Okay, Fine… But What’s Your Story About, Really?

Anyone who knows me well can probably tell you that sometimes I can be wholly oblivious to the most obvious points but pick up on subtleties the average person wouldn’t even think to look for. This is an interesting character juxtaposition and probably what makes me a writer before anything else. Documenting and chronicling the things that I see and know to be true that most people will never see, notice, or give a shit about is what fuels me, what compels me through the world.

But, in thinking about how I am first and foremost a storyteller – and not a “writer” – I’ve had a few huge insights into my own process.

I’ve been working hard on a collection of short stories that are intensely personal for the past year. Part of why I decided to work on this collection is because each of the anecdotes exemplify a moment that was life changing for me, something that was a point from which there was no return. When I started this collection, I believed it was the actual incident that held the power. The incidents are fascinating and unique unto themselves – but what I have come to understand is that it isn’t the incident that holds the power. The power and meaning inside the incidents is what the events taught me about myself and how they changed me, irrevocably, as a human being. Thus, without the reader’s understanding of how the events changed me as a person, the event itself holds little meaning.

Inasmuch, I’ve been teaching myself that the stories aren’t really about what happens in the story. The stories are really about the emotional trauma, this very basic and profound change within my character that came about as a result of the events in the story. In mining these moments that broke me – and made me – there is gold. Dark, twisted, fascinating gold that reflects upon the best and worst in all of us.

Perhaps this all sounds obvious to you. It hasn’t been to me in crafting my own work. Within my own work, I have tended to focus primarily on the what, and not as much on the how and why. This is the delicate dance of writing. Brilliant screenwriting must also balance these elements. It is the events that inform the change, but yet this deep transformational growth cannot happen without essential events.

In this regard, the events (plotting) of the stories are simply a metaphor (vehicle) to get me to the emotional transformation (what the story is really about).

I’d been so transfixed with the events in my writing, the actions themselves, and what happened in my stories and how it happened, that I had actually lost sight of the most obvious: what the events were really about.

Because if you can’t open your campfire yarn by saying, “This is a story about freedom,” or “this is a story about faith,” then you might have a handful of fascinating things happening, but what are you really trying to say with those things?

That’s the key. What are you really trying to say?

That is the heart and soul of any good story or screenplay. That is the magic component that haunts the reader after they’ve turned the last page and read FADE TO BLACK. That is the transcendence.

So, I’m asking you: What is your story about, really?

And if you don’t know yet, that’s a really good place to start.

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