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Sunday, September 10, 2017

 

Where a good story begins

Last night I watched Mortified Nation, a documentary about live stage performances featuring adults reading aloud from their teenage journals and diaries. The program has been a huge success, and if you have Netflix and aren't afraid of some raw language, then I recommend you watch it because you'll laugh and cry and recognize your own teen-aged self in there somewhere.
The documentary moves from showcasing live performances to behind-the-scene discussions with the participants about how the stories work, and why. I once heard an editor say that no one wants to read about how perfect you are and how easy you have it. Readers want to see the ugly parts, the struggles, the things you want to hide.
Mortified Nation cuts through polite society to a place where kids are themselves, in their diaries, which is probably what makes it so popular. The stories are about shared experiences and universal themes: love, family dynamics, acceptance, happiness, and recognition. Coming from a teen-aged POV, the language is crude, but the ideas are familiar, simple, and often hilarious.
One of my favorites is the story of Bridgid, whose parents attended her performance not knowing what to expect. I'm sure they were a bit surprised and amused at her anger toward them, and the language used to express that anger in her diary. After the show, they were interviewed sitting in their upper-middle-class home discussing the term butt-crust. No one seemed to know exactly what that meant.
A story doesn’t have to be surprising or shocking to be memorable. Although we all have unique experiences, we have the same emotions, needs and desires. And that's where a good story begins, tapping into those universal themes. Some of them are just funnier than others, and a few will break your heart.


Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and her story Shirley and the Apricot Tree will be published this fall in Kansas City Voices. She also teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I will have to check out "Mortified Nation." It sounds like it's right up my alley...

You're right. If we tell a story that makes us sound like we're perfect and struggle-free, it's not only boring, it cannot be the truth.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Renee Roberson said...

So true, Mary. This is one of the areas where I struggle. I find it so hard to reveal the raw parts of me. But it is true that readers want to see the things we think we need to hide! Thanks for the documentary recommendation.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I love Mortified! I've watched some live shows but not the series. I totally want to do this. I have the most embarrassing (hilarious) diary entries from when I was in grade school and high school.

I don't know why, but lately I just want to share the most embarrassing or terrible things I've done. It's liberating!

2:11 PM  
Blogger Mary Horner said...

Sioux, it's really good, I think you'll like it. And Renee and Angela, I'm getting more comfortable admitting my mistakes and some embarrassing info, but not all! I wish I had diaries from middle school and high school, but I don't, and I'm sure it would be liberating!

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Pat Wahler said...

I didn't save a single scribble from my youth, so this sounds fascinating, Mary. I'll have to check it out.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Mary Horner said...

I'm the same, Pat. Don't know why, because now I save EVERYTHING!

12:13 PM  

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