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On Types of Stories and Sensationalist Headlines

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

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I mentioned last time that I'm kind of doing a little bit of a challenge off of the DIY MFA group. I'm only doing the prompts I think are interesting, and when I got this one, I was intrigued. It's titled "What is your Storytelling Superpower?" Sounds excellent, right? Who doesn't want to know their superpower? There's a quiz and everything.

I thought it was a bit of an oversell (I'll get back to that later). That said, it's an interesting concept, and I want to talk about it a little. Basically, Gabriela (the lady who runs the site) has a 2x2 grid (all the good things in life come in a 2x2 grid. Really) with these dimensions: Character type and Want. There are two character types: the "everyman" and the "larger-than-life hero". I found that dichotomy interesting because in all other writing websites and books they only talk about the hero, whereas I'm only interested in writing "regular people" stories. I like reading both, but I'm not at all interested in writing larger-than-life people because I don't know anyone like that. Almost all of the people I know are definitely regular people. I'm willing to bet most of the people you know are regular people. I know that we like to hear about superheroes and great people, but I wonder if we always feel like we're not enough because all the stories we hear are about larger-than-life people.

The second dimension is want. This is what the character wants, and there are two options: they either want to change something, or they want to preserve something (protect people, protect a way of life). I find that dichotomy a little simplistic. I think in real life it's never black or white. You want things to stay the same, but you also need a change. You want a change, but you're scared of it. There are people in your life that you love and want to protect, but you have to be true to yourself, and that can create a conflict. Life is complicated, and I would like to see more stories about that. Which is why I write them.

So, why did I think this quiz was an oversell? Because it's not a superpower. I'm sorry, but it's not. The structure she outlines can help you figure out what are the kinds of stories and characters you're drawn to. It can give you a framework to think about the story you want to tell. But just because I write stories about underdogs (regular people who want change) doesn't mean I write GOOD stories about underdogs. Writing is not a superpower any more than raising kids is. Sure, you try your best, and you hope that the outcome is good and you don't embarrass yourself. But it doesn't mean you're doing a good job right off the bat. There's a lot of hard work and soul-searching involved, and a lot of listening to feedback and taking the advice that rings true to you and figuring out what works for you. A superpower is something you don't have to work for. If you want to be a good writer or a good parent, you better be ready to put in a lot of hard work.


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