Getting Lost in a Story

I think many of us can agree that being drawn into a story is one of the greatest experiences we can have, and we have all had this experience at least once. I’m not talking about the “can you believe what Jan did this time?” kind of gossip story. I mean the stories that change us. The ones that last. That we connect with and cherish, oftentimes, for the rest of our lives. I’m also not just talking about books. I’m talking about stories in whatever form they may come. A movie, a TV series, a videogame, a podcast, etc. I’m talking about a story that grips you so tight you can’t even remember that the rest of the world exists. A story that you may develop a somewhat unhealthy obsession for (it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t understand). I want you to think about one of your favorite stories and consider why you like it as much as you do.

I’ll be talking about several of my own favorite stories, but before I jump in, I also want to touch on the phenomenon known as over-hype. You probably have experienced this as well. When your friends (and probably the internet as well) think that this one story is so good that everyone should experience it and all they do is talk about it and hound you about why you haven’t watched/read it yet and that you are missing out on a life-changing experience, so then one of two things happen; you watch it and think it is just “meh” because it was talked-up so much that it could never have lived up to the expectations your friends created, or you decide never to watch it on principle because apparently the entire world is obsessed with this story and you want to be one of the few that has never seen it just so you can shock people with your lack of social assimilation, but you then wait the appropriate amount of time where people stop raving about it so you eventually watch it because it’s supposed to blow your socks off but your expectations are still way too high from all the hype and you have self-imposed ideals about how this story should be the best ever written or you will only talk how you don’t understand why everyone liked it just to squeeze the remaining shock value about how you are unique for going against the grain.

Okay, rant aside, I think we all have been on both sides of these conversations at some point. The reason I bring this up is because stories have power we can’t explain, and that power mostly comes from us. Some stories get world-wide acclaim while others a “cult” following and probably a great many more are lost in the sea of available stories out there, waiting to be discovered as the treasure they are. I am currently reading a book that I think may have been over-hyped for me. I understand its appeal and do not dislike it, but I am not going to jabber about it with everyone who loves it as I often do about the stories I greatly enjoy.

Some of the best stories, or those that affect us the most, are those we happen upon ourselves without knowing anything about them. My most recent experience of this was in March of 2017. I was new to Twitter and was scrolling through things and found this video of an author being interviewed about her new book. She was being interviewed by another author and they were simply talking about books so of course I was interested. I remember they both seemed like great people. The interviewing author was Patrick Rothfuss. I had heard his name before, but knew nothing about his books. I continued to know nothing about them but I eventually picked up his first novel The Name of the Wind, and I absolutely loved it, and the sequel, and the related novella. I am patiently waiting for the next book. I read all of his works within a month (which is quick for me considering their size) because I could not put them down. I enjoyed the story so much it was all I could and wanted to think about. I later came to find out that thousands of others had the same reaction. Many have read his works several times over. I will definitely read them again and they will remain on my bookshelf all my life for myself and others to enjoy. I’ve also gone beyond recommending this book and given a copy or two away to friends. I try to think I showed great restraint by not over-hyping this book to them so they could enjoy it in their own way. Most of them have and being able to share the experience of the story makes us better people.

Not only does enjoying the same story make it easier to start a conversation, it also opens up our understanding of other people. After all, friendships are often built on common interests. Studies were conducted that showed evidence that reading Harry Potter instills empathy. The article “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” discusses these studies and their relation to empathy.

Vezzali [stated] that fantasy may be especially effective in assuaging negative attitudes because the genre typically doesn’t feature actual populations and thus avoids potential defensiveness and sensitivities around political correctness.

I think that getting lost in stories, not just Harry Potter, does make us more connected and increases our ability to understand others. Stories can be an entirely new experiences that show us things we’ve never seen and makes us see, feel, or think about things we never had before. They takes us to far away places and on grand adventures.

