A storyteller’s first and most important job is to convince his reader that there is a problem. Without a problem there is no story, there is no conflict to be resolved, no obstacle to be overcome, no mystery to be explained. But not everyone looks at the same situation and sees a problem. For instance, every four years we elect a President, and approximately half the country sees an immediate problem they hope will be corrected in another four years, and the other half of the country does not see a problem—at least for a day or two.
I once wrote a story about a young man whose girlfriend had moved away. When I shared this story with a writing class, half the students did not understand why her moving away was a problem worthy of the kind of existential woe the protagonist was experiencing. He was just a teenager, and she was just a girlfriend. This was the first moment that I understood that as a storyteller I had to teach these people to see the world through a lens distorted by my character’s pain.
In this way storytelling is a kind of hypnosis from which I will eventually help my readers to awaken. Ironically, in my story of the boy whose girlfriend had moved away, this awakening would return half the students to their original state—namely, a world where girlfriends moving away isn’t a problem. If I had succeeded in hypnotizing them, they would be grateful for this awakening, just as we sometimes take long and tiring journeys only to remember how much we love our homes.
But for the other half the class, the ones who needed no convincing, the awakening would be a little different. These folks had hypnotized themselves long before I shared my story. They are on the exact same journey as the author: to see the world as it was before the story began. This is a story we’d been telling long before Chapter One, and what we call fiction becomes a reminder that our reality is only a story we are telling ourselves.
Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.