I have no patience for small talk. The weather – really? That’s what we’re talking about right now? With some people, that’s as far as you can go. I have people like this in my life; I am this person in some people’s lives. Every life and every story has people like this. They’re an essential reprieve.
But they can’t take center stage. Neither can these people.
The beautiful day, the back-lit hair, color coordination at its best – a story of a family who looks at the camera at the same time and smiles on cue is worse than one-dimensional. It’s nauseating. It’s not real. And it’s very, very easy to write, which is why Hallmark, bookshelves, and social media are packed with stories like it.
What if I told you the mom in this picture has had a muscle twitch in her left eye since the beginning of October because she’s bone-tired and stressed out? What if I told you that on the day of this picture, she woke up at 3AM in a panic. What do I have to do today? Too much. How will I fail? She feels like she’s been failing for months. She can’t even organize the family picture. She’s pushed it back three times, and the children still don’t have clothes without holes in them. I’ll go to TJ Maxx at 3:30. The middle son still doesn’t have a haircut. I’ll do that at 4:30. The plan is to include the family dog in the picture, but the family dog messes herself in the crate. I’ll take care of that after the picture. Wrangling three boys for the half hour mini-session is enough anyway. This mom loves her sons, but they’re all energy all the time, and she’s tired already (see earlier note about 3AM). I’ll just push the photo shoot back a fourth time. Then, I can change into my jammies instead of putting on make-up.
Tell me, what resonated with you: the family picture or the fine print? For me, it’s both. The best stories have both. The picture is like a book cover. It draws me in. What a lovely family. The fine print keeps me there. They sound just like mine.
Great stories, like great meals, have diverse tones and textures.
This was another take-away from the story workshop I went to earlier this month. A story that reads only like that picture is mashed potatoes with a slice of white bread. A story that reads only like the fine print is liver and onions. I’ve stopped reading stories for both reasons.
People only care about the highlights if you share the lowlights.
I’m celebrating the last week of NaNoWriMo with discussions on characters. Every story has one. In his Q&A earlier this month, Jim Michels said good stories have two components: the storyteller must have something to say that matters to him/her and then must say it well.
We tell stories because we have something to say. But how will we get people to listen? Through our characters.
Our reading choices don’t vary much from our life choices. It’s all about who we want to spend time with.