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a: Where a good story begins


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#1 AgentModX

AgentModX

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 08:30 AM

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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