This week, I studied story–personal narratives, how stories shape our lives, how we tell them. Sounds like I might be taking a creative writing course, right?
No. Doctoral level nursing Theory Development.
Yeah. Theory Development. Sounds like a real snooze-fest, but it’s actually just about the best class I’ve ever taken.
It turns out nursing school is the greatest writing education I could have ever hoped for. Nursing has taught me about the human experience, the human body, and how humans respond to all sorts of situations–from birth to death, and everything in between. It’s taught me about modern science and medicine, cultural differences, traditional healing, spirituality, and how to interact with a wide variety of people. It’s taught me how to think in terms of parts and wholes simultaneously.
Plus, it’s given me many stories. Health, after all, is the story of our life–illness is a crisis and a transformative experience. As a nurse, you have to remember every day that a patient’s story started far before they came to your hospital bed–and will continue after. Even if the patient passes away, her story continues in the lives of her family and friends.
Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how many papers we have to write. Talk about honing the craft through practice…
But this post isn’t about nursing. It’s about story. Because here’s something I’ve fully realized this week, something that’s been floating around in me for years, though I haven’t been able to put my finger on it:
Story is more than a short story or a novel. It’s way deeper than that.
I know that must sound really simple. Duh, right? But as an author of fictional prose, I often forget this. In my heart, I know it–but my conscious mind overlooks it. In my struggle to find the right words…how should I shape the action of this chapter?–this character feels flat–I need more description right here, this paragraph is skinny–where’d my pacing go?…I forget about the reason I’m writing. I forget about the shared experience, the deep force that moves beneath the words and stirs our hearts. I forget about the story.
And I know it’s not just me, because when I go searching for explanations on story, I can’t find them. Suddenly, I have this passionate need to discover the essence of story, this thread that weaves through our lives and makes them meaningful. Everything is story. How can I tap that? But when I flip through my books on writing looking for an explanation of story, I get a lot of the same old stuff: Story is conflict and resolution. The story formula. The shapely story.
All of these books are about how to craft a piece of fictional prose that has a plot…but what is story? I know it’s more than a tale told through simple prose, because:
Stories can be poems.
Stories can be movies.
Stories can be comics.
Stories can be interactive.
Stories can be songs.
Stories don’t even need to have words.
So what, then, is story? I know what it is, in my heart, but my conscious brain wants to know.
I feel a journey beginning for me. A very big one.