Making up stories

You know what? Writing consists largely of making up stories. And yet sometimes, one of those stories is so powerful that it enters our lives and changes them, becomes a part of them.

We sadly lost Terry Pratchett this week, and I’ve read many comments on the subject. He was a man who made up stories that entertained but also made us think, as he held a mirror up to our world and showed us with uncanny insight just how the world works.

One of the hardest storylines for me to absorb right now is the collection of stories he told about Death. Somehow, Death became a character with a job to do, and a personality of his own. He became, if not a friend, then at least someone familiar to greet us and to take us on our way when our time comes.

He has become such a clearly defined figure that thousands of people signed a petition asking him to give Terry back. And that’s where, for me, the line between real life and fiction blurs uncomfortably. Does it matter if we choose to accept a story as true and to live our lives as though it does? Does it make any difference? I personally believe that if you can make up a story that makes you feel better about a situation, then that’s helpful, as long as you recognise it as a story. The difficulty comes when you accept that story so deeply that you forget it is a story (please note that I’m not suggesting those people who signed the petition actually believed Death would receive it and reconsider; merely that it is tempting to believe it because it feels comforting).

There are other stories around us that have become part of our thinking as well. The family story, where something (often magical) happens to make people look at each other differently, experience each other’s lives, and at the end brings them closer together. The hero story, where the reluctant hero is forced into action and comes through triumphant, after many setbacks. The classic fairytales, where we understand that no matter how bad things appear to be for the heroine, it will all turn out well in the end.

These stories influence the way we see the world. We try to impose our own stories onto random events, or expect things to turn out a certain way. We feel cheated if we don’t get our happy ending. Terry Pratchett’s narrativium lives on.

In the end, we all write our own stories. Some write them better than others. Some can share their stories. Most stories have little effect, but the more powerful ones can change a life.

Is it wrong to want to write one of those stories?


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