Equal Stories


There is no opposite of you. Everyone’s different, but not opposite. Maybe you write military thrillers and you attend a conference of military thrillers writers for the first time. At last you’ve found your people! Yet some authors’ stories take place on the battle field, some in clandestine redoubts, some in the halls of power. You find yourself in late-night debates about how many subplots a thriller can sustain, how sympathetic to make the antagonist, and the necessity of a love interest. The more you talk about the specifics of the stories, the less you seem to agree with your people.

Then you’re asked to teach a class in how to sustain tension through the middle of a novel at a romance writer’s conference. These are not your people. For one thing, most – well, all – the military thriller writers were guys. Here, it’s just the opposite. Yet once you start talking about the business of storytelling, once you’re discussing rising tension and inciting incidents and believable character arcs, you discover that these romance writers and you have a lot in common. Stories all start looking similar when you stand back from them. They all have good and bad, love and loss, suffering and redemption.

In fact, when you find yourself in a late-night conversation with three of these writers, you learn that each of you encounters the same quiet doubt at some point in every book. Each of you has wondered if you’re actually going to pull this off, or if this is the story that will finally come fully unraveled. You all laugh noting that it doesn’t matter how many times a book comes together in the end; you know you’ll be visited by the same persistent question in the middle of the next one.

Driving home, you think about how good it felt to find agreement with these very different writers. Perhaps you’ll use this somehow in your next story. Something about how fear and its opposite unites us. You write about war after all: the clash of opposing wills and the chaos it engenders. You’re reminded about what’s left on the field after the smoke has cleared and the bodies are buried. The field returns to its natural state, a kind of blank page where all stories are equal.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.