Category Archives: story

What Makes a Good Story?

Eric asked this question recently on his excellent blog, Pimp My Novel.

What makes a good story?

It’s a question that readers and writers have struggled with over the years. Everyone seems to have a different opinion. Yet, there often seems to be consensus when a good story does come along. It’s almost as if the answer is “I know it when I see it.”

That’s not a good enough answer though. I’ve been thinking of how to answer this question a little more eloquently than I did in the comment section of Eric’s post. I think that if we can come to a definite answer to this question our writing will invariably improve. However, I don’t think there is a magic formula that you can use to create a good story.

Good stories are more like recipes. They need certain ingredients. These ingredients can be tossed around and put in any order, certain ones can be left out entirely, and new combinations can be thought of on the spot.

I think a good story needs to end where it started. The events need to be connected somehow so we can see and feel that things have happened for a reason – the characters have grown and developed and experienced things that have changed them or their situation.

So here are the key ingredients as I see them

– good characters (story should always be driven by the characters not by the plot)
– the ending needs to tie into the beginning
– things need to happen for a reason
– the characters should show some progression or growth
– you need to say something (like an essay, there should be a theme or an argument you are making)
– we need to hear your voice (your story needs to have yourself in it somehow so that we can hear your voice)
– it needs to flow (things should seem natural and connected to encourage us to keep reading)

I’m sure that seems simpler than it actually is. I might be missing some of the ingredients. I think writers might not even be aware of all of the elements they put into their work. I’ll probably look at this later and see things that I have missed.

How about you?

What do you think makes a good story?

Would you add anything or take anything away from my list?

Let me know what you think!

How Many Elements?

How many elements are there in this world?

Modern scientists would probably argue that there are hundreds. They would be able to prove and show how each of the elements differ and how they all deserve to have their own classification.

I often think that science looks at too many things. I think that scientists have fragmented the study of reality and have gotten no closer to discovering the truth about it.

Studying the world around us is all well and good. I have no problem with that. I have a problem with what we get out of it. We don’t seem to have any more answers today than we did hundreds of years ago.

We used to believe that there were only four elements and that everything was comprised of either; earth, air, water, or fire. With our modern thinking and technology we now know that this is not the case. It almost seems laughable when we look back at this theory. We know that it is not true.

So now we have hundreds of elements but we don’t really know where they came from or why they are here. Does this help us in anyway understand the nature of reality?

I don’t think it does. We are constantly striving to put all of our known scientific knowledge together. Einstein tried it to no avail, and since we all have been on the search for a unifying theory.

One theory that could explain everything known about the universe and explain it all.

So what if there is only one element?

What if everything on this world was Story? That’s my unifying theory.

And what is a theory but a story to explain something that we don’t understand? We have used Story like this since the beginning of time. It’s time we started to look more carefully at this thing we call Story for the answers to which we seek. The answer is there. I’m sure of it.

One element – Story.

Story is the Nature of Reality

I have this great theory that Story is the nature of reality. I have been posting up quotations that seem to help prove this theory on my commonplace book blog, Thoughtful Cacophony. I have been writing entries on this theory here every week as well. I call this feature, Storied Thursdays.

I have chapters listed on the side bar of both of my blogs. I hope to keep this series up for a while longer. There is just so many ways to tackle this concept and thousands of examples to use. It’s a bit overwhelming actually.

I want to thank everyone who has commented on this series so far. You have definitely helped me to explore this topic even further.

It’s a strange theory to have. How can everything be Story? It seems to be nonsense at first glance. But the more I look into it, the more I am convinced. It just makes so much sense on so many different levels.

The moment I came to the realization that everything is Story, it was like an epiphany. I knew deep down in my heart that it was true. I couldn’t explain why. I tried to explain it to a few people and while they often entertained my ramblings, they went away unconvinced. I couldn’t blame them, it was something that I felt and truly believed but explaining it was a completely different beast.

I’m still not sure that I have explained it well enough here but I am trying. And I will continue to try. I think this theory needs a lot of exploration. It could be a full-time dissertation. If I had the time to go back to school and earn my Masters of English, that is exactly what I would do. For now though, this is just a hobby of mine and it’s great to have you along for the ride.

