Nonfiction Rules; Fiction Drools (Why I Would Rather Allude to True Stories of My Own Life Than to Have to Create Characters and Story Lines)

Why make up a bunch of stuff to write about when the story is just sitting there, waiting to be told?

There are many times in life when I believe it’s important to work on my weaknesses until they become my strengths.  Like with the Rubik’s Cube, for example.  Other times, I just run the other way, knowing that the best option is just to stick with what I know best.  And so is the case with writing fiction; I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, and I have no desire to try.  Seems like too much homework to me.  Granted, I very much admire/envy those who have the talent to write fiction.

I write nonfiction, instead, because it comes so naturally to me.  There’s no need to invent clever, yet deep characters- I already have all the ones I need.

The characters of my writings are usually you (both specifically and generically at the same time), friends, family, heroes, idiots, time, life itself, and myself.  The trickiest part of making this work is how I handle both the first and last subject I just named: you and me.

When I do actually use the word “you”, I try to avoid placing it next to the word “probably” because I don’t truly know anything “you probably” do, think, or are.  All I can do is portray things from my own perspective based on what I do, think, and am.  As for myself as a subject (the narrator and host), I’m careful not to make it obvious what a major role I play in the story.  I will quote French author Gustave Flaubert, “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”  It’s not about me; it’s about the story.  But the only way I can set the stage for common ground between “you” and me is by accenting the whole thing with my own life.  Like most album covers for the Steve Miller Band’s records where Steve Miller himself was M.I.A., if my face or image is attached or present, it’s almost better.  Let the art speak for itself.

I also love writing nonfiction because it’s pretty convenient how time can be manipulated; I am able to encompass the past, present, and future all in one.  Typically I start out the post with a story that already happened (past), linking it to who I am today (present day), and end it with how that sets the tone for how things will continue to be (future).

Writing nonfiction allows me to serve as my own psychologist, hopefully entertain others, and in a sense, to have the ability to travel through time.

The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

The Importance of a Setting in Real Life, Not Just in Fiction

 This could be Heaven or this could be hell.What makes old graveyards creepy, besides our sneaking suspension that the bearded ghost of a Confederate Army General will appear through the foggy mist and try to tell us a haunting story of he ended up with a hook for an arm?  (Pirates don’t have exclusive right to those things, you know…)  Take away the graves and all the preconceived ideas that human curiosity has handed down to us over the centuries, and chances are, the land itself is still not a beautiful piece of land to begin with.

I assume that the land used for graveyards and cemeteries often was the land that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing as the acres used for building homes, schools, and businesses.  Safe to say it wasn’t feng shui. 

Instead it was the leftover, out of the way, dreary land that someone was just trying to get rid of.  So they sold it for less than they would have liked to an investor who saw its best potential and destiny was for it to become a graveyard.

We choose destinations for a reason.  Why do coffee shops serve as such a great pre-date and unofficial first date venue?  Because there are plenty of other people around in a coffee shop whose collected friendly conversations make for the perfect background murmur, so that while the two single people are surrounded by people, it’s intimate enough of a setting where they can, in a sense, feel alone- without the awkwardness of actually being alone when they don’t yet know each other that well. 

If nothing else, the coffee itself serves as a convenient social crutch, as mentioned in Campfires.  A coffee shop is a setting of safety, comfortableness, and relaxation, as well a symbolic “garden of growth”.  I know this first hand:

Before I asked out my now-wife to the sure-to-get-a-second-date John Mayer concert, I primed our new friendship with several Sunday night meets at the local Starbucks.  It was the coffee shop that watered and fertilized our friendship into dating, then a little over a year later into marriage, and two years after that (present day), a baby.  A human life is scheduled to make its first out-of-the-womb appearance this November.  And it all started, in theory, by me choosing the right setting- which in this case was a coffee shop.

What if instead of asking her to coffee when we first met as strangers, I would have asked her to dinner?  It could have been awkward.  Eating with a stranger she just met the week before.  I could have ended up in a category of guys she had dated but it never really went anywhere- and I wasn’t willing to make that gamble. 

I knew that if I built the relationship on true friendship first, it would be much more natural and relaxing to eventually eat a meal together at a restaurant.  But not before coffee at a Starbucks.

We can choose where either good or bad memories will take place.  Where does a guy propose to his fiancé?  Where do parents announce to their children that they are getting a divorce?  Because those places will never be the same again after that.

Where were you when you found out the cancer is in remission? Where were you when you heard about the two planes crashing into the Twin Towers?  Those places will always be associated with the big news, good or bad.

It’s why the phrase “may I speak with you for in a minute in my office, please?” is so epic.

Whether we choose the place, or it chooses us, the setting is everything; lasting an entire lifetime as it attaches itself to a memory of hope or a memory of damnation.

The Similarities Between Science and Religion (SCIence + FaIth = Sci-Fi)

 

 

In a year of history when pretty much anyone who will ever join facebook is now on facebook, those seemingly out-of-touch souls living without it most likely see it a different way:  They don’t want to be found.  The facebook search proves empty.  But not everyone who is lost wants to be found.

