The Gift of Story

Country LaneOnce upon a time, I was given a gift. There was nothing to unwrap, nothing tangible at all, and I probably wasn’t aware that I had received anything at the time. I have no clear recollection of when I recognized its value, except that I was very young.

However, I had just received the gift of story.

Story takes many forms. It may be what we tell ourselves or what we learn about others. Most stories are important because they contain small details about everyday life and thus they permit us to stay connected with others.

Slightly more than two years ago my last relative from the French side of my family died in Paris, on April 15, 2011. He was 91. I was determined to write about him, hoping to keep alive what he had done and said. I couldn’t. I would break into tears and the entire endeavor became a waste of time.

He was a great-uncle by marriage, not part of my direct family line, but he had kept everyones’ stories alive for all of us. Born toward the end of World War I he had listened to stories from his family, about what life was like for them during that time. He survived World War II in France. Within the context of our extended and fragmented family (cousins twice removed, second wives, distant great-nieces and great-nephews, and all that) somehow he had known most of them. When I visited him, I began to pay closer attention. There would come a day when he wouldn’t be there with me to share, what it was like, all those many small personal details of everyday, lived in another time. Some of my distant relatives, even those with whom I shared DNA, I had never met, but he helped bring them back to life.

In an upcoming story, “The Day of the General,” I’ll share bits of a story of nearly four year old Camille Mauriat, daughter of a Protestant minister, the day a German general visited their home and how one small event—not a major or violent event by war story standards—changed one family’s life forever. The nearby city of Lyon had just fallen to Hitler’s Army, that May of 1941. General Kurt-Griebel Heinrich Von Strauchen, who drives down a country lane toward this family’s home, is seeking refreshment on a warm day of late spring. The little girl Camille finds the glittering embroidery and shiny metals of one of Hitler’s elite enchanting. What child  brought up in a stern Calvinist household would not?

There is always “another view” of war. Join me as we follow these stories, with their connections to special people, what makes up more than any family’s direct blood lines.

As humans, we are creatures of story and narrative. Gathered around the first fires that kept wild animals away and fellow humans near, we started recounting our history: “Once upon a time….”

Interspersed with segments about characters from my upcoming book, Another View, The Writers’ Table blog will continue its review of the compelling power of fiction to illustrate any story.

Welcome back!

Michaele, from The Writers’ Table

F-I-C-T-I-O-N—“T” is for Truth

What if I were to announce that Fiction is the literary form best designed to convey and reveal the Truth? If I were back in my old classroom I would imagine a phalanx of frantic hands, waving before my face in protest.

“But Mrs. Lockhart—”

“Don’t you mean it the other way, that only nonfiction tells the truth?”

No, absolutely no. Actually, the student answered his own question. Nonfiction is data-based. It is ideal for documenting, delivering an account, and telling facts, not showing the Truth. So what’s the difference and what makes Fiction so ideal?

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Learning our Culture: The Role of Fiction

No blog can come close to addressing the richness that Fiction alone has contributed to our lives.

Here’s an interesting factoid related to F-I-C-T-I-O-N. All the great literature of western civilization is Fiction. How about that? There are a few exceptions, such as Churchill’s writings, Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and some others.

Practical nonfiction is designed to communicate information when the quality of the writing is not as important as the content. Therefore, what has crowded great library shelves, even when literary works were on scrolls, has always been Fiction.

Take a step back in time about 3000 years and consider the epics of Homer, The Odyssey and The Iliad. This famed narrative poet was reporting what had taken place several centuries before his own time, creatively recounting events of history, blended with mythology, in order to tell a more compelling story.

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Characters in Fiction–The Letter C takes the Cake! Part 1

These blogs that lightly touch on the Wonderful Art of Fiction don’t presume to cover everything or examine all aspects in the depth they deserve. The Writers’ Table is highlighting the passionate, distinguishing attributes that separate fiction from so-called nonfiction. Knowing even some of these differences gives authors incentive/promotional tools for marketing our art. As we work our way through the acronym F-I-C-T-I-O-N, the letter C  has much to offer.

