The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Tell me a story

Those of us who were lucky had parents and grandparents who read us stories at night before we went to bed. I have no idea why the authors of my favorite stories wrote them, but those stories showed me an infinite number of cultures, situations, incidents, people, events, settings and stuff that excited me or scared me.

We all tell stories, I think. Whether it’s the grim afternoon of a funeral, the happy afternoon of a family barbecue, or people sitting around a bar or a pool, the conversation invariably gets around to “remember when” and “did I ever tell you about the time when we did such and such?”

Some people say our lives are stories and/or that we see our past as strings of events in story form. Perhaps so. I don’t know if fiction writers make up more stuff than people spinning yarns about the wild and crazy things they did years ago, but we do see the possibility of many things that may never have happened or might not happen in the future.

We take storytelling a step further than everyone else: we write down our stories and put them in books and magazines and hope the resulting derring-do, boy-meets-girl, police procedural or spy thriller finds readers who enjoy those kinds of plots. We may add magic or we may set the story in the future with technology not yet available.

Somehow, we all understand stories, and use them to understand each other as well as ourselves.

Somehow, we all understand stories, and use them to understand each other as well as ourselves.

Some authors have an overwhelming reason for writing what they write. They want to inspire people, point out the insanity or war, shine a light on racial problems, show strong people surviving hideous family situations, or explore challenges of the environment or the social or political scene. That’s okay, I guess, as long as the story reads first as a story and not an editorial with a bare-bones plot tacked on.

When people ask me why I write, my answers don’t usually satisfy them. If I were Stephen King, they might write down the same response as wisdom and gospel. As it is, I say I like playing make-believe with various kinds of characters and situations until I suddenly have a story with a reasonable beginning, middle and and end.

If you write, you might have different motivations.

One motivation that seems to be a waste of time is to have a goal of selling a hundred million copies of our books. If that’s a writer’s primary goal, I think they’ll have trouble writing their first salable book. And it it happens, I think they’ll need to be a very special kind of person to keep such sales figures from jinxing the next book they plan to write.

I’ll admit, it’s a bit discouraging to tell somebody–in response to the “what field are you in?” question–that I’m a writer, and then when they ask for the names of my books, they say, “never heard of them.” I don’t usually point out that most people also know very little about the names and titles of more than a few of the nation’s top writers. Those of us who read a lot, read books most non-readers have never heard of.

This is part of the business–people who’ve never heard of you and people who think you should have a really exciting answer to the question “why do you write.”

Even so, we’re the people who provide the words for the parents and grandparents who are there with a book when a child says “tell me a story.” No doubt, that is another reason why we write.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “At Sea,” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”


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4 thoughts on “Tell me a story

  1. One of my deep regrets is that I didn’t write down some of the stories my older relatives used to tell around the kitchen table or camp fire. They were treasures and now lost to time.

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