Are All Stories Created Equal?

My best friend used to badger me about the premise to my story. What is your premise? What are you trying to say with your writing? What's your character arc? Story arc? Where's Noah's Arc?

But my friend had a great point. Some of the best stories have something to say that usually involves the main character's arc: becoming the person she should be, like moving from self-hatred to having high self-worth. Or how Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet shows pure innocent love will die in the adult world, a very harsh statement, the real tragedy.

From my own experience, when I started to write Nightfall, I couldn't see what my character or story arc was. I'm not sure why, but it might have been because I was steeped in developing the plot, building the world, the characters and their traits.

One of the many great things about Harry Potter is Harry himself. His character traits seem normal: thin and not physically strong, wears glasses, has a scar, loyal to a fault and honest, isn't the greatest student. But he's special, surviving an attack from the baddest dark wizard, known as the boy who lived, a powerful wizard. In a sense, Rowling might have been saying that we are all somehow special.

My main character is the exact opposite when it comes to character traits, with a purpose, and I didn't realize this until several months ago after working with the character for eight years. Talon is tall, handsome, has luscious long locks—blonde hair—and is the commander of the most powerful military force in the provinces. Men fear him because he's never been bested in a fight. Women love him because they feel so at ease when they're in his presence. In a way, he's perfect. As the story begins, we immediately see that he has holes—faults, fears, and the same controlling issues that all parents have when it comes to his own children. As the story moves along, we see how gaping these holes are. Despite his perfectness, he, and in a sense all of us, are human.

It's a commentary that we are all equals with our own strengths and weaknesses. So it doesn't matter how special people seem to be, we have faults as well. And that perfectness that we seem to strive for, or look for in others, can vary a great deal. Kinda like saying a perfect rose has twelve petals and not thirteen because thirteen is an unlucky number, which is ridiculous. Are there certain traits that we gravitate to? Sure. When people ask me what I look for in a woman, I jokingly respond, "Four B's. Busty, blonde, big butt." It's ridiculous.

Look at this big yellow shaft I'm holding

Whenever a homeless person asks me for money, I always respond in kind, whether I give them money or not. When a waitperson serves me, I always thank them. Even if I meet a CEO of a company, I'll joke with him as if he's my friend, which happened when I met the CEO of the company I work for.

He flew to various locations around the US to greet his worker bees as the newly crowned CEO. When he had arrived to our office, he was making the rounds, shaking everyone's hands in their cubicles. Then he and his entourage approached me, I introduced myself as Jimmy. Confused, he saw the placard displaying the name 'Lauren', who was absent that day. I was sitting at her desk because I don't have a desk at that particular building.

"But now I'm Lauren," I quipped, "after my sex change operation."

He and his entourage laughed and said, "You look pretty buffed for girl."

"Thanks to our health benefits, I've been taking steroids."

And no, I did not get fired.

But I do my best to live my life with that view of equality. Does that mean someone who is taller than me is better than me? Maybe in basketball (I'm not very good, so that's not saying much). Or are there people smarter than I am? Sure. But intelligence is very specific. I don't need to know how to build a computer if I'm a writer. I need to know how to structure a story, how to evoke emotions from words, what a character trait really is, etc.

As human beings, we are all the same. We love. We eat. We drink. We get hurt. We sleep. We love to laugh. We shit. It is the nature of being human.

Coming back to storytelling, I don't think you need to know everything about the story or characters from the beginning because it may be too much. We need to trust that the story will naturally come out and the technical (i.e. structure and grammar) and finer details (i.e. story and character arc) will be ironed out during the rewriting/editing process.

And yes, I'm biased as to what a good story is. Arcs anyone? But that doesn't mean that books like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey don't have their place. The market loves them. But will they stand the test of time? I'm not sure. There's a reason why the Bible and Shakespeare's works have lasted and still make their marks. There's meaning in them. And what is meaning? It means something. Duh. Meaning, especially in story, helps change our view of life. It's why we love going to movies. We want to be moved, to see another viewpoint of the human condition, ultimately to help understand ourselves. Do Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey do that? I can't say. I've yet to read them. Even if they don't, is that important? Time will tell.

Words

Pitcher - a ball player that throws the ball

Pitcher - a ball player that throws the ball

There's a Chinese proverb: a picture is worth a thousand words. As writers, we know that is so true. When I go into a room, I could write a novel describing what's there, why it's there, what it says about the person, what it all means.

Word Up

Word Up

As storytellers, we don't communicate with words. They all have inherent meanings that have long histories dwelling back thousands of years. But they are essentially not alive. My favorite acting teacher, Jean Shelton, told me I had to lift the words from the page, give it life, and internalize them before speaking. A small task. So how do writers give life to words they're scribing?

Or the question becomes, how many words is a human emotion worth? Are words even enough? Are they worthy of that heavy weight of communicating something like love, hate, the pain a person feels when they're not accepted in society, the loss of a loved one, the never ending love of a child, or the awesome view of a sunset and why humans gather at places to witness something that happens every day? How does anyone describe what an orgasm feels like? Why do I go there?

Manual on Women

Manual on Women

When we look at the business of fiction, I read somewhere that half of it comes from romance novels, which makes sense given the successes of Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, Fabio's career, and the widespread love of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. What does this say? Only women have emotions. No. But words can spark emotions, which is what we communicate with. At what length, though?

I think, that is left up to the story at hand. Some stories require severe massaging, like FIFTY, others like mine require finesse because the love of a family and children needs to be subtle. Overwhelming the reader with heavy words can seem forced, unless the situation calls for it like a death of a child as written in my prologue.

This picture is so wrong...oh well...

Oh, no. Not again

Oh, no. Not again

This brings us to the dilemma of how to spark human emotions. When I type the word orgasm, does it ignite an image, a feeling, or a memory? Or do I have to go into detail, the lead up to foreplay, which is also foreplay, men, then the gentle touch and exploration of every inch of the body, plunging into the penetrating act of sex, ending in the explosive release of...pleasure? Pain? Catastrophic relief? Massive uncontrollable gyrations that jump off the cliff of silence and exhaustion?

Or do we just write enough and let the heavy lifting be done by the reader? I was talking to a fellow writer who loved FIFTY, and she said that E.L. James used suggestive words instead of being blunt. Despite my lewdness in this article, my sex scenes are pretty tame in that foreplay is the most important aspect and the climax is never written. I'm not trying to capture the female audience as much as displaying the kind of character my leading man is. He's not a wham bam, thank you ma'am kind of guy, at least not with his beloved wife. Because he understands that she wants pleasure, too, and he's completely in love with her, so he treats her like a woman and gives her everything.

Be gentle, NOW!
Be gentle, NOW!

This leads to one tangent that I've been thinking about. Every word that we write, we're trying to describe the setting, develop and show character, move the plot, move the story arc, root the reader to the characters, ground the story, ground character interactions, etc, all to create intrigue and a page turner. In regards to sex, this can fall into plot, for example, but it definitely shows character traits. And that's why I chose not to show my couple having sexual intercourse and emphasized the foreplay. Does that mean they never have quickies? No. Common. These are made up people. Kidding. They do have quickies, but that wouldn't communicate my leading man's love for his wife, which will be important as events continue. Show what's important, leave everything else out.