People would much prefer to hear a truth that’s more in scale to their own experience… rather than creating grandiose situations. That can be a lot of fun in fiction, but it takes your audience out of relevance.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
Earlier this week, my father-in-law was running through the neighborhood when he saw a detective parked outside a neighbor’s house. He ran past without stopping. Then, he stopped. He went back and approached the officer.
“Is something going on?”
“The man who lives here beat up his wife. You know him?”
He did. We all did. He came for Thanksgiving dinner last year. We’ll call him Thomas, the thin, smiling man with tanned skin who hunted deer and turkey in the woods behind my in-laws’ house. The one who mowed the lawn to earn a few bucks because he was laid off when the Great Recession hit, his eight year old son pushing the small mower up to his ears while Thomas trimmed the pear blossom trees on the pasture.
The day before the detective told my father-in-law they were looking for Thomas, we saw his car in the woods, had thought he was hunting. Now, talking to the detective, my father-in-law wondered if Thomas was hiding out on the property.
The story continued to get more strange.
A helicopter and team of police cornered Thomas in the woods in another part of town but he got away. We walked past his house and a K9 unit was searching it. We found out he was doing meth.
And then, this morning, Thomas texted my father-in-law asking for help turning himself in.
What Stories Do YOU Need to Tell?
“What do you think?” my father-in-law asked me. “Could this be in one of your stories?”
Perhaps. It’s certainly interesting enough. But on it’s own, I don’t really need to tell this story.
The stories we most need to write are re-arranged versions of our own story. (Tweet that?)
Joshua Prager, a journalist who was paralyzed in a car accident, writes stories about people whose lives are like his, completely and irrevocably changed in an instant. Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin who wrote mostly in obscurity until she became a bestseller, writes stories about “the fate of the almost-made-it that she herself almost became,” says the New Yorker.
We seem to need to tell stories that help us better understand our own. What kind of stories do you need to tell? What stories do I need to tell?
How is this meth using, wife beating neighbor’s story my story? How could I tell it in a way that was more than a grandiose, fantastic story I once heard? I can’t really tell it as my own, can I?
It was three years ago, a few weeks before my wedding. Thomas was clearing out some brush and I walked down to the pasture to chat.
“Do you miss California?” he asked me.
“Yes, but I like the South. It’s nice to have seasons. In California, everything is always the same. There’s a different pace of life here.”
“Yeah,” he said, “there’s something about the South.” And then he looked out into the land, the woods as if there was something holy about it, and maybe there was, because as he said it the land seemed to glow with some kind of heavenly radiance imparted from a man who knew the name of every tree by the shape of its leaf and every bird by the sound of its song.
But since then, the land has slowly lost its glow until all I wanted was to leave the place, move back to California or Europe perhaps or even Michigan. Perhaps Thomas’ story, his disconnection through drugs to the land and to us until he severed the connection completely is my story of the South. I’m not sure.
What I do know is your stories are all around you. You just need to find your own story within them.
What about you? What kind of stories do you need to tell?
Write about a crime someone you know committed. How is their story your story?
Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few posts by other writers.