Governed by Laws

On Marshall McLuhan…

Take Today underscores his view that all life – mental, material, spiritual, physical – is governed by laws, laws that no one else has even noticed, let alone considered worthy of discussion between the covers of a book. …

The laws are infallible – as precise as mathematics, as ubiquitous as weather – and, after wrestling with them for almost five decades, he has finally grasped them in all their glory.”
– Fitzgerald, Judith. Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy. XYZ Publishing: Montreal, 2001. pg 152
Take Today was authored by McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt in 1972

This metaphor sounds like Story and it also uses a storybook to help frame the metaphor. What more can be said about this quote? It’s brilliant.

It immediately reminded me of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek Bible. It was a book that he composed to contain all the rules within the Star Trek Mythology. He created a beautiful world based on science and wanted it to be believable. This book was available to every writer of the show so that they would know what could and couldn’t happen in the stories they created.

The fictional world of Star Trek has precise laws. And maybe that is one of the reasons the franchise is timeless. It relates to the real world. It makes sense in so many ways. And it never tried to make us believe in something different every week. It had a beautiful consistency.

Life is like this as well. I believe that there is a Life Bible that contains all the rules of the universe. And like McLuhan says, no one seems to be searching for it. We know some of the precise rules but nothing that ties everything together, except for Story. And brilliantly enough that is even mentioned in this quote. Perhaps McLuhan knew something about the important role story has in the nature of reality. It seems to be like he was one of the best thinkers of our time. I think I need to explore his works more closely.

Things Work Out

Do you remember how we met each other?

“Yeah, I do. It was at a conference. We sat beside each other and got to talking.”

And why did you choose that specific seat?

“I don’t know. I just did, I guess.”

Do you think things happen for a reason?

“I’m not sure. I think that there are so many things to consider, so many things that don’t make sense. What is your view on it?”

I think things really do happen for a reason. I like to think of life as a story. We are characters in the story and things are written for us. We need to make good choices but everything that happens to us furthers our story. Some things might seem irrelevant but they aren’t.

There are so many little things that shaped where I am right now and how I got here. I also learned that worrying doesn’t do any good. So I don’t worry. I go with the flow for the most part and have faith that it will take me where I need to go. Maybe it’s like the law of attraction, I don’t know. All I know is that things just seem to work out.

We are characters that come to life and can affect the course of the story. Nothing is written in stone. We make decisions, and try to make the best ones. In this sense, we write our own story and have complete control.

I had no idea you’d pop into my story at all. But here you are. And we spend a lot of time together. And you are now one of my closest friends. Was this meant to be then?

All I know is that I try to make the best story that I can. I think this theory of mine goes well beyond the metaphor. How’s that for an answer?

“Pretty good, I guess. Thanks.”

See you next week.

“Sure thing!”

Different Roles We Play

I read May Not Appear Exactly as Shown by Gordon J.H. Leenders and was intrigued by this passage.

“Hey, like Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage and all the people actors.’”

“Life is not a play, Ryan. And Brad and Nicole are not actors.”

“The play’s the thing Katelin.”

“Ryan, stop it, life is not a play.”

“No, you’re right. Sometimes it’s a TV show, sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it’s a documentary, sometimes a docudrama, sometimes it’s a commercial or a billboard in Times Square or –” I stop, noticing she looks like she’s about to leave and, changing my tone, making it sound warmer, less condescending, say, “Okay, look at yourself, Katelin, you act differently when you’re at work than when you’re with me, right?”

“So?”

“So, which one is the act and which is the real you?”

“That’s totally different. I know you.”

“Sure, but they’re still different roles, right? I mean, when you go into work you switch into your ‘waitress’ role, when you go out with your friends you switch to your ‘friend’ role, when you’re having sex maybe you switch into your ‘dominatrix’ role –who knows? The point is, sometimes, everyday roles are either too much or not enough for some people so they need to take on other roles, assume other identities and…and I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to be someone else? Haven’t you ever pretended to be someone you’re not?”

