One Writer’s Writing Secret 7: What is a Story?

            Thus far I have tried to confine my tips to tips not readily available in the open market.  I have tried to write about writing in a way that can’t be read in every issue of Writer’s Digest or in every book on the subject at Barnes and Noble.  But here, I have to talk about something more concrete, and I blame my loving wife.  You see, she does not like conflict.  She won’t read or watch all of that science fiction and fantasy stuff because it is all full of monsters and blood and evil, awful things and, she says I have ruined the boys. 

            “Especially that Doctor Who with those Exterminate things.”

            I smile (friendly-like).  “But if all you have are fluffy bunnies bouncing around in the land of happy-happy, I would say you haven’t got a story.  Stories, even the weird ones I read, are about real life in the sense that a person’s character is not proved by how they behave in the good times, but rather by how they confront troubles and the difficulties that are common to us all.  People can relate to such things, even if it’s on other worlds.”

            “I thought you were talking about stories, not characters.”

            “Quite right.  Character belongs in another blog.  But what I mean is a story only happens when a person finds themselves or is taken out of their comfort zone.  The story is about how the person deals with that, whether they go home again, find a new comfortable place, or fail utterly along the way, it depends on how the storyteller tries to resolve things.”

            “So, story is about getting out of your comfort zone.  Do you mean like on Dancing with the Stars or the Apprentice or the Bachelor?”

            I keep smiling.  (And she thinks my shows are full of strange, alien creatures)!  “Not the examples I would have chosen, but fine.  I suppose there is some discomfort there, but I was thinking more like big troubles to which we can all relate, like the death of a parent or things that we dare not imagine, like the death of a child.  There are big things like wars or natural disasters or plagues, and middle things like murder or theft or little Timmy falling down a well.  “Go get help, Lassie!” and little things like the loss of a horseshoe nail.  What was it in Its a wonderful life?  Oh, yes, “Shame and bankruptcy and scandal!” My wife’s nose is beginning to turn up, so I have to think fast.  “Or Romance.  It doesn’t have to be a bad trouble, just something to shake the status quo.  Boy meets girl and they either fall into a relationship or at least first consider a relationship; but without some attraction when boy meets girl to shake the comfort zones, there isn’t a story.”

            “So a story has to be stressful?”

            “No, not exactly; though we do feel stress when our world is shaken, and so that could work.  Plenty of stories have been penned on stress, like going to a new school, starting a new job or moving to a new home.”

            “So, you moving us 12 times in 20 years was just grist for your writing?”


            “Forget it.  I don’t like stress any more than conflict.”  And there I was!  I was thinking how clever and proud I was not to have used the word conflict!

            “How about a story about a person winning the lottery?”  I suggest.  “Lots of Rich Uncle stories need to be recycled.  You know, the Count of Monte Christo digs again!”

            “You could have won the lottery once in those 20 years, you know.”

            I shake my head.  “No good.  They make you buy a ticket.”

            “What’s the matter, protecting your comfort zone?”  I nod.  “Me too.  I’m going to see if Wipeout is on.  Anything but those disgusting looking alien things you like.”

            Mud covered Daleks at the punching wall?  It was just a passing thought.


Writing Tip 7:

At the core of any (every) story, something has shaken things up and the people or, as the case may be, the fluffy bunnies have to figure out and decide what to do about it.  The story is in the deciding and doing which invariably leads to the resolve:  win or lose, right or wrong, live or die.

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