And while some people never find what they are looking for, some simply aren’t trying to find anything.


I am not one of those people.  After thinking about it a lot, I’m convinced that even if I wasn’t raised in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, I would still end up where I am today in my spiritual beliefs.  I’m intrigued by this mysterious Middle Eastern religion based on an ancient book that explains the origin of the universe and ancient mankind.  That predicted the life of a man who would wreck the traditional religious laws as he died for his radical and offensive beliefs, then brought hope to his followers by strangely coming back to life after his body was mangled beyond human resemblance.

 

The way I view Christianity is similar to the concept of the show LOST.  It begins with normal people trying to adapt to living in a less than perfect land.  There are struggles for power, unseen dangers, continued plans for rescue and escape, and supernatural occurrences that can not be explained.  Time goes on and they begin to realize their dwelling place has a history which is cursed from whatever it was that happened in the past, mysteriously involving ties back to Egypt.  The more they look, the more they find.  What began as a drama and action show in the first season evolved into a sci-fi show as seasons went on, losing many of its original viewers by the time the ancient Jacob was finally revealed last season.


While many people do enjoy sci-fi, many do not.  It either repels or attracts a person.  Sci-fi is abstract.  It’s imaginary until proven literal.  This train of thought led to the realization:  Christianity is about as sci-fi as it gets.


The following paragraph is how Wikipedia defines science fiction:  “A genre of fiction. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically-established or scientifically-postulated law of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.  Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilitiesin settings that are contrary to known reality.”

 

Again, as I put it, imaginary until proven literal.  But my spiritual beliefs are not built on fiction, they are based on a book translated from the ancient Latin and Greek scrolls of Moses, Paul, and Co.


 

Christianity is comprised of so many sci-fi elements:  An alternative story of how the universe was formed, countless scientific miracles (Noah gathering all the animals on a giant boat for a year as the rest of the population is destroyed by a world-wide flood, Moses parting the Red Sea, the Seven Plagues of Egypt, Jesus’ birth, life, and resurrection, etc.), a realization that a person’s spiritual condition and relationship with their Creator affects both their current condition and their eternal one, a future life outside this universe.  Very bizarre.


It should be no surprise that “the Force” in Star Wars has been compared so much to elements of Christianity.  Sci-fi and religion are ultimately inseparable.


So why is Christianity so popular, not just in our country, but across the world?  With sci-fi being such a stumbling block for so many people, why are so many people okay with the fact that to an outsider the entire concept of Christianity can seem like a weird fairy tale?


The major element that sets Christianity apart from all other major religions is the fact that God actually loves people and wants a daily, personal, eternal relationship with him.  I’ve studied all major religions and the rest seem to feature a distant god that a person can only hope to be in good standing with by following a list of do’s and don’ts, void of love, mercy, and grace.  I simply need an involved God who loves me and has a plan for my life.


It has been said that religion is for the weak.  Yes, that’s the whole point.  I am weak and can’t save myself.  That’s sort of the whole idea behind serving God.  Humility was a major part of who Jesus was when he lived on Earth.  That’s the example to follow.


But interestingly, it’s not just Christianity that is laced in sci-fi.  All religions are.  Even for those who are truly atheists and believe that when a person dies, that’s simply the end and there’s nothing else, they still have to address the fact that the universe had to come in to existence somehow and miraculously support intelligent life.  To answer that question, it takes faith in a sci-fi concept that no living person was around to see happen.


One of the major religions of the world that tends to slip under the radar is what I call “Good Personism”, which is completely different from Christianity.  Based on the spiritual outline drawn in entertainment media such as Disney’s baseball movie Angels in the Outfield, if a person is good, they become an angelic being when they die and go to Heaven.  If a person is really bad (mass murderers, rapists, people who slaughter seals and whales, etc.), they become a demonic creature and go to an unmentionable hell.

 

The reason this religious concept is so popular is because it’s one of the most non-offensive religions, while appearing to resemble whatever the popular religion of that culture is.  Here’s how.  The creed of followers of this faith is the following:  “I’m a good person.  At least I’m not as bad as (enter the name of a known felon or war tyrant).”  The problem though is that creed itself shows an acknowledgement that morality should be confronted by a worthy judge.


This concept is non-offensive because it is quite vague about what exactly it takes to be bad enough to be cursed and how good a person has to be to be saved.  It groups all gods together so that as long as a person believes in some sort of higher power, at least, then that makes everything okay.  The origins of this faith are based on elements of Christianity, Buddhism, national tradition, and a general, innate understanding that mankind is corrupt.  In this religion, Jesus is simply a “good teacher and a good man”.  (Even though a good teacher and a good man wouldn’t base his teachings on lies, claiming to be the only way to God if he wasn’t.)


What if the physical, tangible life we see around us was all there really was?  And we didn’t have to think about bigger things outside of that?  But then someone we know dies.  And it crosses our minds for at least a few minutes that there has to be something more.  That leads to faith in something.  Even if it involves a person unknowingly converting to Good Personism.


 “From emptiness to everything, everyone believes.”  -John Mayer (“Belief”)

locke