These types of stories are not limited to any one medium. I am a gamer as well as a book fiend. I often say I play too many videogames because I need to write more to create my own stories, but I grew up playing videogames and have formed bonds through them. One of my all-time favorites is the Legend of Zelda series. These games often follow the same outline, but they are all fun to play and have interesting characters. They often tackle serious themes about life. The series entry Majora’s Mask tackles the theme of death and loss. Connor Worley wrote and excellent article about this titled “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – A Story About Loss.” A recent YouTube video by Good Blood titled “Ocarina of Time – A Masterclass in Subtext” argues that the Ocarina of Time entry is the saddest of entry in the franchise (I promise not all of these games are sad, but stories must have conflict to entertain us). Ocarina of Time has its own history in the world of videogames and has fallen victim to over-hype over the years, but it stands as one of the best games of all time not only because of the story, but how it changed the world of videogames as a medium. It was innovative for its time and remains on a pedestal in many gamer’s hearts. Each entry in this series holds new surprises and more things to love. I’ve read many supplemental materials just to get more information about this world that was founded back in 1986 and the characters that have been introduced through its long history.

The Mass Effect series is another videogame franchise I greatly enjoyed. I first played it well after it became a huge hit and the third installment was set to release. I love science fiction and loved these games. Getting to explore an entire galaxy and defend it from invading, sentient robots bent on mass genocide was a blast. The characters were interesting and well-developed, your choices impacted the story-line, there were consequences for your actions. The time invested was a personal journey through the landscape of a fictional world. I was changed from that experience because I learned things about myself and I was able to use the experience to see this world differently. Most art has something to say about the world we live in. The Bioshock series is another story that I often remember and go back to.

Another aspect of falling in love with a story and its characters is the attachment we grow toward it. Many avid readers have their favorite books and authors, and I believe most of us bibliophiles have multiple copies of the same book in different formats, editions, or simply get new copies because the current one is falling apart from use. The same goes for movies and videogames. I have a few HD remakes of videogames and extended or director’s cut versions of films I return watch again and again. I also admit I have different editions of a few series simply because I am both a collector and love the story so much I like different copies. I have several editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and two editions of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

We grow attached to these stories and cherish them. They are a part of us. They have changed our lives to a point where we can’t remember what we were like before experiencing them. Stories make us better people. They make us experience the entire range of human emotion, and they make it easier for us to understand each other. What are some of your favorite stories? Why do you think you like them so much? Think about how those stories impacted your life beyond the page or the screen. Have you made friends from them? Argued about them?

What stories have changed you? What stories will you tell? When you are gone, what stories will you leave behind? After all, in the end, we are each of us only stories.

The Little Prince

About a month ago I wrote a book recommendation for The Little Prince. Last night, I watched Netflix’s film adaptation of this story with my wife, and all I can say is that it was fantastic. First, I was unaware of how many big-name celebrities were cast. The only one I knew before watching was Jeff Bridges, but there is also Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti, James Franco, and Albert Brooks. Second, this adaptation did not just turn the book into film. It created a story around the book while leaving the original story unblemished. The book and even the drawings are included. This movie uses the original story as a central them within a new story, and this new story works as a modern translator that I believe amplifies the importance of the original (or at least relates it to modern audiences). After all, the book was first published over 70 years ago when technology was just the first sprinkles of rain that would become the ocean it is today.

For those who read my original book recommendation, I stated I first discovered the book from watching the trailer for this specific film adaptation. I was intrigued by the story, so I went and read the book first. Then I eventually got around to watching the movie. I love them both equally. The movie follows the original text and uses the narrator as an actual character. Then, to my surprise, the movie goes beyond the end of the original story. Continuing it in a way that is both unexpected and touching. The film, overall, does exactly what the book does and maybe even better. It makes us remember things we used to know as a child. It makes us remember a very important part of life that we adults tend to forget while worrying about the many responsibilities we have.

Though the film is an animated feature that kids would enjoy. I think the story is really meant for adults. After all, there are no age restrictions when it comes to stories. Recommended maturity levels? Maybe. Some stories should be reserved until a child gets older, but you can never be too old to enjoy a story meant for younger generations. If you’ve never experienced this story, I highly recommend it in either medium.

I hope you find a few moments today (and every day) to stop and appreciate the world we live in. To forget the many demands on your time and breathe. Take in the world around you. There is so many places to find joy.

