Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've Got a Theory: The Need for Stories

It's Tuesday, which means I've got a theory! Funny how that always happens on Tuesdays...

So here's my theory:

EVERYONE has a need for stories.

I work at an elementary school, and a particular group of sixth graders from three years ago were especially memorable.

One group of girls, determined to kill off a section of grass by year's end, sat in a circle in the exact same spot each recess and chatted. Every so often, I'd wander near and eavesdrop. I'd catch things like "You are NOT going to believe what he did!" and "Are you serious? That's CRAZY! So what did you do?"

A second group of kids always played a game that seemed equal parts Dungeons & Dragons, and every fantasy book they'd ever read. They would decide what kind of character they were going to play, what special abilities they'd have, what the epic good-versus-evil fight would be, and then they'd act it all out.

One group traipsed to the ends of the playgrounds and fields and back, while the other sat unmoving. They both did the exact same thing, though. They created stories.

At a writers' conference a couple years ago, Tracy Hickman talked about this same thing. About how, when we see something with an incomplete story, we fill in the gaps. And it's true! If we walk into our favorite grocery store and see someone sitting on the sidewalk with their back against the building, face tear-stained, clothes nice but mud-crusted and torn, our minds start forming a story as to what happened.

(Right? Did you start making up what had happened to this person?)(And if you thought of something interesting, I want to hear about it in the comments!)

Tracy Hickman even took it one step further. He asked us to imagine a world where there were no stories. [Pause... pause...] Then he said, "In your head, you just started writing the story of the place with no stories, didn't you?"


Think of the story you thought of with the person at the grocery store. And about the world with no stories. Those girls killing the grass weren't talking about the square root of pi. And the D&D kids weren't talking about elves skipping through the forest. So the REAL theory is:

Everyone has a need for DRAMATIC stories.

Some people definitely have a greater need than others. (Writers probably have the greatest need of all!) But we don't want those stories to be things we experience all the time. We want stories outside our range of normal. We want them to be the things we either don't experience often, or the things we'd never experience on our own.

People NEED stories. So how freaking cool is it to be a writer?


Cristina said...

Love this post! so true. we do all need stories.
So now, I'm off to write some more :)

Jennie Bennett said...

You are so right! That is a very cool idea :) Great post!

Jennie Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abby Fowers said...

YES WE DO! Oh so brilliant, and I love the stories about the kids at recess. BTW - the kid at the grocery store just lost his friend in a battle against zombies. (just so ya know.) :)

Shilpa Mudiganti said...

I so agree with the person at the grocery store. I have many many of them though I do not remember any as of now. You are absolutely right about the need for stories. Great post. A simple reminder to why we should keep writing.

Ruth Josse said...

Definitely freaking cool to be a writer. I think your theory is spot on!

Precy Larkins said...

So so TRUE! We all need stories, but we want the most dramatic kinds that make us go "Whoa!" O_o

Stories stretch our imaginations and give us an ability to look at the world in different perspectives.

Great post!

Jessie Humphries said...

Freaking rad!

Emily R. King said...

The need is what keeps us going!

Laura Josephsen said...

I totally did start imagining what might have happened to the person at the grocery store. And then I laughed out loud at this:

Tracy Hickman even took it one step further. He asked us to imagine a world where there were no stories. [Pause... pause...] Then he said, "In your head, you just started writing the story of the place with no stories, didn't you?"

Because I started doing that, too! Oh, my goodness, it's SO TRUE. Being a writer has its ups and downs, but I love it. :D I can't imagine a world without stories. (Er, well, I CAN, but you know what I mean!)

Kristine said...

I totally agree too. Keeps imaginations going. I love making up random stories to my kids - they love it!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Cristina-- Awesome! Have fun writing!

J.A.-- Thanks!

Abby-- Kids at recess are hilarious! And speaking of hilarious, I laughed out loud at your story of the person at the grocery store. And then I read it to my son. It was AWESOME.

Shilpa-- We should definitely keep writing! Those stories have to come from somewhere. :)

Ruth-- I wouldn't want to trade it, that's for sure!

