Story Telling At Its Finest…. by Nancy Brophy

As writers we are observers of the human experience. Last week I attended a conference where I heard one man’s experience.

The man telling the story was forty, a former athlete, nice looking, smart and funny. He’d been raised by a single mother. In his life he’d been successful in some careers and not in others, but finally had found true success in the past few years and was now making over one million dollars a year. The portion that fascinated me was how his life had changed.

He was proud of the fact he was able to send his nine-year-old son to some sports camp that cost $5000 a week. And the kid, who loved sports, was excited to go. Not terribly long ago, his son along with his best friend approached the father. It was the best friend who had a question. Both boys stood there, with the man’s son urging the other boy to speak. The father knew this was important so he waited patiently until the boy managed to get the words out.

The kids wanted to go to the sports camp together. The father hesitated unsure of his role and eventually said. “I’ll give the camp information to your parents.”

The boy shook his head. “I’ve already given it to them. They said they couldn’t afford it. I was hoping you would pay for me.”

The father was fond of his son’s friend, but even so, he said no. It wasn’t due to the amount of money. The money probably wouldn’t have meant anything to him. But later he told his own son that his friend had two parents who had to make their own decisions raising their child.

The ending of this story surprised me. As he began I thought this would be another “look how fabulous I am now that I have money” epistles. Believe me I’ve heard lots of these stories. Isn’t this the American dream?

Over the past week I’ve thought about this story a lot. How would I have handled it? The generous instinct would be to say sure, but actually I thought the man handled the situation with more grace and dignity than I would have managed. Plus he made the right decision. But it took me a long time to reach this conclusion.

We don’t know the other parent’s intention. What if it had been to teach their son the value of money? Furthermore, we don’t know if money was the actual problem. Charity, even needed, does not sit well with all.

I met for dinner with Authors Susan Lute and Kim Wollenburg, w/a Cassiel Knight a couple of nights ago and told them I planned to blog about this story. Kim asked, “how does it pertain to writing?”

As humans we have told stories, both written and oral for thousands of years. Behind every good story is a twist that makes the listener/reader pause. This story stayed with me because of the unexpected conclusion.

Reader’s inhale one story after another and toss each book aside. Nothing wrong with the writing, but the story lacked something. As evidenced by a week later when the reader can’t recall a single detail that made that story stand out – the  twist that stays in the mind.

Uniqueness is what breaks us out of the mid-list and makes the author’s skill memorable. This is what we are all trying to achieve and why our education is never finished.

And this is why I write.

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Posted on May 26, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Maggie Jaimeson

    Interesting story and it definitely makes one pause to think. In terms of writing, I think as writers our characters have to learn and grow. They have to work for their successes. If we let them succeed too easily–saved by knight in shining armor, saved by sudden appearance of magical power with no downside–it becomes a forgettable moment.

    In terms of the actual story you told, I do not react as positively to the father’s response. It seems to say that the parents may be “choosing” between two equal things–sending the child to summer camp versus sending the child to music classes. Having been one of those kids who was too poor to go to summer camp, or take dance lessons, or music lessons, or even buy new clothes for school the next year, I appreciated opportunities provided me by others. People at our church provided wonderful hand-me-down clothes. Other people provided money to my family in several instances–for medical bills, for summer camp, to buy Girl Scout equipment when we couldn’t get a hand-me-down.

    It was not a matter of my parents making a choice not to support me or my siblings. It was not a matter of them making choices to do something else that was of equal or less importance in someone else’s mind. It was a matter of my parents making a choice to put food on the table or to pay the rent/mortgage.

    I never asked for these things. I knew we couldn’t afford them. But my friends or other adults did ask on my behalf. The one thing my parents insisted on, whenever I was helped by someone else, was to return the favor and help that person in some way. It could have been cleaning their house, babysitting their kids, doing yard work, scooping dog poop, any number of things. But I was happy to do it. I was so very grateful for opportunities I never would had otherwise.

    So my ending to your story is to offer to pay the kid’s way in return for something–like a chore. This helps to teach the value of money and time, but it still provides a means for the child to experience summer camp. In the same way, in our stories, I think it is important to have a way for the character to move forward instead of shutting them down completely. Yes, nothing comes for free–but assuming motives on anyone’s part and making decisions based on those assumptions is always dangerous.

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    • Maggie – I see your point and that was my instinctive reaction also. However, the longer I thought about it, the more I discarded that. This man has lived in nice neighborhoods even before he started making big bucks. I’m seriously doubting his son’s friend is living in need. and this man was raised by a single mom so I think he understood your prospective. Had that been the case I suspect he might have made a different decision.

      I have another friend whose husband is one of the executives at Intel. Without knowing the amount he makes I suspect it is in the multi-millions, but his wife was truly pissed when the principal at their twin son’s school told them to call him when they got home on their 16th birthday to tell him what was in the driveway. Implying that of course the parents would have purchased cars for the boys. There was no way the parents would have supported that set of values and were furious the principal endorsed it.

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  2. I think you’ve hit on it, Nancy. As writers, it’s our job to give the reader that “something” that makes her pause for a moment and reflect – doesn’t have to be a life-changing moment, but, as you said, a twist to the story. Great post!

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