C is for Characters. Without characters, a story would be events, dates, and outcomes. In other words, the same as nonfiction and not very interesting. Characters bring a story to life and permit the Reader to engage with other real people. Many Writers prefer a character-driven storyline. How would a particular person act and react in a given set of circumstances?

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The Wonderful Art of Fiction: Show, Don’t Tell

Nonfiction is always at its best when telling the reader something. There’s a distinct role and need for it. If travelers need to find out the best routes through Northern England and Scotland for a driving vacation, they will research a respectable source of good data on the subject. Likewise, if a couple really believes that the impossible is possible, they will seek out instructions on How to Build a Brick Barbecue Grill in One Weekend. These books excel at telling: they provide information alone. (I’ll confide with my readers that the book about barbecue grills should be considered fiction. Please don’t ask.)

By contrast, fiction, from word choices to structure to themes, is supposed to show the Reader what’s happening. Writing teachers even have a mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” Yes, just like in kindergarten.

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Fiction–The G-Rated “F-Word,” Part 2.

Gathered around The Writers’ Table last week we discussed two unique features found exclusively in Fiction and not in nonfiction. Feelings are central for the Writer and the Reader. Meanwhile the author’s adherence to authentic Facts(which we’ll discuss at length later on) remains every bit as important. No matter the genre, there’s nothing like the appeal of a well-written, enduring novel that offers entertainment with painless education on the side. The ideal reading experience is “curling up with a good novel,” not the latest How-to or Self-Help book.

Here are several more “F-words” that distinguish Fiction from its distant relative, nonfiction. 

F is for Fun: Not all Fiction is Fun, but most is. If it’s fun to write, then it’s usually enjoyable for the Reader too. Although there is intense work represented by the simplest story, all Writers find pleasure in their work. If we don’t find pleasure, it shows through. At present, certain “Big Name Authors” have ceased to write their own stories, relying on a name alone to sell their books. Maybe they’re not enjoying the writing process anymore. The astute Reader can always tell.                    

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The Wonderful Art of Fiction–the G-Rated “F-Word,” Part 1

In this new series of blog posts we’ll use the acronym F-I-C-T-I-O-N to help Readers and Writers view the traditionally accepted role of fiction in a new light. No matter the genre, there’s nothing like the appeal of a well-written, enduring novel that offers good entertainment with painless education on the side. The ideal reading experience is “curling up with a good novel,” not the latest How-to or Self-Help book.

Let’s examine the passion and aliveness that distinguishes fiction from so-called nonfiction. One Writer once described fiction as “real life with all the dull parts left out.” That’s a good beginning, but there’s even more to it.

F is for Feeling. For those of us with even one year of high school journalism, one dictum was drilled into our heads: “You must not allow feelings or opinions to intrude in your writing.” Unless you were lucky enough to write editorials, now known as Op-Eds in many periodicals, or even feature stories, your writing was deliberately sterile and devoid of feeling. Most nonfiction remains that way.

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Writing is All About Reading

Writing is all about Reading: My blog title should make sense and stand by itself, yet I’m sure that in the minds of many it does not. I’m proud to be an author and to claim many other authors as colleagues, but all of us were first and foremost voracious Readers. Furthermore, none of our writings—mine or that of my friends or even the Greats of all Time—would have existed beyond the moment of pen-to-paper had it not been for Readers.

My next several weeks of blog posts are directed to both Readers and Writers of Fiction. You Readers of nonfiction should stay tuned as well. Anything that we enjoy, we enjoy even more if we understand how and why it reaches us and touches us. Why does a certain kind writing have compelling power? Why do others not?

Readers and Writers are in this together. For Readers, you’ll enjoy understanding better why you like to read certain authors and genres as well as why you don’t like others. If you’re in a book club, you may find inspiration for stimulating discussions. As a bonus for Writers, you’ll learn how to reach those with the same passions that you write about….

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