That passage really got me thinking. We do play different roles. Perhaps people that know us in totally different ways wouldn’t even recognize us if we were described in those different ways. Maybe we wouldn’t either. This quote reminds me of this next one from the brilliant television show My So-Called Life.

Angela Chase is a teenager and we hear her thoughts through voice over narration. “What I, like, dread is when people who know you in completely different ways end up in the same area. You have to develop this, like, combination you on the spot.”

Now I know that I play many different roles in life. And there have even been times where different parts of my life have intercepted. I understand what Angela was saying there in that quote.

It’s a pretty interesting take on the classic speech in Shakespeare that I highlighted in a previous chapter of this series. And it is one that fits into my theory of Story being the nature of reality. Not only do we play different roles at different times in our lives, but we also play different roles for pretty much everyone we interact with. And now that I am on this train of thought, I see so many connections to it that I am not sure I can just tie up my blog post and leave it at that.

For instance, Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven shows how people can shape the lives of other people without ever having realized it. It goes to show that we play roles in this life that we aren’t even aware of.

I think that most people can admit to the truth behind this metaphor. It is brilliant and reveals a lot in its sheer simplicity. We do play different roles in this life and perhaps, as such, we are all characters in several different but interlocking stories. Something to think about, isn’t it?

Our Perception is Flawed

“Hey I found this interview in a magazine that seems to work against your theory of reality being story.”

Let me see that. Wired Magazine, eh? An Errol Morris interview. (He starts reading)

Q: But don’t you think that we manage to keep up a coherent narrative of who we are and where we’ve been?

A: No! We remember things selectively. We experience things selectively. We live in a kind of incomplete, patchwork-quilt universe. A bric-a-brac. Assembled in some higgledy-piggledy way.

This quotation doesn’t work against my thesis. It actually backs up my theory that we actually edit our lives through our use of what we choose and choose not to remember. We also edit our lives by experiencing things selectively too.

“But he admits that we don’t keep up a narrative. He more or less says that it’s not story.”

That’s not what he says at all. He actually admits that we don’t have the whole picture. We can’t possibly know the entire story. We live in a limited point of view story but our stories can connect to other stories and create a quilt.

I don’t think the universe is incomplete or put together is a haphazardly way. I don’t think Morris believes this either. He is merely talking about our experience of the world.

I think that Story can explain why we don’t know everything and cannot come to the ultimate truth of the universe. Of course, characters in a story never know everything. They seldom ever realize that they are a character in a story. I can’t really think of an example where a character realized this but I am sure there are stories that can be interpreted as such out there.

“That character in Stranger than Fiction did.”

Great movie. Yeah, you’re right but this is the rare exception. I think Morris is right too and our perception of reality is flawed. But that is only because we don’t perceive the nature of reality to be Story. If we did, we would have a new perception in which to see the world. And upon seeing it with these new eyes, perhaps we can come to some important truths. It makes sense to me.

“Yeah, I guess it does.”

Hey, keep trying to trip me up. But you must admit that you are starting to come around to my theory aren’t you?

“I don’t have to admit anything.”

No I guess you don’t. See you next week then?

“I’ll be here. And maybe I’ll scare up some more damaging info then this.”

What About Editing?

Stories are edited. Things make sense in a story. Everything is there for a reason. Any writers’ course will tell you that. In a good story, there should be no extraneous details. We don’t need to hear characters having the usually pleasantries like, “Hey’ how’s it going?” or “What are you doing? – Nothing.” We edit that out of the story and get right to the point.

“The big difference between fiction and real life is that fiction is edited.”

I beg to differ. Real life is edited as well.

“What? Real life is messy, disorganized. Things are there that don’t make sense.”

That might be true, or rather it may seem true, but that is because we basically don’t know the whole story. It’s like we are all in a third-person limited narrative. We make sense of our story from what we know of it. But even in doing that, we are editing our story.

“How do we do that?”

In our memories. Our brains organize things into story for us. Things never seem to make sense until we can spin it into a story. And we don’t need all the details. Certain things are always left out in our memories. Our brain chooses which information it wishes to keep and whatever it doesn’t find useful gets thrown out.