Cherie-- I think you're right! One of the very best things about stories is the fact that they allow us to see the world through another perspective.

Jessie-- I love you. Thanks for doing your part to keep the word alive.

E.R.-- It's definitely a good thing to have around. :)

Laura-- It's amazing, isn't it? And you nearly killed me with the "I can't imagine a world without stories. (Er, well, I CAN, but you know what I mean!)" part!

Kristine-- You're an awesome mom. Every time I hear of kids reminiscing about their parents making up stories to tell them, I think they are the luckiest kids in the world.

Liz Reinhardt said...

Completely agree on all counts! (And how funny are sixth graders...I loved teaching that age!) SO HAPPY TO BE A WRITER!

Iain said...

If your past entries weren't already award winning, then this one should be :o)
It's exactly why we write. To transport the reader into somewhere that gives them the ride of their life, and then drops them off so that the can run back to the queue lining up for the next ride.

Tara Tyler said...

great inspiration! thanks =)

Weaver said...

Wonderful post. It's so true. Sometimes we need drama (glamour, adventure, whatever) as a break from our ho-hum lives. Sometimes it's just for fun but sometimes it's a stress relief. But drama we need.

Jeff King said...

I couldn’t agree more… thx for sharing this.

Sorry, I haven’t had internet for a while, I am trying to catch up with all the blogs I follow.

Carrie Butler said...

Read it.
Loved it.
Had to tweet about it. :D

LisaAnn said...

Love this! And soo jealous that you got to meet Tracy Hickman... Those were the biggest books I ever read as a kid! (Also, I'm so happy your son liked my animal pictures. I've moved around a bit the last few years, so I've had to say goodbye to many of those babies, so it always brightens my day to see them as well. :))

Shelley said...

You are so right about everyone needing stories. And kids do this naturally, like breathing. Story telling and play are almost inseparable. I've been working on a project turning kids recess adventures into short video stories to be viewed online. A few minutes on the playground, endless variety. The most important part of the day! http://www.RecessStories.com

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Yep! Very cool. The trick is in getting people to read your stories - that's even cooler!

Lan said...

LOL! So true. I think that teens tend to need dramatic stories more than anyone else. That's why I love YA books so much.

Whenever I see someone crying, I always assume they broke up with someone....

Peggy Eddleman said...

Elizabeth-- Sixth graders are the bomb! So cool you got to teach them!

Iain-- That might be one of the sweetest things I've ever heard! Wow. Thank you! I love the way you explain our job. Well said!

Tara-- Thank you!

Donna-- I completely agree that sometimes it's for fun but sometimes it's for stress relief. And I think that reading stressful stories can help you handle stress in actual life better.

Jeff-- You're welcome. And we've missed you! Glad you're back.

Carrie-- You rock my world. Thank you.

LisaAnn-- Tracy Hickman is the nicest guy EVER. I hope you get to meet him someday!

Shelly-- I totally agree. Play IS storytelling for kids. How cool is it that you made a website about kids' recess stories? I love it!

Pat-- Haha! Yes, that's definitely the trick. :) But even if it's one person, at least we've shared, and that matters.

Lan-- I've never thought about YA being so popular amongst everyone because teens need more dramatic stories. Great point. And breaking up- great reason for the person crying! It's funny how I didn't mention if the person was a boy or a girl, adult or child, and everyone fills in that blank, too. Love it.

John Waverly said...

I love writing prompts.

Lately, when I have a random person's back story pop into my head. I try to come up with two. That way I don't fall into the trap of thinking that I really know what's going on.

Like the guy who buried a body this morning and struggled between turning himself in and figuring out who is trying to frame him when he collapsed against the side of a building and broke into tears.

Or maybe he has early onset Alzheimer's. He was walking the same way to work he's used for many years. After walking through a construction project and climbing a couple fences he finally admits to himself that he knows exactly where he is, and exactly where he wants to go, but can't figure out how to get there.

Great post.