the biggest lie about storytelling

I finished reading The Three Loves of Persimmon and was left with a soft lingering sense of its sweetness. It's a book which breaks several rules of novel writing, but that is not a bad thing, unless of course you believe that only people of a particular age can enjoy certain stories, that characters must change over the course of a story, and that drama can not be as gentle and intimate as questing for your own heart. I believe none of these things - infact, I believe it's silly to think there should be any rules at all about stories.

The worst rule about storytelling, one which kept my creative voice silenced for decades, is that all drama is conflict. Repeatedly we are told there can be no story without conflict. If you don't have your protagonist struggle against forces which would prevent her from reaching her important goal, you don't have a plot.

I believe this is wrong. It's a cultural invention. I believe there are many people who would enjoy reading about connection rather than conflict.


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For example, I would read these stories ...

::  A family goes to live on an island. They connect with the environment and develop a self-sufficient lifestyle. The teenagers are cheerful, love fresh air, and are eager to join in with gardening and building. The parents are confident about the choices they've made. The land welcomes them. It's just a story about beauty and living the life you love.

::  A young couple wo fall in love, and we read all the luminous sweetness of that experience, culminating in the birth of their first child. Their parents support them. Their friends share happy experiences with them. It's just a story celebrating togetherness and relationships.

::  An explorer ventures into a wilderness. There are no terrifying encounters with deadly creatures. There are no brushes with death. It's just a story about how someone wants to be in nature and so they go, and they enjoy it. And they tell the story so we can enjoy it too.

::  A fairy enters our world and develops a friendship with a human child, and each learn the wonders of the others' lives. No one wants to capture the fairy or the human and drag them off to be tortured in the name of magic or science. It's just a story about discovering the beauty of a different perspective on nature, enchantment, and life.

::  A young woman leaves home to travel Europe on a grand tour. She meets wonderfully interesting and helpful people and grows as a person, not stretching herself and challenging herself or stepping outside her comfort zone, but deepening and enriching her spirt in a natural way, in relationship with the world around her and other people. It's just a story about personal growth and the goodness of people.

Would you read such stories? Or do you feel a book is not interesting unless the protagonist struggles, is challenged and stretched, and experiences conflict which ultimately, sometimes painfully, results in the growth of their character or their understanding of the world?

12 comments:

  1. I would love to read those stories :-) I agree it is a cultural thing that calls for certain ingredients to make a good story. When we were in Norway and I was reading Norwegian fairytales, in amongst the expected child outsmarts troll and saves the day/comes into a fortune, were some sweet tales where nothing much happens by our English standard fairytale formula, and yet they were quite beautiful or engaging in their own right: a boy wants to help on the farm so he helps alongside his father and mother and gets to help. At first read it seems missing or unsettling to our cultural taste buds which scream AND? but after one or two you settle into them and the experience of the tale carries something wonderful in itself.
    A man knocks at the door and asks permission to stay the night, after asking and being directed to several relatives he asks the right one and the answer is simply yes.
    A girl wants to pick wild strawberries, so she gathers up a basket and goes to pick strawberries.
    Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a well kept house.
    A brother and sister go to market and buy a cow.
    I know they are not novels, but they conveyed to me the feeling of the ideas in your post, at least I hope you get the idea from the merest outlines...

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    1. Oh yes, they sound so beautiful. And I long to read them. Especially I wish our children had more stories like these. Imagine if they grew up believing in yes answers, and that people were good, and that you could achieve your goals without hardship and pain.

      I'm sure it is entirely a cultural perspective on storytelling, and possibly stories were different in an earlier era too.

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  2. I agree with your view. Doesn't Life present us, with enough Drama? Do we have to always have Drama, in our reading, too? No! Thank you for saying this.

    And please, write the story of the faerie and the child... Please...

    Tessa~

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    1. Dear Tessa, thank you :) I am currently writing another story, although now that I think of it, perhaps it could be described a little in that way. I hope someone else will write it for you ... or perhaps that you might write it yourself :)

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  3. I would read such stories and I would like to write them. I have always had a hard time with the idea that something "bad" has to happen to my characters to make a good story.

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    1. I read today that people who wanted to be kind to their characters were suffering from Nice Writer Syndrome and had to get over it because a good writer is always thinking of ways to hurt their characters. This made me sad.

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  4. I totally feel you. Sometimes when I read books with some conflicts/drama in it I wonder how the story would go without the protagonist getting into trouble... it could give me such a nice feeling after reading

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  5. I loved this post and agree with all that you said. I thought your story ideas were excellent, and yes, I would read stories like that. The last year has been a struggle for me when it comes to reading because there is so much hardship and struggle in most novels that the stories fill me with anxiety and leave me depressed. I want to read stories that leave me with a good feeling and a view of life's grand possibilities.

    I ordered TheThree Loves of Persimmon the other day after you mentioned it. I can't wait to read it.

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    1. You know, I don't think about story in terms of conflict. The one essential thing that defines a story to me is that something happens: a girl meets a fairy, a family moves to an island, a squirrel finds a gemstone, a mother sends her son to buy a cow, etc.

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    2. yes I feel the same way, I have not read as much as usual lately because I am so weary of reading about people who are stressed, miserable, and hurting all the time. I like to read young adult, but am going off the genre because of this and also the annoying trend of having girls commit to a loving relationship - and then someone else comes along and everything becomes complicated, unhappy, because a love triangle develops. There is no celebration of commitment, trust, integrity, working hard, or anything which makes a relationship really work. I'm also tired of reading about teens who hate their parents, or whose parents are stupid or unkind.

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    3. also, I like your view of stories. that is exactly how they should be seen. "something happens." why does it always have to be something unhappy?

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