“That’s why witness accounts are often so different. They’ve spun a slightly different story in their brain.”

Yes, exactly. They’ve remembered different parts of the scene and put it together in way that made sense to them. That’s why investigators pay so much attention to them. One person might have built a narrative that will include one significant detail that will tie in to all the others. Police have quite a job getting at the actual truth of a situation because of all the editing that our brains naturally do.

“But isn’t this just a story you’ve created to account for people having different memories of the same event.”

Perhaps that is the point.

“What?”

Listen, it’s not just me; a lot of scientific research has been done about this topic. You could go to the library and look some of it up.

“Perhaps, I will. Perhaps I will.”

All right then, see you next week?

“Wouldn’t miss it. See you then!”

The Ultimate Question

People have struggled with the ultimate question since the beginning of time. We seem to be constantly striving for a reason or purpose to our existence. It’s a mystery and everyone loves to explore a good mystery.

I think one author had a great take on this topic. Once again, I am holding up a work of fiction and interpreting it in ways that might seem improbable to men of science or religion. Yet, I think that we can find a lot of truth in the humanities. As such, we owe it to ourselves to explore all the great writing of our time.

That being said, I think it is worth looking into The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. (Spoiler Alert) It is a widely popular phenomenon that has spanned several years and mediums. The story has been presented in novels, radio shows, a television series, movies, and even in comic books. The series is a brilliantly written satire that seems to capture attention of millions.

I was first introduced to this series from the old BBC television series that is now available on DVD. I borrowed it from the library a few years ago and really enjoyed it. But the strange thing is that I actually think the story reveals some truths about the nature of reality.

In the story, a man finds out that a super-computer called Deep Thought was constructed to find the ultimate answer to the universe and everything. The computer came up with the answer “42.”

Of course, this answer didn’t mean anything. They tried to figure out what the answer signified and asked the computer for more information. The computer replied that it needed to find the ultimate question to go with it, so the Earth was constructed as a super-planet-computer. The Earth was destroyed just before the computer was able to complete its very long calculation. But the answer survived in the last living human to escape from the planet before it was obliterated.

The television series ended up with the ultimate question finally being revealed. “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?” So the ultimate question and answer to the universe was 6 x 9 = 42. The main character shrugged his shoulders and said, “I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.”

I know that this story is a satire and is supposed to be light-hearted and funny. But maybe just maybe, by trying to make fun of our natural quest of discovery Douglas Adams actually found a truth here.

“What truth is there?”

Mainly this, we can’t possible understand everything. And things that we think we understand, such as mathematics, we might not have a complete grasp of either. But my favourite part of this storyline is that everything on earth is connected and working towards one purpose. It fits perfectly with my theory that there is only one story and that story is in fact the nature of reality.

“Wow, you certainly bent my ear today.”

Sorry about that. I still have more to add.

“Don’t apologize. If I didn’t like our discussions I wouldn’t keep coming back.”

See you next week then.

“For sure! I do love these Storied Thursdays.”

We Can’t Be

“We can’t be characters in a story.”

Why Not?

“Because it would be a really boring story.”

That’s a good argument. And the only thing I have to say to that is that perhaps your story hasn’t been told yet. The exciting parts are yet to come. You see, every character in every story has what is called a back-story. The characters have a history that predates the story that they are in. They bring attitudes, habits, and traits based on this back-story. If characters didn’t have a back-story, we wouldn’t be able to explain why they act in certain ways in certain situations. In fact, a character can’t exist without some kind of back-story.

“Okay that’s all well and good, but what about free will?”

What do you mean?

“If we are characters in a story, then everything is spelled out for us and we therefore wouldn’t have free will. We couldn’t make any personal choices.”

If you believe in free will this sounds like a conundrum. If you don’t believe in free will, it’s an easy answer. Let’s just assume that free will does exist, which I wholeheartedly believe it does. I think we have to make choices in our lives everyday and that we do have the power to make any choice we feel fit to.

“But how could we do this if we are just a character?”

