True stories. Truth really is stranger than fiction. A great true story is often the best story of all, but also the hardest to craft.
Craft? Yeah, craft. True stories, life stories, autobiographical stories need MORE crafting than fiction. Why? Because it is an extremely rare thing for a person to clearly see their own story. The arc of it is often less than clear. The flaws that will become strengths are often misapprehended. The very shape of the story is missed in the haze of self-perception.
I once wrote a limited series about a soldier. A truly exceptional human being by any measure. There was already quite a bit of literature on his life already, but reading it? I didn’t know the man. I knew what he did, but not who he was.
All plot, no character.
So I flew to see him. To interview him. For a couple days. We ate, we drank, we told stories and we listened to stories. Yes, the best way to get someone to tell you their stories is to share your own. Self-revelation can be contagious.
But the first glimpse of the character arc for this person, was the first time I laid eyes on him. It was 9AM. He was standing on his porch, beer in hand. This man is a patriot. He is a soldier. He is a husband. He is many, many things. But that beer at 9AM told me there were scars. PTSD. All his adventures? They’re amazing. But they cost.
That was the story untold, the story that needed to be folded into his known exploits. The cost.
There are story arcs and there are character arcs in fiction. I can teach you a dozen different ones, all with their strengths and weaknesses. When you are crafting stories from peoples’ lives, you need to learn how to ask the questions that will illuminate the points in their arc.
Because after all, where did these character arcs come from? From people. People like you and me. Striving, overcoming, failing, succeeding, growing, stagnating…
Living. If you’re telling someone’s story, you have to look deep, and find the story they might not want to tell. And then tell it with honor, dignity, and compassion.