Process

A story is not just a thing, but a process—a process that connects us to each other. If someone you work with sat down across from you and said, "I brushed my teeth this morning," you'd look at him waiting for more, for the connection. "So?" you'd say. "What's the point?" Even if he embellished his story with, "I got this great new curved bristle brush and mint-flavored, baking soda and peroxide toothpaste. I really got in there. My mouth has never been so clean," you still wouldn't be related or connected—unless you were wondering, "Why's he telling me this? Is he losing it?" You wouldn't be relating, because his story didn't get to you. Stories are about what gets to us. A good story is like falling in love. You don't think, "How do I really feel about this person? Do I love her or him or not?" No, you're bowled over, swept away, knocked out. Good stories involve the same process. It's chemistry. It goes straight to the heart. You respond whether you want to or not. Stories are the most personal and fundamental form of communication we have.

Now, if the same guy came in, breathless, and said, "I just got mugged in the elevator," he'd get to you instantly. You'd be totally related and certainly wouldn't be asking, "What's the point?" And on his end, he would be eloquent, dramatic, compelling. No one would say, "Too wordy," or "No passion," or "Lacks detail." He'd tell his story, and he'd know how to tell it, because it's who he is.

The difference between the two examples is story—THE STORY PROCESS. There's a story reason, a craft reason, why one left you cold and the other got to you.

Your coworker has his stories, and you have yours. We all have our stories. That's what's nice about this art. In order to survive in life, you must have skills—life skills. And LIFE SKILLS ARE STORY SKILLS. They both come from the same place. As I said earlier, that's the big difference between this art and others such as music or painting. You don't have to know how to play the piano or paint a portrait in order to survive on the street, but you damn well better be aware of what's going on around you and how you feel about it and what to do to protect yourself. It's not just on the street. You have to have the same kind of social skills and awareness to get along in any personal relationship. So, with stories YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED ALREADY.

Now, that's good, but it's also bad. Good because with determination anyone can master this craft, since most of it is mastering yourself and using what you already have. Bad because it's so familiar. You've been there, so you may feel you know more than you do. In the midst of a compelling story, you may often feel so connected that you think, Ah. This is how it works. You feel so strongly that you think there's nothing to it, that writing a story is just like life. Like life, yes. But not life itself.

Creating stories is a special craft—a special way of capturing reality on the page. It feels real, but it isn't. You can't just break off a piece of reality and stick it on the page. It won't work. It won't work because fiction is concentrated, heightened, intensified reality. It's the essence of reality. All reality doesn't contain such essence or truth, but all fiction must. You, the author, must create it. So even though you already have everything you need, you have to learn how to use it. That's craft. That's technique. That's what you get from this course. That's where we're going, after the theory.

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