Thursday, January 9, 2014

What's your story?

In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett writes that she only has one story in her, and she keeps writing it over and over: "a group of strangers are thrown together." And it's true of the two novels of hers that I've read: Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant.

Naturally I had to ask myself whether I only have one story, and if so, what it is. When it comes to short stories, I think I have many. But novels? All three of my published books feature a character struggling to overcome some monumental event from his or her past. Sometimes it's the fairly recent past, as in The Secret Year and Try Not to Breathe; sometimes it's the more distant past, as in Until It Hurts to Stop. There is forward movement; there are different kinds of relationships and different settings; and some of these stories end more happily than others. But I do see that common thread.

Even when I look at my unpublished books, the ones that I think are the most successful (and still might want to publish if I can fix their flaws) include that same element. Is that what it takes for me to really get the wind in my sails, I wonder--a character facing down the monsters of yesterday?

Patchett embraces her one story rather than fighting it. I'm still willing to try to tell other stories if they occur to me--I won't shut the door on new ideas--but if those attempts fizzle and I am left with my one story, well ... that's no tragedy. There are thousands of ways to tell that story. I am endlessly fascinated by how people heal, how they put back together what has been broken or live with the cracks and the missing pieces, and how they go about changing. I guess it shows in my writing!

6 comments:

  1. What a fascinating post! This is something I will have to ponder. I often find that authors have common threads throughout their books. How interesting to look at what drives our stories.

    Thanks for sharing! I agree- that how people heal is so interesting and different.
    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks, Jess! There are endless discoveries to be made, even if we are using common threads in these stories.

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  2. I love this because I came to this realization over the past year -- that I'm writing the same story over and over. I panicked at first when I realized this, but then I came to a better understanding that the creativity lies in telling the story better each time, and more creatively.

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    1. Yes, and exploring new layers in it, new aspects of it, etc.

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  3. Now that you've written this, I realize the commonality in my work too. I love that we can tell the same story in many different ways!

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    1. Yes, it's nice to know this repetition doesn't have to be a negative, but can be a positive.

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