Easy. Ask any writer about the characters in their stories and they will speak of them as if they are actually living and breathing people. I know that I have had some amazing points in my writing where the characters have actually made some decisions that I wasn’t expecting. At some point in the writing of fiction, the characters seem to come alive and make their own choices. Sometimes the story goes a completely different direction that what the author originally intended.

Writers grope their way through a work and discover the story as they go along. Even writers who do extensive planning will have these moments of inspiration where the characters do exercise their own free will. It is something that we may never be able to explain or scientifically prove but it exists and millions of people can attest to this fact.

“Who writes the stories then?”

That’s a good question.

“Ah, I caught you, didn’t I?”

Actually no, you didn’t. I think that it’s possible that we write our own stories. We all have free will and therefore we create our stories based on our decisions.

“Okay, but someone had to write our back-story?”

Ah, good to see you’re following along. I have three theories on this one. First, there is one supreme writer who creates all the characters. The Earth is the setting for his story and all the characters on this planet contribute to the story in some way.

Second Theory. The writers exist in another space and time. Everything that exists in our world was written by an author in another plane of existence.

Third Theory. Our stories were created be someone on this earth. Not all stories need to be written down and published. Perhaps some of the stories never really leave the author’s mind. Imagination is a powerful tool that everyone can, and does tap into.

“Now that sounds ridiculous.”

This is where faith needs to come in. Anything that we study can never truly be fully realized. There will always be a mystery. But there is enough evidence and writing to suggest that story is the nature of reality.

“I don’t believe you.”

You of course are free to believe whatever you want. But I do have a few more eamples and arguments to present.

“Bring them on.”

I will. Shall we meet here again next week?

“Sounds good. I so look forward to our debates.”

Me too. Thanks.

Wisdom Hiding in the Art

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
– William Shakespeare “As You Like It” 2:7

This is an historic quotation from one of the most prolific writers of our time. Scholars hold it up as a great metaphor. But what if it goes beyond a metaphor? What if Shakespeare knew something about the nature of reality and the only way he could disseminate this knowledge was through his plays. He certainly reached a lot more people writing plays that he ever would have preaching, or writing philosophical theories.

I think that it is possible that Shakespeare used his plays to draw people in so that he could entertain them and also tell them something about the world in which in we live. His use of low humour shows that he wanted to reach regular people. And he certainly did that. His plays are timeless and still read five hundred years after the fact.

The legendary rapper Krs-One has admitted to using the same kind of technique. He is known as “The teacher” in hip-hop. He has some great messages in his songs. And he certainly reaches a lot of people but he doesn’t do it by preaching. He uses rap to draw people in that wouldn’t otherwise even want to hear his message. In fact, his first album cover has him holding a gun and even it’s title Criminal Minded drew in a certain audience. Krs-One then used the power of words to tell the truth as he saw it. And people listened and took it in, whether they care to admit it or not. He remains a popular artist twenty years later as well.

Some people might think it disrespectful to be talking about these two brilliant minds in the same breath. I don’t think it is. They both used the popular form of entertainment for their day to get a message across. The messages may be hidden in their art and people may not choose to take anything away from them other than a good play or a good song, but it is still there.

I might be accused of reading too much into the quote above. People will say that it is simply a metaphor and nothing more. They will argue up and down that we can’t just be characters in a story. It sounds implausible and it raises tonnes of questions and objections. And while that may be true, it doesn’t rule out my theory that we are all characters in a story.

More Storied Thursdays to Come.

One Story

Some people believe that there is truly only one story. This story is told over and over again but it is essentially the same story all the time. Sure the settings and characters change. The details change enough that we can have an unlimited amount of stories based all on this one theme.

“The Quest.”

Robert McKee explains this in words better than I can. He writes, “For better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extra-personal). This is story in a nutshell.”

There are many times in our lives when we are thrown off balance. As such, our life is a collection of stories. We tell stories of our travels, our triumphs, our heartaches, and our struggles. Our lives could be written out in one long narrative as well. So if our lives are essentially story and that there is really only one story. It brings me back to my thesis that story is the nature of reality.

We tend to think science can give us the answers to the ultimate question. But science will always fail us. Science theories are being thrown out and replaced daily. And what is a scientific theory but a story? It’s a great story and it offers us a lot of insight into the world. But once again, it does so through story. The theory of evolution is but a story after all.

