Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Importance of Story

I've been pondering the importance of stories in my life. I remember wanting to step though my closet and meet Aslan, I wanted to be brave like Frodo and loyal like Gurgie (The black cauldron series). I dreamed about fantastic futures with fairies and unicorns and hidden magic waiting to come alive at my touch. Stories helped me cope, taught me to dream, to believe and to imagine. I still believe that anything is possible. (Ask my husband. The poor man often has to deal with my unending determination to make things happen which can be difficult when its nearly midnight and the thing I want to happen is fixing the garage door. Where is that magic wand when I need it?)

Recently I read "Uglies" by Scott Westerfield. In his post apocalyptic world of super model humans, where everyone normal is ugly until they are surgically turned 'pretty,' the adventure is good. The characters are likeable or hatable depending on their purpose and the conflict is clear and compelling. However, that is not what makes the story important. The importance of the story is the message. There is no preaching, no fable, no eye-rolling moralizing. Instead the entire story weaves into the readers mind the idea that making people pretty is crazy and being normal is awesome. Bring on the asymetrical faces and uneven brows, the thin lips and fat lips and glasses. Being unique rocks. I haven't read the other books in the series yet, but I'm looking forward to them.

Because of my memories of what stories did for me as a child and because of the importance of story in my life, I've been thinking that I want more importance in the stories I tell also. Think of your favorite books and what they taught you or made you feel.

Great stories, I think, are the ones that carry their message between the lines, woven into the fiber of the characters until the story and the themes are inseperable. I think we need more books like that in today's market and less fluff for the sake of fluff or action for the sake of the next video game. Can't fun adventures also inspire us and make us want to be heroes?


  1. So, I'm intrigued by "Uglies". It doesn't sound like the story I thought it was. And that's true about my childhood also; I loved a story that inspired me as well. Or taught me to see things differently from what I expected. Great post!

  2. Most excellent article, Donna. I just finished Uglies yesterday and aside from being a captivating dystopia/sci-fi, the meaning was spot-on. The novel was completely brilliant.

    You also make another great point about books with meaning: some books are just fun to read for pure escapism, but the greatest stories are the ones with underlying meaning that motivate people to improve themselves, or to break out of a degrading paradigm. Those are the kinds of books I want to read.

  3. I think a story with meaning lives on, but so do stories with great, and I mean GREAT characters. Things like Harry Potter,and The Princess Bride have characters that you remember. A story with meaning is wonderful, but a story that has a great meaning told through a fantastic character is in a class of it's own.

  4. Awsome post and great point Deb.

    I just finished Goose Girl and I love the subtle undertone of you are great how you are and not by comparing yourself with others.

    My favorite book as a kid, the first one I couldn't put down was, The Outsiders. It taught me to rebel against social norms. (I was a HUGE punk/alt. teenager--you wouldn't know now, but tis true). I hated all the popular kids. It made me be tough. Maybe not the lesson you want to teach a 11 year old girl, but I loved it.

    From reading her other books it taught me to stay away from drugs (a good thing when you are hating all things popular and being a punk). I genuinely fear drugs. She painted the right picture with those things.

    I just wonder what her life was like to have written The Outsiders when she was a teenager.

  5. The plot of the Uglies reminds me of two of my favorite episodes of "The Twilight Zone."

    In one, when people become teenagers they have to choose between different "models" and then have to undergo surgery to be transformed to look like them. There are two types for men and two types for women and they MUST choose one of the two.

    The other one is where an attractive girl is treated like she is quite repulsive and is scheduled for a surgery that will make her "beautiful", like everyone else. As the story climaxes we see that everyone else has awful piggish faces.

    I love that show. Such great writing!

  6. I love stories like that because it makes you think about the outcome of your own personal choices. It also makes me laugh because it reminds me of things my kids say like "Wouldn't it be cool, Mom, if everyone had a million dollars?" Well, yeah kid, but then it wouldn't be worth anything because everyone would have it. Of course, kids don't always grasp that concept.

  7. Thanks everyone for your great comments. This topic has been resonating with me as I begin my new project. I thought I had an idea I cared about with one story and then came around to a different story that I now have to adapt because I don't feel like writing an adult political thriller...the final piece in the adaptation...the final garnish on my brainstorming has been to ask myself why I am going to put all these fun characters through all of this trauma? What's the point? Why is this story more than just a thriller? What makes it important to me? All good questions when you are going to live, breath, sleep and bleed over the pages until the final copy shows up on the shelf of a bookstore.

  8. Too true. I finally got myself to B&N tonight and bought a copy of "Uglies". Can't wait to read it. In fact, I'm starting it!