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Telling Stories

Many people write to tell their stories. A successful writer has to learn how to tell everyone else’s story. This isn’t selling out, it is connecting yourself to the world so that your writing becomes bigger than yourself.

Everyone has a story. Sometimes it takes a drink or two to coax it out, but we all have one or two compelling stories that linger for days in the mind of the listener. The art is often in the recounting of the tale – how tension is built in a whisper and the climax released in an arm-waving roar. Telling a story is often a performance piece, and many writers do their best to render it in black words on white page. The process is far more difficult than it seems at first.

To capture someone else’s story is to capture the moment in which it was acted out. What matters most is the soul of the teller and how it springs out in bursts of passion and intellect. This can be recounted in simple words if the writer focuses on what is behind the story. There is a theme to every good story, and the details are nothing more than how they are worked into the heart and mind of the reader.

Being able to do this is not about writing stories, but synthesizing them into something effective. The most lucrative gigs for a freelance writer are probably grant writing, and this requires the process of relating the story of an organization. This is done by interviewing members of the organization and finding out what their story is – but most importantly, discovering the passion that drives them to make a career helping other people.

It is all a kind of journalism in the end, and reporting is often what makes good writers. Hemmingway, Vonnegut, Hiaasen and M�rquez are all great fiction writers who made their living as reporters at some time in their life. The discipline needed to take someone else’s story and give it a life of its own made their writing vivid and real in ways that transcended their own perspective on the world.

Good fiction comes from a mysterious process. Once the characters are shaped, their actions become obvious if the author allows them the ability to act as they want. Moment by moment, the narrative moves along outside of the author’s own mind. The characters have their own life. The author is merely telling their story, not his or her own.

Introspective writing became very fashionable at the end of the twentieth century. Many first-person novels and poems were lauded by critics as “deep”. There are few people who can make this style work without becoming narcissistic, however. The good stories are not the ones locked up deep inside a person’s mind, but the ones that bubble out at strange times and live between people. They become legends through second and third hand retellings, and might as well be real.

Understanding the moment when these stories are born and the reason they took on a life of their own is not simply good writing. There is a need for more of it. Sometimes it is simply adding up all the good bar stories that fit the common theme, and sometimes it is uncovering the passion that drives a worthy organization. In all cases, it is not about the writer’s intellect or imagination, but their audacious ability to walk down the street with a mirror facing away from themselves. It makes for good writing, and it makes a decent career, too.

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