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Monday, September 19, 2011

A Good Story

My mom has a certain criterion for whether a movie is good or not. Actually, we as a family have a criterion: if Mom stays awake through the whole movie, it's good. If she doesn't, it's not. By this measure, there are way more bad movies than good in the world, but that's not what I'm talking about today.

Whenever my mom is describing a movie she likes, she'll say, "It's a good story." My whole life, this has been the most important factor in evaluating the movies I watch. Is it a good story? As I've gotten older, the Good Story scale has also bled over into the books I read. It's how I decide how much value a book has for me. Is it a good story?

When I say good story, I don't mean plot or narrative structure or the try-fail cycle or any of those other mechanical terms we learn about in writing classes. It's more subjective than that. It's something you feel. It's the moment where you say, "Oh! Okay. Someone else out there gets it too."

Anyway, a few months ago, I was talking to Janiel - okay, I was whining - again about how hard and frustrating (discouraging, soul-sucking) it is to write a book. Finally she said, "So why do you write?"

Good question.

I didn't have an answer at the time. I had to go in a corner and think for awhile. Seriously, why was I doing this to myself? There had to be a reason, beyond my pathological compulsion to finish everything I start.

And there it was: I wanted to tell stories. Good stories. I wanted to add my own to the vast canon of human imagination. Granted, they might be retellings of stuff that's already out there, but so what? All those Good Stories haven't been around this long for nothing. You'll find that they crop up just about anywhere, once you start looking: a poem, a song, ancient myths, scripture, a rerun of 3rd Rock from the Sun, I could go on . . .

It's true that I don't always enjoy writing, but I do it because I love Good Stories. I believe my book is one such Good Story, even if I want to strangle it sometimes. And so I will keep at it until it's done.

We know my reason, now let's hear yours. Why do you write? And what are some of your favorite Good Stories?

8 comments:

Janiel Miller said...

And, as evidenced by the feedback you got on Thursday from our writer's group (read: only praise), you tell a mighty fine story.

Just love the story, babe. Love the story. You've totally got the rest.

jenna said...

Please don't strangle the story... you can punch it if you need to but don't leave a mark ;)

blueviolet said...

I'm definitely not a story writer, so I can't really relate to story strangling. :) Now I'm trying to think of some of my favorite stories. Well, my favorite book is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I guess that's my answer.

Robin said...

I thought about this question for a full day. Writing is an act of faith for me. An act of faith IN me.

Faith that I have something to say. Faith that I'm not wasting my time. Faith that it will all come to something. Faith that bringing another story into the world is a good thing. Faith that the act of writing and letting people read it will make me a better person. Faith that my story will make things better for someone, somehow.

Cassidy Jo said...

Love it :) I just found the link to your Cicada essay--way to go!

William Kendall said...

I write because it's the best way to express myself.

As to strangling versus punching the story.... can we place the story in a catapult instead?

Maegan Langer said...

Oh, I think a catapult is the best idea I've heard yet. It certainly has more flair than the delete button.

Russo said...

Oh, I adore this post because you're right. As writers we have to figure out why we write.

And you summed it up best, the stories worth reading are something that makes you feel.

PS-Your stories make me feel, so you are on the right path. I still love that you wrote a characters fate that just made me cry. Thats beautiful writing and you got it in spades.