Monday, September 28, 2015

The Most Important Story I Ever Wrote

There was a story I read at age nineteen that was only about four or five pages long. I don't really remember the story very well now, but what I do remember was that it had a powerful emotional effect on me. The ending was so poignant that I sat for a full minute just absorbing it. "Wow," I said, and kept saying. "Wow."

When I finally came down off this bit of amazement, my first thought was: "If I can write just one story, which can make just one person react to it like I just did to this one...I'll count myself a success. " Of course, I imagined that someday I'd have some brilliant, earth-shattering idea for such a story, and, knowing how pivotal it was going to be, I'd spend years carefully crafting it into: the most important story I ever wrote.

Life being what it is, however, that isn't how it happened. Not at all.

Here is how it happened: I was chatting online with some romantic story readers someone brought up romances between someone attempting suicide and the person who stops them. Such romances have always intrigued me, and I was captured by one thought of a girl on a bridge and a guy who stops her by asking her out on a date. Of course, she would have to accept or there'd be no story, but what would that date be like? And why would anyone step back from killing themselves to go out on a date?

Come to that, what had made the girl suicidal in the first place? I knew she had to be serious about this. Not depressed and attempting it, but intent on doing it with this pause in plans a mere day's reprieve. Otherwise, the story wouldn't really mean anything. And what about the guy? Why not grab her or try to change her mind? Why would she put her attempt on hold for him? And what appeal did she have that he'd do something so crazy as to ask her out?

Answers came to mind and the story, as they say, wrote itself. I almost felt as if I was watching the characters go on their date, and that I was getting to know them as they got to know each other. The date was prosaic, predictable even, in how it progressed, but the twist, the circumstances behind it and the two troubled people involved, transformed it into something more. On most dates the couple feels separate from the world, in their own little universe. These two didn't merely feel that way, they were that way. And the reader was right in that universe with them. Which explain what happened next. 

Not that I was expecting anything special. I wrote up the story, felt especially proud of my double-entendre title: "Till Dawn," then put it out for people to read.

Then I started getting feedback. Some of it was the usual: "Great story," and "Liked it, but..." etc. However, the majority of the feedback was completely different from any I'd ever gotten before. "I was that girl on the bridge--" one said, and "I'm Cal. I've felt exactly like him--" It seemed I'd found some universal truth in myself that I hadn't known was there. And then I got responses that really stunned me....

"I'm going through a terrible time in my life; this story helped me decide to go on living..."

Oh. My. Gosh. Had I done it? With this little, erotic romance? I'd written it with care and thought, yes, but not as if I was writing something that would transform lives. Yet it seemed it had transformed lives. Was this it? That story that had readers sitting there for a minute afterwards just saying "wow"?

I couldn't say for sure. What I could say was that after seeing such comments, I totally understood what it meant to feel that one's work had come to life and walked away. "Till Dawn" no longer belonged to me, it belonged to all those readers seeing themselves in it, finding powerful meaning in it.

That's when I realized what "the most important story I ever wrote" really is to a writer. It's the story that people say is the most important story they ever read. And I...I had written one of those for at least some people out there. Much to my surprise.

I certainly hope I have more such stories in me. Though they may not start out that way, they become as pivotal and life-changing to the writer as they are to readers.