One of the projects I have assigned my Media Writing students in the past few years is to write a personality profile of someone they know, entitling it “My Most Unforgettable Character.” I challenge them–but don’t assign them, mind you–to find someone that on the surface may seem a bit boring and dig down deep into their life to find the interesting part of this character. I tell them that I believe everyone has a story to tell.
Part of that is because of my years writing stories about people. Often the quiet ones are the ones that have something unique about them that needs to be shared. But another part of it is because of what I know based on my academic research.
Sociology tells us that our beliefs and our values are based on the myths that we have been exposed to in our lives. From a sociological standpoint, a myth is not just an untrue story, which is the way most of us see it. People get resentful when I start talking about the value of Biblical myths in our lives. The stories are true, but whether they are true or not is not what is important, based on sociology. Myths are not just stories; they are larger than life stories that have a moral attached. Think about the sermons that you remember, and chances are, what you remember most of all are the illustrations that were used in the sermon. Think of Jesus’ preaching and count how many times he told a story. Why? Because stories stick with us, and stories about people translate across language and cultural boundaries.
My doctoral dissertation dealt with the myths associated with the Internet. My premise was that as big business got more and more involved with the Internet, they wanted to make sure people saw it as a profit-based center, rather than just something that shared information freely. And to do so, the myths associated with the Internet had to change.
But I digress. My point in bringing all this us is that I believe all of us–especially writers–have a story to tell. All of us have myths that we want to share, that have made a difference in the direction of our lives. And for writers, regardless of what story choose to write, that myth or myths will be pervasive in the stories we tell.
I just got done reading three books by Cormac McCarthy, who reminded me a lot of Ernest Hemingway. Now I am reading a biography about the last years of Hemingway’s life. Both men took pessimistic views of the world, and both men put a high value on personal courage. Much of both of their writing had the hero taking a courageous stand at the end of the book, but in the end, the world prevailing. It’s a bit depressing, I know, but that is viewed by critics as literary genius.
My prevailing myth–at least i think it is–is that Christianity is the Great Adventure. Many young men believe that being a Christian is conforming to the rules and regulations that were expected of them all during their childhood. They see surrendering your will to God as a sign of weakness. From my personal experience, I know that that total surrender to God is anything but weakness. It is a mark of courage. It is stepping through a door into darkness beyond. Like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, it is stepping out over that void when you can’t see anything that will catch you below. It gives your life purpose, meaning, and excitement.
I say I think it is, because I also believe that the myth you follow and purport is more easily seen by those who watch your life and read your stories than it is by you. I believe in the Great Adventure, and I think it is the theme of my writing, but I say that only in retrospect.
In the end, it all comes down to stories. Think about the stories that mean the most in your life. They could have been personal experiences, stories from the Bible, or stories handed down in your family. The stories make you who you are.
So what’s your story?