The Best Story

Why are stories so important? Certainly, a storyteller’s first job is to entertain, by which I mean keep the reader engaged. Whatever further ambitions you have for a story, if you cannot hold the reader’s attention by some fashion those ambitions will not be met. But stories have not remained so important to us because they are merely entertaining. Ultimately, all of life is a story we are telling ourselves. The past, despite photographs and films and videos, remains securely locked away in the vault of time. Anything we say or even think about the past is a story, as the limitations of time and space requires that we prune details and select a lens through which to view what has happened. These stories frequently change and always change us. Was the Civil War a war of Northern aggression or a struggle to end slavery? Did your boyfriend dump you because you are unlovable or because he was afraid to be loved? Pick your story.

Stories are often seen as containing little lessons within them—let go of the past, risk change, trust your heart—and this is all to the good. But I think the greatest lesson the best stories can teach us is how to tell our own stories. And I don’t mean keep them entertaining. I mean interpret events in a way that most serves us.

The most important stories you will tell are those you tell yourself. For me, the act of telling other people stories, particularly people I don’t know, has brought me again and again to this question: what is the best thing I could possibly tell someone else about what has happened? As I have trained myself in storytelling, I have seen the stories I tell myself change—or perhaps it is the other way around. No matter, the two are much the same thing.

Most published stories, be they fiction or narrative non-fiction, are filled with conflict and turmoil and loss and physical suffering. Why bother us with this? To kill a plane ride? No. The best stories are told with the knowledge that our own lives will be filled with conflict and turmoil and all the rest. We must live with the stories we tell ourselves about these events. Choose your ending wisely.  Choose the very best thing you could tell yourself. Trust me. There is nothing more important.

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