I think it was Hemingway who said that a story isn’t good/worth telling unless it pisses at least one person off.
I tried the verify the above claim, but the people at Hemingway Quote Finder haven’t gotten back to me yet (it’s been a few days since I asked them, “What was that Hemingway quote that said that a story isn’t worth telling unless it pisses at least one person off?”). How short my patience is that I would go ahead with this post anyway! Or how desperate I am to share. Or how bored I am to blog. (I can admit I’m bored now–when I was growing up, the words “I’m bored!” in our household led to…chores).
(Update: I just checked mail and found that they couldn’t find a quote like that by Hemingway. Whoops. Who said it, then? Did I just–make up my OWN quote?)
Anyway–I used the
Hemingway “quote” to reassure myself as I finished a short story a few months ago; it was a story I typed out with great inspiration. Every moment I spent writing it was like a physical workout: my heart beat fast, my muscles trembled, and at times I felt a fine tingling of sweat on my upper lip and forehead. A very simplified snapshot of the process: I took a family saga and made it the basis of a story–sure, it was inspired by life, but it became fiction. At first, I emphasized every character’s imperfections and the cruelty with which they treated each other. Then, the story took on a life of its own as the characters “grew up” and formed their own wills, much like children can do in real life.
The resulting story? It’s a re-telling of a family saga. An unflattering re-telling. It makes me nervous. I keep telling myself it was worth telling, worth pissing people off, because “a story isn’t good/worth telling unless it pisses at least one person off.” I love the story. I rarely love my stories this much. I’m sending it out, glad that literary magazines are not so widely read, and can be hidden from family members.
It’s harrowing to tell stories that would piss at least one person off. For someone like me who spends a lot of energy in my day to day life trying to be tactful and such, it’s both liberating and terrifying to unsheath my guts in storytelling.
So those of you who ask me, Am I going to be in your story?” You have no idea what you’re asking for. My mother-in-law once told me she wouldn’t read any of my stories unless they were about her. Boy, oh boy. A Famous Writer Couple (one of whom has won top awards in writing) once reportedly auctioned the following: that they would use the winner’s name as a character’s name in an upcoming book. There was a disclaimer though: that they had the right to use the name for any sort of character (read: you might not be flattered).