The darkness ate the world, leaving behind only the soft susurrus of moving air gently swirling past my ankles, bare in the night. Seeing nothing, feeling only my soles against the hard, cold surface beneath them, my nervous system seemingly extended out from me in all directions, willing for there to be something, anything other than the darkness.
I stepped forward, praying I was right, praying I knew where I really was. A sharp pain lanced through my foot, the skin parting for the smooth, hard metal shoving its way inside me.*
Last night? When I woke up? I had to go to the bathroom? I didn’t turn on the light and I stepped on a pin? It hurt!
So, friend. . . Out of curiosity, which do you think makes for the better story? Which of these versions do you think will make people want to read more, to continue giving me their time, attention and focus? Which one of these grabbed readers by the eyeballs and refused to let go?
Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions to which we all know the answer and really wish I would get on with the flapping post?
Yes. Yes I will.
These stories cover the same memory. Yes, I did once stumble through my darkened house in the darkness of night’s middle. Yes, I did step on a thumbtack. No, I still haven’t figured out what a thumbtack was doing on the floor in the first place since we didn’t have a bulletin board and hadn’t for years.
The only difference between the two story beginnings is that one is told with an eye toward drama and one is told just about as blandly, as offensively, as boringly as I could make it in a few words. (Yes, a few words. I mean, it’s not like these words are free or anything. They do cost. Words don’t grow on trees, mister.**)
I know what you’re thinking. The answer is, no, I don’t know how we’ll get the chickens to wear corduroy, but that’s not important right now. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. I’m wondering if maybe one of those two story openings are true and maybe one isn’t.
The purpose of this blog is to talk about how we can take our memories and turn them into good stories. I stand by that purpose. However, I also believe the way we tell stories has a direct impact on whether or not people want to read it. Think about it.
These two guys? They floated down a river on a homemade raft. It’s Huckleberry Finn, a classic of American literature by Mark Twain.
There’s this sailing ship, right? And the captain is sort of crazy. And they go fishing for this really big fish. It’s Moby Dick, by Nathanial Hawthorne, another American classic.
There’s this guy who goes looking for his lost love in a really creepy place and he finds a guide to show him around. It’s Neuromancer, a science-fiction classic by William Gibson. No, it’s not The Divine Comedy by Dante Alegheri. Don’t be silly.
There’s this girl? And she falls in love with a sparkly vam– You know what? There’s just no way to talk about that story that’s more boring than the way it was published. Let’s consider the point made and move on.
As long as my memoir deals with the events that happened to me, I feel telling the story for maximum effect is just fine. Which doesn’t mean that I can start dragging in exciting things that happen to other people or what I think might be a fun thing to have happened just because it sounds cooler than what really happened. No, we stick with the truth.
Only, I’m thinking we might want to consider telling the truth. . . on fire.
All right. So you’ve got my justification for seeing my memories through the lens of an old-time pulp adventure magazine. I’m thinking it pretty much works out okay. As far as justifications go, that is.
Next go round, I want to talk about how to pick the memory you want to light afire.