No one wants to waste their time on a bad story. No writer wants to write a bad story. But there are plenty of lousy stories out there: stories that aren’t worth five minutes, should never have been shared with the world, or are just filled with worthless garbage. For every single good book you read, seventeen cheap paperbacks get plowed into a landfill and forgotten. We live in a world with plenty of information to go around, and there’s not a lot of space for a new and upcoming writer in the space. So how do books get remembered? Most of all, how will yours be one of the ones that’s remembered?
For the most part, classics are remembered and preserved for good reason. They’re top-notch stories, read and approved by millions of people around the world. Their stories influence our cultures and reflect us as we read them. Their characters transcend cultures to speak to readers no matter their circumstances. After all, we are all human, and the great books speak human stories. They don’t age because at the end of the day humans all wrestle with the same basic problems. And because we don’t learn from our mistakes, we come back to the same stories over and over.
“We live a thousand lives through novels.”
I maintain that the only stories worth reading are those that provoke deep emotional response. It’s not hyperbolic to say that good books must change your life. I mark my life in literary milestones. Dostoevsky is a frequent and familiar companion, and his characters have walked me through significant turmoil and change. From Sonya, in Crime and Punishment, I learned how to love and be poured out. Alexei, in The Brothers Karamazov, taught me to seek God in the most unlikely of places. Both stories taught me to love the resilience and fortitude of the Russian people, a land I’ve learned to love.
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.” -F. Dostoevsky
But you don’t need to dive into deep, hearty Russian novels (though you should!) to find human stories. Doug and Lil in Okay for Now (a middle-school grade fiction that remains one of my favorite stories) taught me devotion and selfless love, disguised in the setting of 1960’s New York. C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces and its queenly protagonist Orual taught me the depths of sin and decay in my own heart. For every lesson I’ve learned and experience I’ve lived, there’s a story close at hand to remind me of it.
These are more than just morals. Aesop’s fables are true, but they don’t stir the deepest emotions of our heart. We were created with an intensely visceral reaction to stories. We are people of stories. A moral won’t stick in our heart, but a story that echoes and guides our own experiences will. These stories are part of my own experiences as much as if I’d lived the lives of the people inside those pages.
“Books whisper in our heads long after we’ve stopped reading, and their story becomes our own.”
In a story, an author presents a view of the world: a framework for how and why everything happens. Stories are valuable because we are passing down that view of the world on to the readers that follow us. If you read a great story well, you won’t close the back cover without having changed in significant ways. A few books, the kind you only come across once every several years, will change your life. Books influence us — they whisper in our heads long after we’ve stopped reading, and their story becomes our own, ever so subtly.
We authors have an incredible opportunity to whisper in the minds of readers long after we’re gone. We’re the teachers and bards of the world, and we can leave echoes even hundreds of years from now. That’s the sort of legacy I want to leave behind me. I want to write of a beautiful creation, shaped and molded in between expert hands, made to sing of the glories of a Maker even when men are blind. I want to write so that my readers learn to love the sea, with its undulating waves and the deep, dark powerful blackness beneath. I want to write of the deepest emotions: the love and sacrifice and passion that all of our most treasured stories are built on.
You are also a writer. Will your words be laden with truth, echoing this human story we are all living?