A few days ago I was forwarded one of those emails that’s really nothing more than a string of one-liners with vague theme that someone compiled into one email. We all roll our eyes when we get them, but if you’re like me you read them first, because often you can use a laugh, even if it is just a little one.
This email was titled Universal Truths. Some quick research has found these “truths” posted several places on the web. The most common list I found had 32 truths, but the list I got was pared down to 20. Having read the full list, whoever shortened the list I saw made good choices.
The list came in when I was editing a friend’s final essay for his English class, so the 3-minute distraction was welcome. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger. I’ll bet most of us can identify with that one. Or how about this one? You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day. So I read through the list, had a chuckle, then moved on and finished my line-by-line editing.
The next day, while clearing out my email, I ran across the email again. I decided to give it one last read before hitting Delete. And I’m glad I did. Nestled deep in the list was a little gem. I could build an entire writing course on this little gem.
I’m not going to give it to you yet, because I can already feel you rolling your eyes. But it would hardly be a first. There are volumes written about “Show Don’t Tell.” That’s one of those universal truths of writing that we all know (even if we don’t love it).
Ready? Here it is.
Bad decisions make good stories.
That could be a whole course on coming up with ideas. Throw together a couple of characters, make us care about one of them, then have her make a decision so bad the parent inside each of us threatens to rise up and rip the book to shreds…now try to get them out of it. Now of course the decision needs to come some source of inner conflict or outer force that makes the decision realistic, but a simple bad decision can lead to a wonderful story.
It’s as true in real life as it is in fiction. When moving across the country, my ex and I made one, very simple, but very bad decision (we chose a bad place to exit the interstate when moving through New Orleans). The results of that decision cost thousands of dollars, a 3-day delay, and almost cost a couple of lives. But I’ve told that story dozens of times over the years, and even though I always mean it as a drama, my audience winds up in tears. Bad decision. Good story.
Of course, not all stories revolve around a bad decision. But if you have an idea, and no matter which way you twist it, there just doesn’t seem to be a spark, try putting a boneheaded decision into the mix, and see if that starts a fire.