Mathematics tries to give us answers about the nature of reality as well. But an equation is also basically a story. Mathematics can be beautiful and I admire a lot of what we have discovered about math. Yet, like science, there always seems to be more to discover.

Mathematicians and Scientists are always on a quest to learn more about the nature of the universe. As such, I think it is safe to assume that both of these disciplines are, in fact, story. There is one story and that story is everywhere. Story must then be the nature of reality.

More Storied Thursdays to come
(I know it’s a day late this week but that was because of Bloggers Unite Day)

In The Beginning There Was Story

According to the Gospel of John, in the beginning there was The Word and The Word was good.

What does John mean by “The Word?”

Some people have chosen to interpret The Word as just a metaphor for God. They equate The Word with God as if they are synonymous. I think John was trying to illustrate a truth here. Many of us seemed to have missed the point.

In the beginning there was the word or story. Story is the start of time. I believe that stories have been told long before human beings even learned how to talk. We have always told stories. The most primitive humans probably traced patterns into the sand to tell their stories. The probably used gesture and sound effects in their storytelling.

I believe that story transcends time. Any story ever written stands outside of time. We can open a book randomly to any page and start reading, and the action in that part of the story, is happening in the here and now. As we read it, it is happening. This is true for period pieces that take place in the past or science fiction that takes place in the future.

A few other authors have tried to explain this connection between story and our perception of time. Shakespeare wrote that the world is but a stage and that we are all actors who play our role. He goes on to tell his audience that we all play many roles in our lives. It is a beautiful metaphor. But taken a step further, it means that we are all characters in a large story. A story that includes everything and everytime.

These two authors are highly regarded in our time. The Bible and the collective works of Shakespeare are the two most widely read works in our time. The both touch on the importance of story. Both of these works have managed to transcend time as well. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think we need to read critically and see what these authors were trying to tell us.

In the beginning, there was story. Story is happening right now and it is always happening. Story is the nature of reality. Everything is story. A few writers have known this for years. We need to listen to them.

Check out the label on the sidebar to read all my posts on Story. And then surf over to Thoughtful Cacophony to read the excellent quotations I have collected about this topic from a wide variety of sources. Thanks for joining me on Storied Thursdays.

Why Should We Look at Story?

If I asked you what you did today, what would you say?

Think about it for a moment.

There are really only a handful of choices to keep the conversation going.

1) You could pick one event of your day and try to relate that experience in detail.
2) You could give a quick brief summary of your day
3) You could talk on and on about everything you did so far in your day.

But what would your answer sound like?

It would more than likely take the form of a narrative. This is pretty much inevitable. Your answer would involve setting (where you were earlier), character (who else was with you), and a problem of some sort (what happened and what lead up to it). These are the ingredients of story.

So your day, up until the point you were asked about it, is a story. They way you answer the question is also a story. And your buddy gets to take a story away with him in the process. He might even retell this story later with his own spin on it, “Did you hear that so and so…”

Humans think in terms of story. It is a simple as that. It is the way that our brain organizes information. Everything is pretty much storied in our brains. Stories help us make sense of our world. Everything is story. We can’t get away from it.

I believe that story is the one true thing that everyone shares. We all organize events and situations into stories. We all tell stories. We all consume stories by our choice of entertainment. We do this without exception.

As such, story should be studied in detail. We should try to figure out exactly what it is and why it is so prevalent in our lives. That is the purpose of this series on both of my blogs.

More Storied Thursdays to come.

What is Story?

A Myth is simply a story that tries to explain the way the world works. We behave in certain ways due to the myths that we support. Myths, in and of themselves, have nothing to do with religion. Myths transcend religion and affect each and everyone one of us, whether we have religious convictions or not.

The word myth is a very strong and powerful word. It means a lot. It is often a scary word to people who don’t truly understand what a myth is. As such, people have fought hard to devalue this word. This may not have been a conscious decision but it has happened. Myth is now equated with the word lie or untruth, which really does a disservice to us all. That is why I often don’t even use the word anymore. It has lost its meaning.

