There is a school of thought among romance authors that a writer must find her “core story,” and learn to tell the heck out of it. That’s the piece of the craft puzzle, so this theory claims, that opens creative doors; builds a big, devoted, readership; and leads to first-rate fiction. These authors will reliably tell version after version of their core story–small town lady crawls home (or off to Tuscany) to sort out her life after falling from grace in the big city, for example–and should they wander too far from that narrative, their readers will nudge them back onto the core story path.
I got to considering this notion of a core story this week… I threw in with the Mennonites in my thirties, for many reasons, and one of the first things that struck me about Mennonite culture was how it valorized persecution.
Mennonites read the Protestant Bible, but you can’t spend much time around us without hearing about The Martyr’s Mirror. This tome was the largest book printed in America prior to the Revolutionary War. Originally penned in 1660 and written in Dutch, it recounts a whole lot of official murder and misery inflicted on especially Amish and Mennonite believers. The stories and woodcuts are gruesome, and every Mennonite school child is exposed to them (or was until recently).
The book is more than 350 years old, but it is still venerated as an accurate recounting of the Anabaptist core story–not only its origins, but its current narrative. Not that we were victims of persecution, but that persecution is our fate, demanded by our faith.
That is, of course, not the sum of Mennonite theology–much of which I still embrace–but neither is it an aspect of the Anabaptist story that I want to move toward. I don’t think of myself as a core-story author, and seems to me a core story can be a very mixed blessing. On the one hand, that story can memorialize virtues and triumphs, on the other… Do we close doors by sticking to the old tales and expected endings?
I recall my mom attributing many of her own behaviors to “the potato famine,” from cooking way too much, to keeping an overstuffed junk drawer, to inviting anybody and everybody (including some people she should not have allowed into the house) to dinner. But my Irish ancestors were in comfortable circumstances during the potato famine, so why hark back to that tragic tale?
Does your family or employer have a core story? Do you like to read certain tropes and premises over and over? No giveaway this week–I’m donating to some charities active in Texas and Louisiana instead.