Monday, January 21, 2013

On Story Writing

Many things have been said about story writing. I'm not sure what I thought I could say that no one else has, but I might as well record a snippet of my musings on this subject here.

I will be so bold as to say that I believe that stories define humanity. Stories and dreams are the means by which we obtain new knowledge, new wisdom without ever having to experience an event directly.

And those events and stories don't even have to be true.

And there is the craft of fiction.

You see, the human mind is designed around emotion. If a story appeals to our emotions, it does not matter if it is fiction. A fairy tale may tickle and thrill us to the point where we don't even think of its fantastic nature when critiquing it. However, if a movie depicting history fails to evoke emotion with its events and characters, we often turn away in disgust at its "unrealism."

We do not care about being deceived as much as we care about feeling deceived. This is perhaps the greatest struggle of creative writing--giving the impression of realism. To quote one of my favorite modern authors, storytellers must "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth--especially when making things up."

This honesty is especially important to those who are given the stories, for the stories we hear affect everything about us. How we react to change and new information. The way we see our world and the people in it. The principles that dictate our lives.

We are immersed every day in dozens of stories--the antics of our neighbor's pets, events in the news, or the rambling anecdotes of coworkers. Though memory of the specific stories may fade, the impact they have upon us remains.

Think of your early childhood. The things your parents would tell you to convince you to behave. They would often weave a story, wouldn't they? Either of potential events ("if you climb that bookshelf, you will...") or past ("when I was little, I climbed bookshelves..."). 

They wanted you to listen and learn. They wanted to show you through words. We learn morality and the greater principles of life through stories.

We are designed to desire stories. We need them to survive. Because you see, stories are the only way we can answer the question that endlessly torments our race.


Story writers have the incredible burden of crafting worlds and realities that try to answer this question. They must also:
  1. Abide the old, proven principles of plot, theme, and character.
  2. Defy cliches and demonstrate boldness in spite of the above.
  3. Consider the tastes of the current generation, but not so much that future ones will look back in scorn. 
  4. Find a manner of tone that is unique or a unique blend of others. 
  5. Say what is worth saying and nothing more or less.
To top it all off, they get payed crap usually. As it turns out, ideas and stories are cheap.

It is not difficult to understand why this is. We ask the same why's and end up with cliche answers--or, if the why's are good ones, we are offered "we can never know" or "it is up to you to decide." So many storytellers take the easy way out.

This is not absolute--classics are still written today. However, they are hard to find and often leave a bitter taste when we put them down. They fear to mislead, so they give no guidance.

To touch people we must speak to both their hearts and their minds. And as we speak to both, we must be gentle, for we shape them.

But above all, we must speak the truth.

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