Each month I offer my students a PDF that explains general guidelines for how to end a story and suggests what you shouldn’t do. I also provide them with a link from Strange Horizons about Stories We’ve Seen Too Often. It’s a long list and I love it because of how hilariously detailed it is. Number 50 is one I see particularly often. I go through it every few months just to laugh a bit and to see if they’ve added anything new. I have a pretty short list of stories I prefer my students not to write unless they can come up with a really unique twist. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve been thinking about it recently because last week a student contacted me to discuss her story ideas and asked me what kind of stories I like. It took me off guard for a moment because no student has ever asked me that before.
After a couple of beats I told her that I like human stories, which are essentially stories where two or more people have an interaction and their interactions change them in some way. Lately I’ve been watching the new HBO series The Newsroom. It’s basically about a group of newscasters delivering the news. Yep, that’s it. But it’s more than that, of course. It’s an Aaron Sorkin show, so the characters are sharp, quick-witted, and rather verbose. I have to admit that there are times I have to re-watch scenes to catch all the nuances of the things that happen between the characters in the show. The show revolves heavily around the relationships, both romantic and friend-based, between the characters and how the things they do and say to each other changes them. This also goes for Mad Men, which of course, is extremely character-driven and nuanced in its dialogue and character interaction. These two shows are great examples, in my opinion, of some of the finest television writing I’ve ever seen. The shows don’t (or rarely) ever rely on outside forces to create tension. As always, of course I also have an appreciation for shows that do rely on outside forces to create tension, like The Walking Dead and True Blood, but that’s another blog post for another day
So, this all makes me wonder why there’s such a heavy push from students to write the kinds of stories that appear on the Strange Horizons list. Of course I’m not naive enough to assume that every student I have is passionate about creative writing or has any interest in being a writer, but I’d say that a good 85% of my students really do strive to write stories they can be proud of regardless of their interest in the subject. I’m also not naive enough to not recognize that one of the reasons that the kinds of stories on the list are so overdone is because they’ve been done so much that they now provide easy formulas. Are there other reasons why people clamor to write things we’ve seen over and over again? Can we rally for more human stories? How can we write human stories that aren’t “boring?” Good examples of successful human stories? I’d love to hear your thoughts.