“All right, we’ve discussed description, dialogue, point of view, tense, characters—can we get to the actual story now?” Yes, well…kind of. Before we get to the fundamentals of the story such as plot, outlining, structuring a story, etc., let’s discuss the purpose of a story—more importantly, your purpose for writing it.
Imagine, if you will, a time a thousand years from now. The world as you know it is gone, but some wise soul of our age built a library that went deep into the ground rather than above it. In this place, with the air properly circulating, are thousands upon thousands of thousands of books! Fiction, nonfiction, classics, modern—all are there. This library’s entrance has been sealed for a millennium, so the books have only gathered dust.
Finally, one day, the seal is broken, and a team of archeologists discover this profound well of tales and wisdom from a time so long ago. They can’t read the language because it’s an ancient and lost language, so they carefully gather a few books to take back to their experts to try and translate them.
What if your book was one of those chosen to be read? Your story stands on equal ground with the greatest pieces ever written. How will it stand? What would it say of our era? Will it have any depth to it? Any lessons? What eternal value does it have? In other words, why are you writing it? “Because the story has to be written!” That is a moderately okay answer, but as a writer, you should know it goes beyond that.
Why should your story be written? Because you’re curious how characters in a certain situation would interact and respond? Okay. Or maybe this plot is just really awesome? That can work. Maybe your story speaks of things relatable to people of all ages—such as love and hate, war and peace? That’s acceptable. But is there more?
Words and stories are powerful tools that shape the mind of the living—for good or for bad. Most writers, I find, will write on a whim because something catches their interest. That is fine and can work, but this can become a problem if stories with real meaning is overwhelmed by shallow writing. Am I saying you should never write fun stories? No—they’re fun for a reason. I wholeheartedly encourage writing them! Just…perhaps those stories should be considered the ‘Playground Experience’ because they’re helping you perfect your craft. However, as you face the prospect of publishing, think about your book being found a thousand years from now and how it would influence those who read the printed words.
As a writer, you have the chance to influence the future and history. You have the ability to make people think—to teach them how to think, so what will you do? Write for yourself? Your own enjoyment? Your own space and time in this world? Or will you go beyond yourself and write so others may learn?
“Kelly, you’re talking vaguely. What are you trying to say?” Okay, let me tell you why I’ve written and published my historical fiction novels, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what I mean.
My stories are based on the life of King Baldwin IV—the Leper King of Jerusalem. He suffered a lot—lost his sense of touch, taste, smell, and eventually his sight, ability to hold his sword, ride his horse, or even walk. The disease decayed his face and his entire body, and he was forbidden to touch anyone. Not only was he greatly afflicted, but he had much responsibility as king of a kingdom at war, and he became king when he was thirteen though he died at age twenty-four. As you can imagine, he endured much in his short life, so why did I write his story? Why did I bother to publish it? Because his response to all his afflictions and how he never shied away from responsibility are good examples for us today—in a world where we sue someone because we spilled coffee on ourselves or how we encounter one difficulty while performing a task, and we throw our hands in the air and give up. Baldwin’s story is an example of how to respond differently and properly.
Several readers of mine who have experiences losing loved ones, hospital visits, broken bones, terrible sunburns, mental inability, and emotional drain, all tell me one thing when they reach out to me, “When I was going through that, I kept thinking of Baldwin and realized my situation could have been a lot worse. At least I wasn’t ruling a kingdom when it happened, I didn’t have leprosy, and I could actually feel what was happening.” In other words, it helped them stay calm in the situation and think through it rather than merely reacting.
Writing is powerful. Stories are powerful. That is something we have forgotten in this day and age when all we care about is recognition and fame in our time.
So why are you writing the story you are writing? Why should those words be allowed the immortality of ink? Beyond yourself, beyond your lifetime, beyond your legacy, why does your story matter? Why does the world need it?
That is something for you, and you alone, to contemplate.
Next, we’ll focus more on story.