What makes a story worth writing?

Just an up front note…  This is not about what makes a story worth reading, which is akin to asking what makes a painting into art.  That question is all in the perspective of who is reading the story or looking at the painting.  I don’t like Picasso, but that doesn’t mean his paintings aren’t art.  I prefer to read fiction, that doesn’t make non-fiction into something not worth reading.

But I digress…

So, what is one writer’s opinion about what makes a story worth writing?

I’ll give you three words:  Passion.  Persistence.  Obsession.

  • Passion:  strong and barely controllable emotion
  • Persistence:  firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition
  • Obsession:  an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind

Writing, like any art form, requires the person to be driven, requires us to have an uncontrollable need to see the story through to completion.  The writer themselves will have a strong desire to know what happens at the end, just like a reader.

The story I’m writing now started as a draft prologue in 2009.  I used to just write poetry, but I suddenly had the need to write an intro for an idea that was rolling around in my head.  Now, life intervening the way it has a tendency to do, after that intro I didn’t do any writing at all for quite some time.  However, when the rest of my world slowed down and my creative side started itching, I went back to the story I had started all those years ago.

Now the story keeps unfolding before me all the time.  I’ll get ideas for characters, towns, pivot points and tangent stories all the time.  I carry a notebook with me all the time specifically for my story.  The best part?  My story makes me happy.  It makes me happy to know that I’m creating something all my own, all original.  It’s something I want to see through to the end, not something someone told me that I had to see through.

What makes a story worth writing?  A story is worth writing when it becomes a part of what makes us who we are.  When it begins to drive us beyond the bounds of our own limitations.  When the need to finish the story outweighs the energy and effort required.  When the story produces such a strong sense of purpose for ourselves that others can sense it and are moved by it as well.  A story worth writing will both invigorate and exhaust a writer.  However, once the mountain has been conquered, the view is great.

I believe everyone has a passion they are obsessed with and should pursue with relentless persistence.  What’s your story worth writing?

Influence – After & Before

We are continuously influenced by our experiences and the world around us.  So much so sometimes that it can be hard to sort out who we versus what the world has made us.

Every now and then we need to step back and look at the core of who we are.  Recognizing what truly makes us who we are provides us an anchor for the everything else in our lives.  The anchor, the core, cannot be influenced.  It provides a template for what does influence us, but is not influenced itself.

We can add different experiences, knowledge and wisdom to the boat, but the anchor will always be the same.  It will always root us, no matter how deep the water or turbulent the ocean. It provides us peace when the rest of the world does not.

I would like you to take a minute to look at the image below.  Gazing at the image, what words come to the surface?

Stone and Sand

As you looked at the image, did you come up with words like peace? Zen? Meditation?

The image is really just a rock on sand.  If you want to get detailed, the rock has circles around it, drawn in the sand.  Nothing more to it than that.

Influence is also about priming.  You are setup to react in a specific manner based on the messages you have been provided.  You were influenced to react to the above image in a specific way.

Businesses will influence you in restaurants, stores and advertisements.  Marketing is all about influencing decisions made by consumers.

Writing is largely priming and influence as well.  In order to take someone out of their normal experiences into the world of the story, the author has to continually set the scene, the mood and the flow of the story.

In every day life, we prime others for certain reactions whether or not we intend to do so.  Think about chores around the house.  Kids notoriously do not want to do chores and we provide different incentives to get them to help, such as allowances, or if/then options (ex: if you do the dishes then you can go outside).  As parents, think about your own reactions to doing chores.  Most parents don’t like doing chores either.  Who wants to work and then come home and do more work?  In this way, we unconsciously prime others, including the kids, to view chores as a negative activity.

What’s one thing you do regularly, good or bad, you think inadvertently influences those around you?

On the flip side, can you recognize the subtle influences around you that prime you to react a certain way?

 

Phrasing – Little changes are big differences

This first post is a little bit writing and a little bit marketing.

When I walked into a Starbucks the other day, as I was waiting to order, I heard something I hadn’t heard before.  One of the baristas was asking the customer in drive-thru, “What can I get started for you?”  Now, for a moment you may say, how is that any different from, “What can I get you?”  However, there is a big difference in what the phrase now implies.

Going for the standard “What can I get you?” phrase, the implication is I order, the person behind the counter then picks out the item I order, gives it to me and I pay.  This is perfect for a store, where nothing is made on the spot.

By tweaking the phrase into “What can I get started for you?” or “What can I start for you?”, the phrase now carries an implication that something needs to be made or customized for the order.  This can subtly and unconsciously change a customer’s view and expectations.

For Starbucks, it’s about differentiation and getting customers to understand that they aren’t like other large corporate coffee shops, but are more like your local coffee shop, introducing a personal element into the experience.

Now, think of this same concept in terms of writing: phrasing changes context.  Of course we understand this when the phrasing changes are significant.  Who hasn’t been on the wrong side of the “you could have phrased that a little better” or “you could have worded that differently” feedback comments, or said these to themselves?

But the phrasing difference in the example above is minor.  It’s just replacing the word ‘get’ with the words ‘start for’ and now the phrase means something different.  The change it evokes is also minor, but phrases like this can alter the context of a paragraph, or break up the flow in that section.

Think of a common phrase you say or hear in your every day, change one or two words without significantly altering the meaning.  Think of what the phrase now implies that it didn’t before.