Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tell Me Every Story Told

A long time ago, a friend who is no longer with us told me she was not going to work on writing novels anymore.

The world has enough people trying to write and publishing things. There are already too many books, she said.

My total astonishment at her words was profound. She went on to blast our mutual alma mater as a place that actually deters writing even though it is a college that has Pulitzer Prize winning authors and national poet laurates among its alumnae. The teaching, she maintained, was so geared toward writing The Great American Novel of Literature that it overlooked and discounted multiple genres and forms of writing.

She never published a novel, though she did publish a history book. Like me, she wrote for newspapers. She also had five novels tucked away in a drawer when she passed away, and who knows what else.

I did have a novel tucked away in a drawer, but I threw it out some time ago. I have another stashed in a file cabinet someplace that I never finished. My essay for my masters degree is probably the longest piece of decent writing that I have.

Truth is, I never wanted to write The Great American Novel. I wanted to be a ghost writer and write Nancy Drew books. I wanted to be Janet Evanovich and write Stephanie Plum novels. I wanted to be Victoria Holt and write gothic romances.

I didn't want to write Catcher in the Rye or Jane Eyre. I read those books and enjoyed them, but I couldn't see myself writing them.

My friend was correct about one thing - the college I graduated from gave short shrift to anything not deemed "literature." Aspirations for other forms of writing were ignored.

I don't know if it is still that way. When I went after my masters degree, it wasn't quite as "literary" but that sense of it was still there. It helped that one of my professors was a genre writer, I think. She didn't look at genre quite like other teachers.

Story comes in many forms. Oral stories are great - my father and brother are both great orators. They can bullshit with the best of them and both are salesmen. I am not a good oral story teller, but I do all right with words on paper. I operate best there.

Everyone has a story, but every story is the same. Right? Wrong? I think not, because even in a family, no one sees a situation or event in the same way. What may be funny to one person might horrify another.

That's the thing about humanity and the human story. Differences abound everywhere, even among twins, triplets, or quadruplets. We have a basic underpinning - we're born, we live, we die. It's the middle part that is so fascinating (although some births are rather fascinating stories, in and of themselves). That "live" part.

Living is so different for everyone. Hard for most, easy for a few. Some laugh their way through it, some cry. Some see joy everywhere while others see nothing but sorrow. Some see a mix of everything.

And who's to say who is right or wrong about any of it? Who has the right to tell someone else that what they see with their own eyes, and feel with their own heart, is good, bad, right or wrong? Society has a set of morals that we use to determine certain things in life - it's bad, for example, to murder someone. That feeling needs to be set aside and not acted upon, if you're feeling murderous toward someone. That goes for any other emotion that causes someone else harm or angst. Societal mores have said we don't do those things, and we are raised to know this. Well, most of us are, anyway. If we didn't know this, society would break down and not function.

My friend did not really stop writing. Being a writer means you never stop thinking like a writer, even if you aren't writing. Being a writer is a different way of seeing the world, a way of looking at details, of searching for the overlay of story arc in an event. A search for the protagonist and antagonist in every outing. Is that the good person? The bad person? Who is right or wrong? Who is going against the dictated social mores?

Sometimes I think that every story has been told. Maybe all we're all doing is rewriting Shakespeare in invisible ways, or telling stories from the Bible in new ways, thousands of times over. Maybe we're telling stories with meaning, or maybe our stories mean nothing at all.

Supposedly there are only seven basic plots: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth. I always read them as conflicts of man against self, man against man, man against nature, or man against other/society.

However you define it, even if there are only seven plots, there are endless stories, as many stories as there people. Maybe as many stories as there are stars in the sky.

And here I am writing blog posts, or essays. It counts. It's a story about stories. Somewhere in what I have written this morning, is a story.


  1. Your story resonated with me. I never wanted to write the Great American Novel, either, but at one point had figured out that romance novels were pretty formulaic and thought I could crank them out. But, happened and I never did.

  2. I am not a writer but I am an avid reader. And I used to be ashamed to tell people about all the different genres I read but not anymore. Reading is better than not reading, so I'm applying that to writing is better than not writing. And what you write is resonating with your blog friends. :)

  3. I was captivated by your blog today. Made me really think. I am much better at writing things than telling them which I guess makes me a bad bullshitter. I always try too hard to verbally tell a story. I’m a detail oriented person which is why I write better than I tell a story. When I write the thoughts come out much better, I think. Of course my writings are usually winded just like the storytellers and bullshitters of the world but passion is passion no matter how the story is told.i have a friend who graduated from you alma mater and he is a published poet and essay writer. He also blogs. I journal but blogging scares me. If I couldn’t write a book like the ladies you mentioned, I think travel writer would be a nice job.


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