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“Eyes of the Storyteller,” a column on writing by J. Grace Pennington

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A couple weeks ago, I was walking through the hallways of my church with the girls in my accountability group. The church is huge, and a walk from our meeting room to the exit is quite a stroll, so we chatted as we made our way out. A moment’s hush in the conversation made us aware of a loud whooshing, whirring sound above our heads.

“I wonder whether that’s rain, or just the air conditioning?” one girl asked.

I theorized, “It’s probably a gas leak.”

Nothing says “writer” like unnecessarily morbid assumptions.

I used to think I was alone in this propensity. Surely I was the only one who saw a curtain move out of the corner of my eye and thought “There’s probably a serial killer hiding back there,” rather than “There must be a door or window open, creating a draft.” Thankfully for my sanity, years of association with others in my field have reassured me that this is quite a common frame of mind. I might go so far as to say that when an overactive imagination and a morbid tendency give each other a very special hug, the writer-brain is the resulting love child.

Once that is surmised, however, we have ourselves a variation of the age-old chicken or egg scenario. Is one a writer because of one’s morbid imaginings, or does one have said morbid imaginings because one is a writer? Or is it a little of both, one fact leading to the other until they are joined together like two sides of a sutured wound?

Regardless of which comes first, the correlation makes perfect sense. Stories are about conflict.. Without conflict of one sort or another, it’s really just a series of events. Our hero gets up. He gets ready for his day. He eats bacon and one fried egg. He gets his keys off of the hook by the back door, gets in his car, and goes to work. He has a pretty good day at work, then he goes home, watches The Walking Dead on TV and falls asleep. The end!

No, for it to be a story, something bad has to happen and be overcome. Maybe his car breaks down. Maybe someone sneaks into his house in the night to kidnap him. Maybe he can’t find his keys. Maybe when he cracks open his egg he finds a little mystical creature inside who’s been sent to take over the world. Who knows? The worse the thing, the more satisfying the resolution.

So if upon seeing something somewhere it shouldn’t be you assume it was moved by an invading alien who erased all your memories of it, you might be a writer. If an unusual taste to your ordinary breakfast causes you to jump to the conclusion that it’s been poisoned by a previously endearing family member who has gone insane, you might be a writer.

And if when you walk down the street you see in every homeless man an undercover assassin from some foreign country, you most definitely are a writer.
Or paranoid.. But is there really a difference?

Grace Pennington

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Published on 20 January, 2016. Last updated on

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