My Writing Year in Review – 2018

My writing goals for this year were:

  • Keep up my weekly Flash Fiction on this blog (and book recommendations).
  • Write a few short stories to submit to journals.
  • Finish my book.
  • Increase the number of readers (if possible/if I can make myself promote the blog).

I accomplished half of them. I did not finish my book (I hardly worked on it at all actually), but I kept at my goal of posting a new story and a new book recommendation each week resulting in 66 stories and 55 recommendations for the year. I wrote a total of 96,985 words for this blog this past year, which is why I will be changing things up in 2019. I did not write any short stories to submit to journals, but I did increase the number of readers (though I did not really promote myself). I nearly tripled the number of views for my blog, had four times as many visitors, and more than six times as many “likes” on my posts. Overall, it was an awesome year. For this, I say thank you. I appreciate everyone who reads my work or looks at my blog.

This next year I will not be writing weekly stories or recommendations. I’ll post recommendations randomly, most likely after I finish the book I recommend, which may be quite a few since one of my goals this next year is to read more books. I will be focusing on writing short stories for publication this next year. My goal is to get at least 5 stories accepted into journals by this time next year. These will be my only two goals. Anything I accomplish outside of them will be considered bonus objectives.

My non-writing accomplishments this year include getting engaged and married. I also found out I will be an uncle early next year (though this is not my accomplishment but it will be awesome). I also built some awesome bookshelves (see below) that are already full. I hope you had a great year and an even bet year to come.

As always, Happy Reading.

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No More Weekly Stories

I know, I know. I feel like I’ve just been spouting bad news about the changes I’m planning for my blog/writing, but I promise they are all for very good reasons. Just as I will no longer be writing weekly book recommendations, I am also ceasing the weekly flash stories as well.

“But Ryan, will you be posting anything on your blog?”

Yes. I will. I promise. I will just be posting less frequently. I will be changing gears and writing less flash fiction and more short stories, which I plan to submit to literary journals for publication. I currently have one story officially published. I hope to get at least five stories published in 2019 and write several more that may be published in subsequent years. This is all an effort to progress toward my goal of publishing my first book. It is all meant to help improve my writing as well.

This change is also not going into effect until 2019, so the weekly stories will continue through the end of the year. I feel as though my table of contents has grown to a suitable size to entertain you and new visitors should you ever look through the list. The same goes for recommendations. I’m not stopping completely, so I will continue to add more. I’ll still post random micro-fiction from time to time too.

I do actually plan to expand on several of my flash stories I’ve posted here and turn them into short stories. Many of my flash stories were concepts that I think deserve more attention. I know which ones I like the most, but I am definitely open to suggestions. If you liked one of my stories and want to see more of it, leave a comment with the story title.

Goodbye Patreon

Yeah, I’ve canceled my Patreon on account that I had no Patrons and I could never bring myself to hide any of my work behind a pay wall. These could be directly related, but I hope not. Essentially I was just posting my stories on another media account that didn’t have any followers, so I got rid of it to save me time and ease my conscience about possibly accepting money for my weekly stories. I know everyone says that you shouldn’t make art for free and all, and I agree with that statement, but my “art” in the form of flash stories is not something I think really deserves that kind of attention.

I do think that my work can get to a point where I can accept monetary compensation without feeling like a hack, and this may happen soon. I mentioned in an earlier post that I will be changing up my writing habits and goals for the next year. Again, I’ll be detailing these changes a little later. Though my long-term goal is to write books. Of course I’ll need to write my first one and see if I can sell it. Maybe one day I’ll get rich like Rowling and sell billions of books (I’m joking, honest, though I do dream about writing full-time).

Now, there are plenty of awesome people creating cool things on Patreon and this is in no way a post against the platform. I still donate to a few artists that I think are cooler than canned air and deserve more than the attention they are already getting. I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t because it is easy to get inspired by what people are doing there. The platform just wasn’t for me.

If you use Patreon, feel free to comment with a link. I’d love to check out your work. I’m also open to hearing why you may think Patreon is the best platform ever. I love good discussions.

I still link my stories to Facebook and Twitter, and I’m mostly active on Twitter if you want to have a conversation.