What Makes a Story Compelling to You?

Searching in The Word

Searching in The Word for a Word

The Compelling:

“The Time I Let Myself be Taken Captive—Because I Didn’t Want to be Rude” by Megan Iacobini de Fazio caught my attention with its title. I identified with Fazio not being rude to my own detriment and already dreaded where she was going with it. I figured her outcome was good because she was writing about it. With a likable narrative voice, Fazio’s descriptive essay (with the help of the images from the nightly news) allowed me to ride with her through the northern Iranian landscape.

Fazio dealt with the issues at hand—the language miscommunication she was having with her taxi driver and the country’s gender roles, as in who gets to demand what quandary. Even after Fazio escapes, she lets us process with her the trail of responses she had in retelling this nightmare—from her first response to let it be a humorous travel piece, to realizing how she almost risked losing her life with her mother’s tearful response. The lingering effects included how small rooms painted white made her uncomfortable  “that I’m forced to admit it was more than just another funny travel anecdote.”

Her lessons learned? She now feels more comfortable shutting down pushy men and is more accepting of herself if she comes across angry (even when onlookers don’t understand her strong response). She’s ends by admitting reluctantly she is still polite when someone strikes up a conversation when all she wants to do is read her book.

The dominant impression is this live-action nonfiction pulled me in like any riveting fictional work with its exposition, narrative hook, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. The conflict was woman vs. man and woman vs. self. The dialogue advances her story, and she offers us character development to her already multi-dimensional role as  protagonist. She takes responsibility for letting down her guard; she learns and grows from the experience. For those weeks that followed her escape, Fazio walks around with a bounce in her step happily humming Destiny’s Child’s “I’m a Survivor.”

The Non-compelling:

The first Narratively piece I read was “The Extravagant Pair of Shoes that Brought Me out of Mourning” by Devorie Kreiman. I assumed I would immediately empathize and hurt for the author. Parents aren’t supposed to lose their children.

However, I felt nothing throughout, hoping with each new paragraph Kreiman would pull me in, help me know her and her journey through grief. My dominant impression was I got through it and was left empty—no real insight, no character development for her flatness, and the writing style left me wanting. The author hasn’t attended any events since her son died in a scuba diving accident. She lets us know it was his fault for not checking the equipment. It was six weeks before his wedding.

While in Heathrow airport meeting her daughter, Kreiman sees a pair of beautiful shoes and thinks about them, for months. She buys the shoes on sale at $1600 and lies to those around her, daughters and husband, about its actual purchase price. Kreiman wears the shoes that are a bit tight around her toes to her first outing—a wedding. After reading this story, I was reminded of the times I’ve watched a movie and realized at the end, I’d never get back those two hours I just wasted.

One Story Made all the Difference:

Reading the Iranian traveler’s piece after the extravagant shoes essay filled in those holes. I related to Fazio and her polite ways. She drew me in with the geography and its views about women and the danger she was in. Fazio even juggled with how much danger she was in. Was it enough to justify leaving her favorite plum Birkenstocks? “The Time I Let Myself be Taken Captive—Because I Didn’t Want to be Rude” was smart writting. With only a sentence here and there did I derive her character development, her realization of the way that perilous captivity traumatized her, wizened her and gave her a new spring in her step to be alive. She followed the Narratively guidelines to engage the reader through active storytelling.

My Compelling or Non-Compelling:

As I juggle with three essay subjects for this week’s project, I imagine what the readers might find entertaining, inspirational, educational, humorous, riveting maybe, best of all, worth their while. How much should I share or simply allude to? Will my tongue-in-cheek asides crack a smile or simply distract? Or will I come across sappy in lieu of sincere?

We each narrate our stories with our own distinctive voices. Do I trust my voice and my expressions? Not always. What I like, you might not. That’s why I have to be open to others’ constructive suggestions. With practice and time and an ear to the ground, will we learn to tweak our misleading miscommunications? Personally I don’t think we get better at something just by doing it over and over again. If I’m playing golf or the piano, I improve by doing what has always worked–the tried and true. Once I’ve mastered the basics, then I can break the rules with those rules always in mind. So I practice smart and hopefully write smart too.

This post is part of an assignment for an ADV RHET class at UALR. 

7 thoughts on “What Makes a Story Compelling to You?

  1. I am struck by the varying opinions of classmates reading the same Narratively essays. What resonates for one individual falls flat with the next. As far as creating your own narrative, write what feels right, What resonates with you will find its audience.

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  2. I liked the “Shoes” essay but I can see where it seemed flat. The pace throughout did not vary. We didn’t stop long enough when she tried on the shoes. And I think the title feels a bit like false advertising…those of us who have been through mourning (which is really all of us) know that we can’t just “bring ourselves out of” mourning because mourning will happen with our without our attention to it. Shoes can’t bring someone out of mourning (even though we would like them to, which is why we might be drawn to read this essay).

    What also struck me was the insistence that she “wasn’t the type of woman” who would buy or wear these shoes. I think she could have said that once early on and then moved on.

    In short, this could be a great story with about one more polished revision and some detail to narrative time and space.

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    • Oh, good. I’m glad you saw that, too. You’re right. With just a few tweaks, her narrative could have taken on more meaning, symbolizing her choice to live forward and live larger because of her loss from a child who should still be alive.

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      • I couldn’t imagine losing a child. I wonder if part of the issue with the writing is that she wasn’t done with the mourning and couldn’t really look at it yet even though she wanted to be done with it. Have you ever read Magical Thinking by Joan Didion? That is a woman writing in the midst of mourning.

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        • Yes, I know. Sadly, losing a child happens even when we think we’re doing all the right things. That’s when parents become advocates to battle against what has robbed them–against the disease, drunk drivers, abusive situations. Your comments helped me realize how this mother had to face the fact that “IF” her son had just checked his scuba diving gear, then she could have attended his wedding (inexpensive shoes and all). She wouldn’t have to be living in this limbo she can’t move out of. In contrast, the second story I read was so compelling that I felt like I was in limbo with the mother and her expensive shoes. Of course, I’m not a shoe shopper, and I only buy comfortable shoes and keep them until they fall apart. I would be trying to decide if I should try to save my plum Birkenstocks. Maybe being a shoe lover might have intrigued me more! 🙂

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