“We Need Stories”

I enjoy the tales we need to tell, the restless narratives that keep people from drinking bleach or jumping off bridges, the “inappropriate,” “over-the-top” stories that ruin you for polite literature. Those stories have the most at stake, everything you ever knew, everything you ever plan on knowing; dangerous writing compels gratitude for the things you didn’t know and never thought to think about. Dangerous literature can highlight the best parts of you, the final pieces that are not yet rotten, the placenta of childhood. Real, drag-out, no-holds-barred stories step outside of form and communicate on the level all writers crave access to, the subconscious. When real-life fables burrow holes in our heads and change the way we see the world, that’s when they become invaluable.

This article is me making a case for rough writing, the inescapable reality of first-time writers and tired one’s alike. I’m making an argument for why we need stories, especially the ones that aren’t pretty.

All we are-are stories, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the stories we adopt that tell us something about who we want to be. Not only do we choose the stories that define us we also believe in the path of least resistance; whatever we can find in the world to support the things we want to be true, that is where our loyalty lies. Our anecdotes as well as the parables we adopt, they all represent how we communicate with others, how we connect.

We are continually telling others a story about ourselves, where we work, where we went to school, where we hope to be in three years. Everyone is creating narrative daily, consistently convincing others that they are indeed taking part in this shared experience called life. The stories we tell that separate us from the status quo are the stories we can’t wait to unload.

As a writer, how do you know when a story is worth telling? How do you write something that people can’t get out of their head? The answer is simple; you write something you can’t get out of your head. It’s experiential, esoteric, messy; it’s happening around us all the time. Any attempt to dilute the potency of a subject for fear of it being too crass or too abrasive completely flies in the face of the reason you write or read in the first place. You have to tell the bloody truth, even when you’re making it all up.

The idea of making things up that are true may sound counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you connect with what makes a story relatable. A narrative about astronauts fixing the international space station is not worth finishing just because they are in zero G. The struggle and adversity are what lashes you to the story. You make the connection when you successfully convince your reader that you have felt pain or confusion or anger the same way they have. Your reader deserves the empathy it requires to keep them turning the pages.

When you write from the most human, fallible perspective, you start to see things in life that are just off enough to be interesting. What makes a story powerful is its ability to go from just words on a page to something so personal to you that you can’t put it down. It doesn’t matter how “inappropriate” the story is, it matters how much you relate to it.

If you want to write, then you have to give the story what it needs, no matter how off-putting it may seem on the page. You have to believe that we need stories and you have to believe that we need them uncut, delivered raw and still bleeding. Neatly trimmed narratives are for people who believe they are safe; you get to be appropriate because you live in a world that caters to your domestic mentality. When your day to day is some subdued, white-washed attempt to make it until tomorrow, then, by all means, be appropriate. Act appropriately. But, if you are like me, dying while you read this, so burnt out on trying to get to the end of a life that defines you as the domesticated house cat you are, then maybe it’s about time to be inappropriate. Perhaps when you’re hurtling through space on a giant, round rock with a bomb strapped to your back called mortality, maybe the most appropriate thing you can do is stop giving a shit about what’s appropriate or not and create something that shakes the mind of whoever reads it.

You’re a house cat just like me and being appropriate is what helps us blend into polite society. There is no time to be tame; when your job is to connect at all costs, you have to do everything in your power to prove you are in the ditch with your reader, just as dirty and hungry as they are.

Maybe the whole point of “inappropriate” fiction, is to lure the reader into a world brimming with all of their fears, a place filled with our modern day savages, and muskets. Everything the anointed few who spend hours jotting down notes, developing characters, killing off those characters, creating worlds, setting them on fire; maybe all writing is-is another excuse to connect to the strangers on the other side of the pages. Perhaps we need the stories we tell as much as we need the stories we adopt. Because, when you take away what makes the stories we tell real, you castrate them. You turn them into fairy tales with nice clean edges, clean edges that no one has ever seen before because they don’t exist. There’s a place for that type of storytelling, but there’s also a place for the kind of storytelling that comes from a first time writer who has just built up the courage to let someone read their words, messy or not.

Stories keep us here. They keep us telling them, changing them, making up newer rehashed versions with different casts and seemingly modern interpretations of the same problems. Everyone has experience communicating the kinds of stories that matter, the types of stories that put people on the edge of their seat, the kinds that make them laugh and feel significant. If you’re not writing because you don’t know what to say, then you’re missing the point. People don’t just want you to make something up; they want you to prove they’re not alone with a tale as imperfect as they are.

We need stories because all we are-are stories and not nearly pretty enough to deserve a fairy tale.

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About Rush Eby

Rush Eby is an American writer and novelist based out of Franklin Tennessee. He spent his early adulthood traveling through Europe and Asia before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps infantry where he attained the rank of Sergeant. He has worked as a ghostwriter and copywriter. His first novel Eat Me is currently in pre-publication, and he is now finishing his upcoming book, Fetish.