Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Relatable, Simple, True

I began writing the Shiloh stories last night. One reason I've never accomplished this project in the past is that I never knew where to start. I saw the project as a series of completely separate stories all about the same dog. It occurred to me yesterday to simply begin at the beginning and let the stories tell themselves.

This reminds me of the advice Gilbert gives Anne to write what she knows--the people and places of Avonlea. I was given similar advice by two different mentors in my life; one my next door neighbor when I was a child and just discovered the writing bug; the other my high school English teacher when I came back to visit from college. Both times I was struggling to write something important or exciting. They both suggested that I write what I know, even if its simple. Adventure stories can be great, but there's something so relatable about everyday stories.

I have a magnet we bought at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT which reads: "My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water." The most timeless stories are actually based on simple themes, things we all relate to. Even Shakespeare with all his monologues and eloquence was writing about the central themes of life--love, loss, the dynamics of family relationships. Twain, Dickens, Alcott were very clearly writing about ordinary life, be it industrialized England, the racially charged South, or war torn America. Jane Austen's books are about ordinary people doing ordinary things, mostly falling in love. But these books continue to sell wildly and are taught in every high school and college across the country. They're not adventure stories, not even Huckleberry Finn when you get down to it. They're stories about people doing things and experiecning things we all relate to.

The same is true for movies, if you really think about it. Without question The Fast and the Furious or The Italian Job were successful at the box office and continue to be fan favorites. But the root of the stories is not really about racing or theft. The stories are about relationships. And there's definitely a reason why a movie about a mischieveous dog named Marley brought all sorts of people to the theater. Grown men that don't cry at funerals left the theater teary-eyed. Because the story was so gosh darn relatable.

I think that's the key to writing. I have to say that I've experienced that phenomenon even here on this simple little blog. The posts viewed the most often, most likely read by the most people? My Shiloh post has taken the number one slot this week, bumping my oringial post on my infertility journey to number two. On the right hand side the most popular posts are listed, you can see for yourself what people are drawn to. Not my thoughts on life, God, spirituality, and definitely not my recipes! The posts in which I get real and honest, share my heart and a little bit of my soul. People appreciate that, I think. Something real in this synthetic, digital world.

As I write about Shiloh I want to keep this in mind. He was a simple little guy, didn't need too much to be happy. There's no need for me to try to make his stories something elaborate and meaningful. I think if I just write about Shiloh, the meaning will come through. Lewis wrote with this same thought process. He explained once that he never set out to teach Christian lessons in his books, he just wrote the stories. His Christian value system was so strong inside of him that it simply flowed out onto the page and into the stories he wrote. That may be what makes The Chronicles of Narnia so wonderful. They're distinctively not preachy, but the reader walks away feeling as if they've encountered Christ all the same.

I don't expect my Shiloh stories to carry that kind of weight or be that successful. But its my intention to keep them that honest and simple. If I write from my heart, the stories will tell themselves. No doubt to be worth reading there needs to be some style and crafting involved, but the stories themselves should remain relatable, simple, true. Just like him, my furry little friend.

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