It might just be in the mind, perhaps in prison, haunted in dreams, replaying the scene again and again – loser.

3.         I once saw an episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor and his companion got caught in a time loop.  They worked a way out of it, but think.  To have to repeat the same bit of life over and over.  Would it be worse if it was an indifferent bit of life?  This is an idea used in many stories since that time.

4.         Of course, my next thought was the film Groundhog’s Day.  He eventually got out of it too, but he had some freedom in the process and used that time in interesting ways.  This has also been used in many stories since, most recently in the show, Supernatural.

5.         I suppose this is something that could be used by the bad guy to torment the innocent.  On the other hand, at the end of the Worm Ourboros, everyone is sad because the struggle is over and the days of glory, honor and adventure are done.  But then the envoy arrives and they all cheer because they get to start over again from the beginning.

6.         What if you could really take a do-over?  What if you had a kind of super power?  I do remember one short story where a man had a watch – but the plane blew up and he got sucked out before he could do anything.  (I think he had something like ten seconds).  He couldn’t see the watch in the dark and felt sure he was miscounting the seconds which meant eventually he would go splat!

7.         24

8.         Dorian Gray kind of fits into this kind of thinking, though I am not sure where, exactly.

9.         In Dungeons and Dragons, the time loop is the classic answer to the player who wishes for an infinite number of wishes.

10.       Scrooge did not get to repeat anything, but Christmas Past did give him a chance to see his own past through his own elderly eyes.  It changed him.

11.       Did you happen to catch the Wall Street Journal last week?  They had a chart for the stock market comparing recent months with 1937.  It is eerie how the two lines matched in their ups and downs.  It is frightening to see on the chart just how on the precipice we are.  At this point in 1937, the bottom dropped out and the market lost 30, 40, near 50% in value in a short time.  (That’s why they called it the Great Depression).  Are we facing the same thing?  What if we are?

12.       They say doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome is a sign of insanity.  I wonder if that might be applied to the human race as a whole…

There.  You have an even dozen thoughts, and I was thinking since I wrote last time about writer’s block, the least I could do this time is offer some ways out.  If you don’t like Santayana, believe me, there are plenty of other quotes out there to choose from.

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