This is why I use the word story instead. Unfortunately, this word also can be equated with untruth but I don’t think the two have become synonymous in our culture just yet. You will often hear people ask if a story is true or if a movie is based on a true story. As such, we almost always believe that there is a true story.

Our legal system works at trying to get to the true story. A judge and jury listen to both sides of a story and then come up with what they believe to be the one true story. Of course, in court, there are often more than just two sides. The plaintiff and the defendant are often entrenched in their own specific and limited view of the situation but experts, and witnesses often bring up a myriad of other viewpoints and angles at which to look at the story.

In my exploration of the nature of reality, I believe that we need to look at a variety of writings and viewpoints. I feel like I can never fully research my thesis here but I think that I have made some great discoveries and have come upon some startling insights.

We use stories to make sense of our world on a daily basis. Everyone does, without exception. It was the one true and common thing that we all share in this world. And that alone makes it a topic worth our study and attention.

What is Reality?

What is Reality? It seems like such a simple question? But it is related to a myriad of other questions. What makes up reality? Are we here for a reason? Is there such thing as fate? Is there a grand design to the universe? Is there a supreme being that sees over everything? What composes the building blocks of everything that we see and do?

These are questions that humanity has struggled with since the beginning of time. (Did time even have a beginning?)

Religion has had a lot to say about these important questions and I think they provide us with some answers. Science also can provide us with some answers. But both of these disciplines fall short of the whole story. And that is the entire problem with religion and science.

I think that the humanities have a lot to say about the nature of reality. Poets and writers have given us some brilliant answers, but most of the time, these just get written off (sorry for the pun).

The interesting thing is that religion and science both offer good stories about the nature of reality. But if authors and poets are doing the same thing, then it isn’t that much of a stretch to say that everything seems to be story.

Joseph Gold writes about how each and every one of us uses story in our everyday lives.
“We are all storymakers. We use story to organize and control. . . . Human beings strive for order, control and peace but we can never be static. We must change, age, learn more, grow and adapt. So we are always in a cycle of creative struggle, changing and striving to manage our changing and to integrate what we learn into our own story. If during our growing up, for instance, we have suffered trauma . . .To escape the feeling of helplessness and confusion that we carry with us we need to organize, package, index our experience, do what we mean when we say “get a handle on it,” so that we can carry the baggage of our experience comfortably and not have bits and pieces falling all over the place. This is what we do when we “story” it.” (taken from Read For Your Life: Literature as a Life Support System. Fitzhenry and Whiteside: Markham, 1990. pg 51-52)

Story is everywhere. And if we believe Marshall McLuhan when he says, “the medium is the message,” then I think it is safe to say that the medium is story and therefore the message must also be story. To put it simply, story is the nature of reality.

More to come – Storied Thursdays are now a feature on both Silent Cacophony and Thoughtful Cacophony.

Everything is Story

If someone were to give me a test of my life, I think I would fail it. I can’t remember a lot of things that I probably should be able to. I’m often surprised when family members recall an event. I have to get them to explain in further. Sometimes this helps and I remember it, sometime I only get a vague impression of the event, and sometimes it doesn’t help at all. I don’t remember it.

I have studied psychology and have done some research about how the brain works. I know scientific terms and processes. I have seen diagrams of the brain but it doesn’t clear anything up for me. I don’t think we will ever know how the brain truly works.

I often wonder why I have thousands and thousands of songs in my head. I love music and have over 800 CDs, countless tapes, and hundreds of records in my collection. I used to tape albums and radio shows. There was a time in my life when I would buy an album or two every week. Music was everything to me then.

But why do these songs, and new ones I like, stay in my head. What makes them more important in my memory than everyday events? I think that it might be because they are intricately tied to many other things in my life.

I could tell the story of how I got interested in music. It’s a good story too. In fact, every album in my collection has a story to it. I don’t just mean the lyrics, song order, and album title. How I found each album or discovered each artist has its own story. I’m sure that the musicians have a story behind the creation of the albums as well.

One thing that I think everyone can understand in story. Everyone knows what a story is. We listen to them and tell them every single day. TV, movies, video games, conversations; they are all stories. Everything is story.

