There is always a Story.

Sometimes it’s not a very interesting story. Sometimes it hides itself from you, and sometimes it’s so buried in the weeds of poorly conceived presupposition that you have to get out a metaphorical brush hog to make any sense of it all. But you can take it on faith that there is always a Story.

I’m a technical writer by trade. You would think the craft of technical writing is all about— well— technique. Marching one word in front of the other from the start to the finish, and making sure they all line up in the correct order. Choosing vocabulary and policing acronyms. Herding commas, nurturing semicolons, recapturing run-on sentences. Describing things. Mundane, boring, everyday things that require procedures and user manuals and progress reports. It’s not literature, or even journalism. I have built a career out of writing the kinds of books that nobody in their right mind will ever want to read [0].

But there is always a Story.

If you have ever driven along the Kansas Turnpike between Emporia and El Dorado, you have passed through Chase County. Chase County is notable for being a very large patch of nothing halfway between No and Where, east of BFE. Pull your car over, hike to the top of one of those Flint Hills, and it is literally empty space as far as the eye can see. To the undiscerning eye, there is no There there. And yet William Least Heat Moon dug deep into Chase County and found 640 brilliant pages of Story, which he published as PrairyErth in 1999 [1]. I do the same thing on a smaller scale practically every working day [2].

Humans are Storytelling creatures. Stories form the operating systems of our psyches and our culture. We don’t work right without Stories. Writing, even technical writing, is about discovering and revealing those Stories; to our readers, certainly, but first of all to ourselves.

Sometimes the Story I find is not the one I was looking for. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is not the Story I am being paid to write, and I must abandon it. And far, far too often there are critical pieces missing from the Story where no matter how much I research I am forced to throw up my hands and admit my ignorance. Count your blessings, fiction writers, and make offerings to your gods that you have the privilege of Making Shit Up!

In the end, it is always and only about the Story.

[0] It pays the bills.
[1] Go read it. I’ll wait.
[2] The rest of the time is meetings and dentist appointments.

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