We are writers because we love story. Stories impact us to the degree where we, for whatever reason, seek to impact others in the same way.
And yet I wonder how much we understand the power of story. I know some people who are not “writer” and yet they seem to understand the power of story more than anyone. Others seek to be “writers” and yet ignore the story happening all around them.
In order to become a great writer, we must understand that great writing is not in how we place words on a page. It is not in structure or formula or word count or voice or tone. All of those things are important and have their place, but what matters is story. We read on for two reasons above all others – we care about the characters and want to know what happens next.
It is interesting when people tell me that they cry during a part of a book I’ve written. While I’m not purporting to be an expert, I know that those rare occasions happen because the reader cared about the character and then what happened to them in the story, the action involved.
If we agree this is the case, that story trumps everything, then we must pay attention to the stories all around us. Ask people questions and then listen. Ask more questions to keep the story going that someone is telling you. This is not easy.
The perfect people to begin with are the young and the old. Don’t believe me? Start talking with a child about their life. Some are more talkative than others, but you’ll find that most or all will tell you everything about their short life as if it is epic. To them, it is.
And that should teach us something about writing.
We don’t listen to the older generation for a myriad of reasons. But ask them questions that lead to a story. How did you meet your wife? Who was the love of your life? What are some of the things you most regret? These are personal stories, but I guarantee you’ll grow closer than you realize with these older people and they will tell you. You will find wisdom and context beyond your realm of knowledge. This, also, should teach us about writing.
And guess what? We make some amazing friends in the process.
I was in line for a concert last night, and I struck up a conversation with a gentleman and his daughter behind me. The connection point was the love of the band we were about to see, but in asking questions, I was able to hear about how he’s lived and grown and gotten to the point in his life now. I won’t write his story as a book, but I did get to a place where I understood a stranger better and that helps me as I tell stories from different points of view.
Stories humanize us. They connect us. They explain things, good or ill, and all of that is why we love them and pay money to read or watch them. If we pay attention to the people all around us every day, we will learn more about how powerful story can be. And then we can tell powerful stories.