If everything is story perhaps studying story will help us to come to the ultimate answers for which everyone seeks. Science has tried to come up some answers, as have the arts and religion. So far, not one discipline has all the answers. One thing all three of these disciplines have in common however, is story.

Everything is story, and I will attempt to prove this with examples from science, religion, and the humanities. This new series on Silent Cacophony is long overdue. This theory has been with me for years, it is now time to explore it. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Commonplace Book # 12

“Luria thought a science of this kind would be best introduced by a story – a detailed case-history.” – Sacks, Oliver. The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Other Clinical Tales. Summit: New York, 1985. pg 5

I always thought that the humanities had a lot to say about the nature of reality. I have always been an admirer of good stories. I love literature. I loved studying books in class and writing essays. I don’t know a lot of people who actually like writing essays in university but I loved it. It was actually a bit of a loss when I no longer had to write them. I found that I missed it.

Analyzing stories was something that I had done for almost my entire school career. But now that I had my degree, I no longer needed to do this. It didn’t seem to sit right with me. That was when I realized that story is everywhere. It isn’t just in books. Everything tells a story, even science. This quotation helped me to finally understand what science is, and it started my collection of story quotables. There will be a lot more to follow.

Fiction That Tells the Truth

A lot of my commonplace book quotations have come from works of fiction. When I read, I keep a pen close by my side. If I come across a passage that speaks to me, I write the page number down and the first few words. I then get back to my reading. Once I have finished a book, I comb through it and add the passages to my commonplace book. I have found that this doesn’t distract me from my reading at all.

I am currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I am just past the halfway mark now and I must say that it is a great read.

I found a passage this weekend that ties in to my entry yesterday. In it, a mother is giving advice to her child on becoming a mother. She tells her to let the child believe in angels, fairies and Santa Claus and her daughter objects.

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

“The child will grow up and find out things for herself. She will know that I lied. She will be disappointed.”

“That is what is called learning the truth. It is a good thing to learn the truth one’s self.”

This passage was inspiring to me. It is a few pages long and I have only included the middle portion of this exchange between mother and daughter. I like how the wise mother has learned the importance of story and is able to communicate this so clearly to her daughter. It is also striking because Mary is illiterate. She has learned things from living and wishes to pass them on to her daughter and granddaughter.

This passage is now number 282 in my commonplace book but I couldn’t wait that long to share it with you. It’s food for thought. Enjoy!

Reclaim Myth

I find it a bit frustrating that in popular culture and society that the word “myth” has become synonymous with the word “lie” or “falsehood.” I think we have all forgotten the power and truth of myth. We need myth in our lives. It is as essential as oxygen.

So let’s debunk this definition of myth. A Myth is a traditional story that attempts to illustrate the worldview of a particular people, or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

I think that when measured against science and reason, we have come to believe that many cultural myths are not scientific or logical. However, the details and scientific facts of the story might not be pivotal as we wish them to be. The story might be the most important aspect of myth and we have overlooked it for quite some time now.

Marshal McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” He believed that the content of any message was not as important as the way it was delivered. He was originally talking about radio, television, and print. Although, I think each of these mediums all share one common element. Story telling. If I were to take this one step further, I could paraphrase his saying a bit and say that the story is the message.

I think many of the problems faced in society today are a result of or distrust and disbelief in story. We all frame our lives in story. We build narratives of our experiences every day, even if we never write anything. You hear it in the way people speak. We are story-driven creatures. And yet we seem to shake off important stories that try to explain hidden truths and deep meaning. Why do we do this?

Myth as a word has been stolen from us now. It has been turned into a bad word. Yet we all consume storytelling every day. We tell stories, we read stories, and we watch stories on television and in the cinema. We believe in characters and series and hold heated discussions about them.

If the medium truly is the message than I think we might be missing the story behind the story. And just because a story isn’t logical or “true” doesn’t negate the fact that it can hold certain truths. All stories do.

So stop using the word “myth” when you mean to say commonly-held-false-belief. And don’t be so quick to throw those words around either. It’s time to reclaim “myth.”