Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What story is your story?

On Monday, author Anna Staniszewski blogged about "What Story Are You Meant To Tell?" She's always been fascinated by space travel, and has finally figured out how to tell the type of story she wants. She feels it's her story to tell; as she said, "the story is one I would have liked to read when I was young."

I'm thrilled for her, yet I've always found such advice worrying. When I was young, I loved fantasy, and read just about every fantasy novel I could get my hands on. But fantasy is very difficult for me to write; my world-building often becomes immensely complex and confusing, my magic inconsistent. My stories work much better when I'm on firm, real ground.

But am I telling the types of stories I would've wanted to read as a child? That I'm meant to tell?

Lately I've been cleaning out my bookshelf, dividing books into must-keeps, maybes, and give-aways. The must-keeps have been separated onto their own shelf, and have provided a clue about the type of stories I like to read: Adult mysteries, Victorian novels, writing guides, MG cancer stories, YA inner-city violence, fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary mean girls...

In other words, I like a lot of things. And as I've been thinking back over my childhood, I've realized I was the same back then. Even though I read a lot of fantasy, I treasured Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.

So maybe there isn't one type of story I'm meant to tell, but rather certain characteristics that I love in stories: characters I can relate to, settings that transport me to another place and time, stories that make me laugh, cry, and think. And those types of stories I can write.

And that's what makes an author's career, too, isn't it? If I'm lucky enough to become published, I want to write as much as I can, and tell all sorts of stories.
Maybe, like Anna with her space travel story, someday I'll even figure out how to write a fantasy novel.

Thanks, Anna, and the commenters on her post, for helping me to find perspective on this!


  1. 'So maybe there isn't one type of story I'm meant to tell, but rather certain characteristics that I love in stories' - this is just how I feel! I loved characters who seemed like kindred spirits and narratives for them that made the world feel just a little more enchanted than the everyday. I really enjoyed your post (and Anna's!) :)

  2. Wonderful post, Anne!

    [pausing for a moment of silent homage to Harriet the Spy, perhaps my most favorite book *ever* from my childhood.]

    Even though I'm currently working on a YA Fantasy, at the end of the day it's my hope as an author that the universal themes underlying the story will transcend the setting they are presented in, and resonate with the reader on a more personal level.


  3. Anne, I'm so glad my post helped you figure this out! It's funny because I've been writing seriously for almost 6 years and only now have I found a space travel story worth telling. Sometimes it just takes a while! Actually, I'm sort of the opposite of you: I've always found it much easier to write fantasy than realistic fiction, but the project I'm currently revising is 100% realistic. I guess you never know which story will speak to you. :-)

  4. When I was young I read biographies of people in history. Also mysteries, then slid into Dickens, Hesse, and eventually Austen. Now I'm all over the place. I'm not sure I see a thread in my reading. :) Instead of a certain type of book, perhaps it's a theme that emerges as what you (we're) meant to write? I don't think that means one type of book, but perhaps exploring a central theme via a variety of stories, characters, genres.

  5. Thanks everyone for so many thoughtful responses to this post! It's really nice to hear your thoughts--you've helped all of this make much more sense in my own head!

    Anna: Thanks! And what a beautiful description of the types of stories you liked as a child! Exactly! Especially the characters I could relate to--as a kid that made me feel so much less alone. What an honour to be able to write those types of stories now.

    Elisabeth: Ah, Harriet the Spy. I've now joined you in a moment of silent homage. =)

    Yes, you've explained that so well--I think underlying themes and characters can transcend genre. And is isn't that what all great books do?

  6. Anna S: Would be so interesting to have a conversation some day about what makes realistic stories difficult for you and fantasy stories difficult for me! Perhaps we could work out a brief brain swap too? =)

    I think you're right about time... I know with each story I tell I get better at it. Maybe the stories that are closest to us take longer to figure out because we see them so clearly and want to make every detail right.

    Andrea: Yes, and "theme" is such a good word for this, too. And maybe it's not even a central theme, but a series of themes that each of us finds meaning in?

  7. I tried to write a book I might have wanted to read as a child. But I agree with you that the books we enjoy reading might not be the books we can write. I LOVE reading historical fiction, but I'm not sure I have the organizational skills to write one. Books like Ender's Game and A Wrinkle in Time also thrilled me, but again, I'm not sure I could write space fantasy.

  8. Mary: Ohhh, forgot to mention A Wrinkle in Time, another favorite!

    I'm so glad you said this about not being able to write historical fiction; good to know I'm not the only writer out there struggling with the inability to write something I love! Thanks!


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