“We have all been there, done that, and some of us have the t-shirts. We depend on our writers to explain what it all means.” – Anonymous
Being a writer is about being a creator. You get to make the world.
Most of the time most of us want to create memorable story worlds that will engage readers for many years to come.
Nothing wrong with a bit of fluff now and then, just some sheer entertainment, quick-witted and fleeting. But what makes a story last?
As so many now have the time to write and are dusting off those ideas that’ve been sitting in the back of their minds or laying at the bottom of the ‘I’ll get to it someday’ pile, there’s a strong inclination to follow that old dictum to ‘write what you know’.
That’s a dangerous temptation just now, if you don’t take the longer view.
What happens today is on our minds today, especially with the multiple crises the world is having to deal with. What about next year, though? Or five or ten or a hundred years from now? Or looking at the ancient writings of many peoples, thousands of years from now?
In the ‘write what you know’ camp, a lot of people are keeping journals and writing stories centered around their pandemic experiences and observations. And certainly future historians and anthropologists can learn a lot from these records.
You may have seen that a number of classic stories were written during times of plague. Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron” was composed during the Black Death in the 14th century. It’s a collection of 100 novellas about love. Shakespeare lived through times of a number of plagues and turned out, well, a lot of those fabulous, timeless plays. And so it goes back through various eras and places, cultures and peoples.
Mythology has many instances of non-human calamities often attributed to petulant gods or indifferent nature. The stories that last to become myths are those that also deal with universal themes.
Certainly, you always want the human touch in your tale-telling, even those about animals, aliens, or AI. But too much focus on personal minutia without connecting to the larger concepts in play can make your story temporarily timely but too soon old and cold.
So how can you ensure your creations are not just timely but timeless?
Use story tools, and here are a few of them.
EEEE = Entertain, Enlighten, Educate, Express
Sometimes you just want to tell a rollicking good story – Entertainment.
Sometimes you want more depth in your story to uplift your audience – Enlightenment.
Sometimes your goal is to make your audience aware of some situation – Educate.
Sometimes you write to express your own emotions, history, dreams, dilemmas, successes – Expression.
Stories with agendas can be dangerous as they can easily become preachy, pedantic, or off-putting. Especially these days that is something to watch out for.
Most stories are a combination of the four E’s in different proportions. Finding the correct recipe for yours is a challenge, made easier by knowing how all the parts can fit together to create the desired effect on your readers.
A pie chart is an easy way to analyze stories. Think about the 2013 Oscar-winning movie 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years was probably 70% Education about slavery and the antebellum American South. 20% Enlightenment about the universal and timeless evils of slavery, particularly Brad Pitt’s scenes, though because of the topic the Enlightenment and Education went rather hand-in-hand. 5% Expression as it carried the emotions of the man who had the actual experience. 5% Entertainment. But really, it wasn’t meant to entertain, was it? It was designed to Educate and Enlighten and did that very very well.
Narrative non-fiction books tend to be mostly Educational. Many children’s and middle school books have Educational as well as Entertaining aspects.
Apply this formula to your favourite stories and the stories you are creating and see if you are emphasizing what you hope to convey. Does your story have an appropriate balance of the 4-Es?
To really engage your audience, never forget the E of Entertainment.
How can you deal with a specific time and place and events like today’s – be it a ripped-from-the-headlines tale or a way-back-when historical novel – and create a story that will resonate with things humans have to deal with in real life?
An excellent way is to align your story with one of the Mythic Challenges, based on the 15 Global Challenges as identified by the United Nations.
- Sustainable Development & Climate Change – How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?
- Clean Water – How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?
- Population and Resources – How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?
- Democratization – How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?
- Global Foresight and Decision-Making – How can decision-making be enhanced by integrating improved global foresight during unprecedented accelerating change?
- Global Convergence of IT – How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?
- The Rich-Poor Gap – How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?
- Health Issues – How can the threat of new and reemerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?
- Education and Learning – How can education make humanity more intelligent, knowledgeable, and wise enough to address its global challenges?
- Peace and Conflict – How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?
- Status of Woman – How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?
- Transnational Organized Crime – How can transnational organized crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?
- Energy – How can growing energy demands be met safely and efficiently?
- Science and Technology – How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?
- Global Ethics – How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?
We care greatly about the unique personal observations you make about the world around you and within you. As shown by the pandemic, the climate catastrophe, social justice challenges and more, it is undeniable that we are all connected in so many ways.
Story-tellers can shed light on some of the eternal mysteries of our existence that are brought to the fore in these tumultuous times.
Make your own descent into hell and your redemption into a cautionary tale, a way we can learn from your experience and not have to go there ourselves. The Greek tragedies were designed to show us what not to do.
Please do show us what you imagine for the future – utopian, dystopian, man vs. machine or man-is-machine, space travel, social justice, environmental health, sustainable peace – and give us some suggestions on how to deal with these things ourselves to help create the changes we want to see.
No matter the genre or style of your story, if you tell it well and connect to larger truths, you can draw us in, give us new insights, move us, and hopefully also greatly inspire us to positive action.
Pamela Jaye Smith
Check out Pamela’s class right here at SavvyAuthors!
- Show Me the Love with Pamela Jaye Smith – July 20th – August 9th
- Mastering Your Creative Process with Pamela Jaye Smith – September 21st – October 18th
SHOW ME THE LOVE! offers content creators of all genres, styles, and media a rich resource, new ideas, and a comprehensive, practical guide to using the dynamic and dramatic power of LOVE in all their stories.
Who is this book for? Novelists, Screenwriters, Playwrights, Directors, Actors, Directors of Photography, Production Designers, Composers, and Sound Designers as well as Development Execs, Producers, Publishers, and Marketers. Identifying, understanding, portraying, and communicating the core of emotion in a story is what entertains, enlightens, and educates your audience.
By knowing more about the psychological background of different types of love, by knowing how it has worked in myth, history, and current events, and by learning ways to express that type of love both in words and in visuals, you can make your stories richer and more memorable.