If you want sense, you'll have to make it yourself. —Norton Juster
One day, several years ago, I was walking down the street near my house when I got hit in the head with a cookie. It dropped out of a very normal-looking maple tree.
A man was walking toward me and I said, “Did you see that? A cookie fell on my head!”
And he said, “Yeah,” like that happened a lot.
It was a vanilla creme, in case you were wondering. I later realized that a squirrel must have dropped it. But...what did it mean? Why am I telling you this story?
For one simple reason: This story proves that, sometimes, weird things happen for no good reason.
And that’s the difference between narrative and life—narratives make sense. We choose moments from our lives (in narrative nonfiction) or in our characters’ lives and arrange them in a particular order in the hope that our readers will take meaning away from the course of events.
An apple fell onto Isaac Newton’s head and he suddenly understood gravity. The story has meaning because it links cause and its effect on the character. My cookie? Not so much.
As we think about characters’ emotional journeys, we see that events can lead to personal change. This is why writing is so powerful—in choosing these events, we pull back the layers on the ways that human beings interact, grow, decay, and influence each other.
It’s how we give events meaning.
Perhaps this week you’ll spend some time reflecting on the events that have made you the person and writer that you are today. What was your figurative cookie on the head?
PS: And if you’d like to simply play with the sounds of words rather than their meanings, this week’s writing exercise is all stuff and nonsense.