What Stories Do You Choose to Tell?

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

Imagine if the payroll assistant you’ve just been introduced to tweaked the question a bit. Instead of some variation of “Where do you get your stories from?” she asked, “Why do you choose to tell the stories you choose to tell?” Ah, now that’s an interesting question. Thoughts have been provoked here. You get an extra cookie.

Stories and characters can come to us completely at random. It’s sort of an abstract thing. But the reason we choose to tell one story and discard another is another matter entirely. It’s more concrete – more rooted in our own psyche as well as our personality as writers.

There are lots of amazing stories out there. Off the top of my head, I’m sure a novel about an elderly woman in Minneapolis who beats incredible odds to get her pilot’s license in the wake of her husband’s death would be an incredible tale. The problem for me, personally, is that I have absolutely no experience being an elderly woman nor do I have the first clue how to fly a small airplane. I’d have to do an exhausting amount of research on both aviation and aging just to get crappy lines like….

“Whiz-bang, Junior, there’s sure a lot of gadgets in this cockpit,” Martha said.

Also, I’ve never been to Minnesota. I think it’s cold there. And flat. And they root for the Twins. That’s about what I know at present. Obviously, that story should be left to someone else to tell.

As writers, I believe the majority of us choose to tell the stories we choose to tell because some aspect of that particular situation hits close to home. Whatever it is, we choose that story because in some way, it’s important to who we are and what we represent in this world. The further away a story is from one’s own drive, motivation, and understanding, the more likely it is to turn out sort of hollow, no matter how beautifully crafted.

Anyone who knows my writing will definitely say that my protagonists have a theme. They tend to be male. They tend to be white. They tend to be poor or on the low end of middle class. They tend to be former athletes. They tend to tell jokes at somewhat inappropriate times. They tend to have a suppressed violent streak that only comes out when pushed to the extreme. Why? Because this is the world I know. These are the people I have an immediate connection with. This is the world I can internalize and thusly externalize. I can create rich and nuanced characters with these particular traits. Try as I might, what I can’t do is create a rich and nuanced young Mexican girl who finds out she’s pregnant just before her Quinceañera. Nor would I want to because I feel I’d be robbing someone else of a story they could tell much, much better than I could.

Actually, scratch that. I can create that character just fine. She just won’t be able to speak a lick of Spanish and she’ll have a surprising amount of middle-aged white guy problems. Also her name will be Carl.

As writers, ask yourself this tweaked “company picnic” question. See if there’s a theme to your work. Really delve deep into why it is you choose to tell the stories you choose to tell. Do you tell superhero stories because you feel powerless in your life and want to gain some control for a few glorious hours, or do you tell superhero stories because superheroes kick ass and you love lasers and punching? You need to know. Because those two stories might both come out awesome, but they’ll come out completely different.

Do you write because there’s a story you absolutely need to get out into the world before your guts explode, or do you write because the idea seems commercial and just might sell? These stories are going to be massively different depending on the writer’s motivation. Neither reason is right or wrong, but in order for the story to work as you originally envisioned, you have to know. It’s essential.

The idea of what stories we pick and choose from the infinite pool of characters and ideas in the universe is a complex one that I’m going to touch on in many ways in the upcoming weeks. For instance, what if you’re called upon to write or rewrite a script that was someone else’s idea? What if you have the story chosen for you? What if you simply want to branch out and write something you’re unfamiliar with? How in tarnation do I do that? These are all incredible questions that will be answered here when we’re all just a bit older. But not much older. Maybe like three weeks to a month older. I think we can all handle that.

But honestly, ask yourself the title question from this post and really analyze it. You’ll not only find that it helps your writing, but it will also help guide you as to what stories you’ll be the most successful taking on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>