Improve the Shape of Your Stories
"I believe in my mask — The man I made up is me — I believe in my dance — And my destiny.” -Sam Shepard
Stories, like organic matter, change. Stories also have the power to change you. Which has me thinking about the shape of stories and how they work. Stories are malleable and designed to please. If it’s a story that we tell ourselves, this is doubly true, because we use our personal narratives to inspire and sometimes to survive.
In the ‘true story’ department, I went to Colorado Springs last month and saw my dad for the first time in 24 years. The visit was long overdue, and it made a deep impact on me, emotionally and intellectually. My wife and mom both agree that it was like “forty years of therapy in four days.” Today, I can see how badly we both needed this time together to talk, and how our talks led me to new understandings about my dad and about the self-imposed limits of my own mind and its relentless quest for definitives.
Whatever his misdeeds, inactions, and outright failures, my dad is not defined by these things alone. It’s all part of his past and his story, but one’s dark side is not the whole story. He’s also funny, intelligent, and so on. I can see this clearly now, more clearly than I ever allowed myself to see before. I also know that no person on earth is defined by any one thing, or by their hardest and most painful moments on earth.
Making room for complexity also opens a door to compassion and comprehension (without judgment) and from this better place, we’re more able to make room for forgiveness and the growth that comes from it. It’s been a year of changes for me, but none compare to this fundamental shift. I spent decades pretending this relationship didn’t matter and that I was okay without it. I lied to myself, repeatedly. It matters.
Manly Quests, Various Heroics, and So On…The End
Ursula K. LeGuin was deeply concerned with the shape of stories. In her excellent essay, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” she argues for another, less lethal structure for our stories.
So long as culture was explained as originating from and elaborating upon the use of long, hard objects for sticking, bashing, and killing, I never thought that I had, or wanted, any particular share in it.
I just completed her essay and her novel, The Lathe of Heaven. The book is set in a futuristic Portland, after the Crash. The hero of the book is a dreamer. His “effective dreams” come true, changing reality, including historical reality in their wake. It’s an intriguing idea for a book and Le Guin’s skill and expansive vision are welcome elements in the book.
Having recently finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, Dancing Bear by James Crumley, and In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, I needed a breather from the stress of all these hero stories.
Authors love to put their characters in harm’s way and take the reader into the darkness of another world. When it’s a good book, its readers are spellbound by the characters’ struggles to overcome a series of impossible obstacles. Even so, one heroic journey after the next can become a narrative pathway too well-traveled. It can tire the reader out, and leave him looking for other means to the narrative end.
A Renewed Focus on Craft
I start a fiction writing workshop at American Short Fiction’s offices in Austin on Monday night. The workshop is led by Fernando A. Flores, author of short story collections Valleyesque and Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas. I’m slightly nervous about it but also excited to be in a room with other writers dedicated to writing better stories.
An analysis by 538, a polling and elections site, found that 60% of Americans will have an election-denier on the ballot this fall.
I am a dreamer and I have dreams about where my writing can go and where it can take me.
According to Modern Elder Academy, being able to master a transition has become an essential 21st-century skill.
“Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising…she thinks I’m a pianist in a brothel.” -Jacques Séguéla, co-founder of the agency RSCG
Left-wing dark money group, Coulda Been Worse, mimics/attacks Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Tito's Handmade Vodka has a 14-acre farm that makes "fresh food the easy choice" for their employees. Hats off to this Austin company and any company that cares this much and does this much to improve the lives of its staff.
I work with business and community leaders to help them shape their stories and connect with new audiences.
When you’re ready to craft powerful messaging for your brand, project, or campaign, please visit DavidBurn.com to learn more about my writing and professional services.
Thanks for being here now.