My husband Tim tells the story of when he was in 4th grade playing baseball with the neighbors. He had brand new glasses and was afraid of breaking them. He set them in a “safe place” in the grass nearby. A dog was snooping around.
After he got up to bat and rounded the bases, he returned to pick up his glasses. They had vanished! So had the dog. Surely the dog was the culprit.
Poor forlorn Tim went home and told his mom, “The dog ate my glasses.” Poor forlorn Tim got a spanking. Not just for being irresponsible, but for lying. A likely story!
Fast forward a year. Tim is walking through the hallway of the local college where his dad was a professor. Guess what he sees tacked to a bulletin board! His glasses–all chewed up!
He yanked them off the bulletin board and charged home with the proof of his innocence. “See, the dog really really did eat my glasses!” His poor forlorn mother had to eat her accusatory words.
Tim still enjoys telling this tale.
We all have the compulsion to tell a story, the need for somebody to listen and laugh, to empathize, to cry. It’s usually our own story, or someone close to us.
Sometimes we feel like we’ll burst before we can share what happened. We crave that connection to others. For in their expressions, we see ourselves. And acceptance.
Having four children has created a lot of funny stories. One of our family favorites is the dog story. Far too long to share here, it’s the two-year process of how we acquired our dog Rocky. It actually took a lot of ingenuity to find him, so that’s a topic for another post.
My dad tells a story that sounds like a rendition of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In the 1960s, he once did everything possible to get to a meeting in Chicago in a blizzard, only to find out upon arriving that the meeting was cancelled.
Loving genealogy, I once made pen-and-ink drawings to show a visual history of my grandmothers’ lives. One was born and bred in Michigan, the other had immigrant parents that hailed from the Netherlands. I loved researching their lives and choosing pictures that encapsulated their various experiences. I presented the framed drawings as gifts.
I’ve documented my kids’ lives in journals and a big binder of “Family Chronicles,” along with ancestor anecdotes. Hopefully, they will enjoy these stories later when they start thinking more about their roots.
I also love creating my own stories. Plots suggest themselves to me merely from visiting a place. When I was in high school and college, I spent time in the North Woods of Minnesota, not far from the Boundary Waters. Though I didn’t yet know the characters or conflict details, I was determined to write a story about it someday. Years later, my award-winning story Summer People sprang from that setting.
“You can make anything by writing.”
My trip to western North Carolina in college was the impetus for an award-winning short story that later grew into the novel All That Is Hidden. It wasn’t just the beauty of the setting that captured me, but the culture, and the people who embodied it. They embodied a worldview very different from the “American Dream” notion I’d grown up with. That visit changed the way I thought about work, play, goals, and success. My time there evolved into a tale that needed to be shared.
“There is no greater agony
than bearing an untold story inside you.”
While we all love telling our real life stories, fiction writers have the urge to create their own places, situations, and characters. These often communicate deep themes about life in ways that impact readers more than a news article or essay could.
It’s the difference between “Nothing but the facts” and “Once upon a time . . .” The latter sweeps us up in its drama.
It’s the difference between reading a textbook and reading historical fiction. If I want just the facts, the textbook might suffice. But if I want to learn history plus empathize with the people of that time period, experience their passions and fears, I’ll read the fictionalized version.
This is what novelists want to do. Reach both your mind and your heart with their stories.
“If there’s a book you really want to read
but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.”
Settings aren’t the only inspirations for stories. Sometimes you meet someone who later emerges as a character. More often than not, that person is a composite of many people’s traits.
Stories arise from a situation you read about or find yourself in. Ideas materialize merely from asking, “What if?”
But wherever stories come from, we use them to connect with each other. It’s that connection that binds us together.
“If stories come to you, care for them.
And learn to give them away where they are needed.
Sometimes a person needs a story
more than food to stay alive.”
What stories–family or otherwise–do you most love sharing?
I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Next time: Meet an author who creates century-old story worlds with maps, music, and musings