If you’re looking for advice on how to write a compelling narrative, this isn’t the post for you. This post outlines my struggle with what it means to write a compelling narrative. Confused? I’ve read a lot about the subject recently. It seems that every social media “expert” agrees that you need a ‘compelling narrative.’ As an artist, that is even more true, and not just for social media purposes. The problem I have is that when these experts say “compelling” what they really mean is “be a victim of something.”
Being a victim of something is compelling. Disagree? You’d be in the minority. People love to root for someone who has had to overcome illness, war, abuse, addiction, etc. No one likes rooting for someone who has everything going to for them and always has. By and large, we love train wrecks. If the train wreck turns around and does something positive, we love them all the more. I’m quite sure if I went digging around, I could easily find a few dozen (or hundred) psychology and sociological studies to back me up on this. Since I’m lazy I won’t….but not just because I’m lazy. Look at reality TV, especially the singing competitions. Reality TV loves a sob story. Why? Ratings. Nothing gets ratings faster than a show with at least a few people who have the sob-story (victimhood) narrative. People will tune in week after week to root for their favorite
victim contestant. Those victims contestants get profiled in all sorts of media outlets because we, as a society, can’t get enough tragedy especially if that tragedy has a talent of some sort. I would like to fault the human race for being drawn to train wrecks but what good would that do? No good ever comes from ignoring reality, and reality is very clear in its love of sob-stories.
What does this have to do with me? Are you thinking that I must be going on this little rant because my life has been nothing but roses and fairytales? Well it hasn’t been. Those who have been told even a small part of my life’s story insist I should write a book. A lot of crappy shit has happened in my life. A whole lot of victimhood lies in my past. And that’s the problem. While my shitty life would make the stuff of good compelling narrative it would be tale of victimhood and woe. I don’t want that to be my narrative. I don’t live in my past (or at least I try not to) and I don’t want every person who sees my art to even remotely think about the crap I’ve lived through. My art isn’t about my life. My art isn’t about me. My art is just supposed to be simple, decorative, affordable art that looks nice on your wall.
Unfortunately that means I having nothing ‘compelling’ to put in my narrative. By not talking about all the things I was put through, lived through, and live with, people can’t “get behind my brand (me).” At least according to the experts they can’t. I spent two years at The Ohio State University studying psychology and I would say to those experts: “you’re right.” That’s the worst part. I know the experts are right. I know that people love tragedy. I know people love a good victim. I just refuse to be that victim. Does that mean that I’ve doomed myself to failure? Honestly, I have no idea. The experts would probably say that, at the very least, I’ve made it 1,000 times harder to succeed.
What is my narrative then? Right now it’s kind of a mess on a good day, and probably a bit sanctimonious on a bad one. For the latest rewrite, I’ve highlighted the two successes I’ve had in my life: a non-profit center I co-founded & a retail store I used to own. Sounds good right? On paper (or screen technically) maybe. There was all kinds of other crap happening that made those two ‘accomplishments’ go down in flames – but not because they failed. Both were very successful. They failed because I was a victim of people and events I don’t talk about. Until 2016, they were not apart of my “narrative” because I didn’t think I could find a way to ‘spin’ things in a positive light if I was asked about them. I didn’t want to find myself having to discuss things that are, frankly, no one’s business. Unfortunately, I need to put them in the narrative because, from a business standpoint, they add a bit of credibility to the blog – and to me. But I still don’t want to talk about them in any detail.
Having struggled with this notion of needing a compelling narrative for some time now, I wondered if other artists, creative types, bloggers, etc also struggle with how to write their narratives. Unfortunately I have yet to find any advice for writing a good compelling narrative that doesn’t strongly suggest, if not outright state, that you should play up the adversity in your life. Have you? If so, I’d love to read it! Leave your links or advice in the comment section or send me an email!