October 23, 2013

Why do we want to tell a story?

Dear M,

I once heard a person say that he wanted to write stories of ordinary things that happened to ordinary people.

Let's see what that means. He wants to write a story in which a girl goes to school one morning, attends class, answers questions from her teacher (or fails to) and returns home, and goes to play and has her dinner and goes to bed. The next morning, she gets up and goes to school and attends class and ... okay, so what's going on here? You are yawning, that's what's going on.

Ordinary things that happen to ordinary people would look something like that. When something different happens, it is not ordinary. It's different. And that's what we like to write about. The girl on her way to school felt a strong wind blow. Her long skirts fluttered. She saw the trees swaying in the wind, and dust rising from the ground in a rush. She squinted her eyes. A helicopter gradually and carefully descended into the middle of the road in a brown cloud.

All right. Not so great, but at least something has happened. The helicopter descending in the middle of a village surely looks ominous. Or promising. Whatever.

We write because we want to tell something that happened, out of the ordinary. Or ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Or an ordinary incident or sequence of events that had strange consequences. Or remarkable people who did ordinary things. Or bizarre people and their bizarre actions. Anything out of routine. There is nothing incredible in routine.

When we tell a story that has something going on in it, it does not get boring. If you are yawning, it's because you didn't sleep well last night.


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