Stories that fully harness the significance of their narrative are better. Why? Because people crave meaning! Our lives are not necessarily made of up inciting events and climactic moments, but these are the very things we look for in stories. It satisfies a basic human desire for narrative.
The most important thing you can be doing in your stories (other than reading and writing a lot) is to answer the question: what is my story about? A story that captures this will go further and just be plain better.
Think about it. A story without greater significance isn’t a story at all. It’s a description of a situation. Your characters did this. Then they did this. Then this.
Why should I care? As a reader, what’s in it for me?
So when I say “really captures the story,” I’m not just talking about a cool situation. I’m talking about the significance of that situation on our lives, as well as the lives of your characters. That’s a story.
Just a quick note: I’m using the terms, meaning, significance, and theme interchangeably.
But how does one discover the meaning in his story? If I knew, I’d tell you. However, I can give you a few tips and tricks I’ve found to be helpful when trying to find out what your story is about.
1. Don’t think about theme at all while you’re drafting.
I know that might sound strange, but it actually makes perfect sense. In the words of Mr. Stephen King himself, “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do.” (On Writing, 163).
Theme arises organically. If it doesn’t, it will come across as being contrived. That’s bad. So, when writing your story, focus solely on the writing. Sure, you might have different ideas that come up along the way, and that’s fine, but it’s always the writing that comes first.
2. Spend time away from your story, thinking about it.
Or not at all. Ernest Hemingway famously said you should never think about the story when you’re not working on it. Let your subconscious do the work.
The point is that it’s not always about the writing. After you start to get an idea of what your story is actually about, then you’ll start to notice themes, and by drawing these themes out, you might just end up with a full-blown story on your hands.
3. Be committed to finding the theme.
As a writer myself, I know it’s easy to write a situation and call it a story. If you’re satisfied with that, that’s fine, but I’m just telling you that you won’t be moving forward with your writing. It’s hard work sometimes. I’ve been working on some stories on and off for months, just trying to find what they’re actually about.
If you stay committed, it will get easier, and you will get better.
There’s only so much I can say. It makes much more sense when you read it for yourself, which is why you should be reading!
Two stories I think capture the meaning behind their respective situations better than any other are George R.R. Martin’s, With Morning Comes Mistfall and Ken Liu’s, Mono No Aware. Both were nominated for Hugo awards and Liu’s actually won.
The point of a story is to harness its greatest potential for sharing something profound, or good, or right. Do that and you will reach more, represent better, and live greater.