Friday, October 07, 2005

Trivial Stories

I've been reading Storyteller, the book by Kate Wilhem about Clarion that I mentioned a few days back. I just read her chapter on "trivial" stories, stories that she and Damon Knight forbade their students from ever writing again. The list is worth repeating here, since they make up a significant fraction of stories new fiction writers create.*

  • The "Poor Me" Story: My life is so hard, nobody loves me. No one wants to read a pity story.
  • The "I'm Wonderful" Story: Same deal, no one likes to read story about how good the protagonist is.
  • The "Gotcha!" Story: A story that fools the reader -- and usually makes the reader feel foolish. No healthy person pays to be made fun of.
  • Anecdotes: A small incident told at the water cooler with no meaning outside of the incident itself.
  • The "Fantasy Lover" Story: The perfect lover of your dreams (literal or otherwise)
  • Travelogue: Here's what we did on our trip...
  • The Problem Story That Isn't a Problem: Do I eat chocolate or vanilla ice cream today?
  • Dreams or Drug Trips: If nothing is real, then the story has no purpose.
  • Fan Fiction: Even if you change the names, it's still fan fiction.
  • Intentionally Incomprehensible Stories: We don't really care how smart you are.
  • The "Please Help Me!" Stories: Make the story about the person in distress, not the person who helps

Kate is pretty harsh in her descriptions of the stories her students submitted that belong in these categories and with good reason. These may be well-written from a technical or even a literary standpoint, but they aren't publishable -- no one really cares about the story, so they sure won't pay to read it. Kate's students apparently complained that there weren't any other stories to be written, but I think we can all see that's not true. All stories have been told. I think there are very few truly new ideas out there, so the trick is to put your own unique stamp on universal themes. Some stories will always resonate with meaning for us.

And some are just trivial.

*For the curious, I'm guilty of writing the "Gotcha!" story. Oh well, I thought it was clever at the time!

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