The story doesn’t matter. It is all in the application of the words on the page. The way they come together one after the other. What matters is not the story or the plot; what matters is the writing itself, the telling of the story is more important than the story itself.
Most writers have to have a story. The greatest writers don’t need a story at all, they can keep you captivated without a narrative. The good, even most of the great writers, need a story, a narrative of some kind to help keep their words together with meaning. The bad writer needs a great narrative, and the better you are, the simpler your narrative can be.
The genius writer needs no narrative at all. Most of us are not geniuses.
Unfortunately, many a mediocre writer thinks they’re great. It’s mostly delusion. In fact, most writers are barely qualified to write a wedding thank-you card.
Those writers, and by those writers I mean 99% of all us writers, need some sort of narrative to hold our thoughts together. When they try to write without a narrative, they fail miserably, and what they put out is no better than public masturbation, which is no fun at all for the audience. Unless, of course, you’re a really good public masturbator. There’s an exception to every rule, otherwise what would be the point? You could be a great masturbator and still be only a descent storyteller, and a horrible writer. As long as you’re good at something, that’s what matters to keep the audience interested.
Just to make sure I don’t misguide anybody, most people, and by most, and mean pretty much everybody I know personally, and everybody you know as well, should not masturbate in public as a way to attempt to entertain others. Masturbating should not be considered an okay form of performance art by most people, and by most I mean pretty much everybody I know.
To get back to the point at hand. The story itself doesn’t matter, only the telling of the story matters. Most writers need some kind of story. What I was trying to say is that you shouldn’t worry too much about what the actual story is, and worry only about writing it down.
How did this all come about in my head?
My friend came over and started telling me about this story he has in mind for a novel he’d like to write. He’s been telling me plot ideas for the last year and a half, and every time, he asks me: What do you think? Is that a good book idea? He hasn’t written a single story down yet, he just talks about story ideas, and asks me what I think. Up until today, I really tried to analyze every story idea he presented to me. Today, I didn’t.
Today, I told him it really didn’t matter one bit what the story is. The only thing that mattered is how he told it.
And for an example, I added:
“Look, man, I just read Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth for the first time ever. What a great book! Have you read it?”
“Yes, and if you asked me to tell you the story of that book, it wouldn’t be much. I hear you.”
“Exactly. It’s the story of a poor Jewish boy of 23 years who meets a rich Jewish girl of 21 years. They fall in love and fuck all summer. When she goes back to school in the fall, they fall out of love, and break up. That’s the story. Who cares? Nobody. Unless your name is Philip Roth and you’re an awesome writer. What a brilliant novella. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read this year, and the story’s been told a million times before.”
It’s not about the story, it’s about how you tell it.
That’s my two cents.
Peace & Love,
PS: Great big thanks to Claire for sending me The Paris Review interview of William Carlos Williams, one of my favorite poets. I’d never read that particular interview.
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