I think we all have an innate sense of what makes a good story. I’ll take likable characters with interesting problems, and don’t forget the side of romance, tragedy, maybe a car chase or two, and an extra scoop of twisty turny surprise, please! The story of the sinking of the Titanic itself makes a pretty compelling story, but add a couple of unbelievably beautiful people from opposite sides of the tracks who fall madly in love just before the boat sinks, and whammo! You’ve got a blockbuster.
As writers, it is essential that we understand what makes a good story and that we write this way. Up the stakes, crank the tension, take away what your character wants most, allow the reader to connect emotionally. But do you ever find that sometimes this desire for a good story jumps off of the pages and into your real, actual life? It is tempting to want to take the pretty mundane happenings in our lives and make them just a little more entertaining. After all, it is our JOB to tell great stories! In a recent sermon at church, my pastor called this, “Adding cars to the pile-up.” It’s when the little fender-bender you saw on the way to your friend’s house somehow transforms into a six car pile-up when you tell them about it. We want a better story, so we “enhance” our experiences just a teeny-tiny bit to make them more captivating.
I totally do this.
“The lady in front of me at the grocery store paid in all coins!” (true) “She pulled out a ziploc bag full of a million pennies and it took half-an-hour for the clerk to count them all!” (reality: the quarters were rolled and she had to break open ONE roll of pennies to make the correct change. It took 5 minutes.)
“We were at the park and a dog started barking at Lily.” (true) “He didn’t even look like a dog, he was so big! And it was more of a roar than a bark, really. We should get a DNA test to confirm, because I think he was actually a lion.” (reality: he was just a dog, and not that big. end of story. but it sure is more interesting to say she was roared at by a mutant lion-dog at the park, don’t you think?)
Now I am all for some good old-fashioned hyperbole thrown in here and there, especially if it will get me a laugh. But where do we draw the line? I love a great story, but I think I love my integrity more. So I have to watch myself. For me…Mutant-lion-dog, probably okay since I don’t think anyone REALLY thinks they exist. But grocery-store-coin-lady? Might be straddling the line just a little bit. While I do love and embrace my storytelling nature, some things are better left on the page.
What about you? Do you ever let the storyteller in you take over the stories of your life? Do you ever add cars to the pile-up? And if everyone does it, does it really even matter?