Telling Stories about Failure

I binge-watched the entire third season of Orange is the New Black. If you don’t know, it’s a TV series on Netflix about a women’s prison. Kind of a dramedy. The first couple of seasons were fun, but typical TV fodder–stories about peoples’ lives–their betrayals, loves, and ways of finding meaning in life. But in this season it seems like the writers doubled down and really went for it, making a serious statement about the for-profit prison industry in America. To me, this is the kind of writing that exemplifies why storytelling is important. Stories, told well, can make a statement without ever outright saying, “Here is what’s wrong with the world.”

Some people chose to write their memoirs in essay format–something I’m going to address in my blog on today–but there isn’t any need to lecture when you can tell a story that helps people see the issues for themselves. It’s the classic example of “showing” rather than “telling.” The human brain enjoys figuring things out, and that’s a big reason why we love stories about people, no matter who they are. We see their lives and either see ourselves in them, which helps us realize that our problems are universal.  We can also see other peoples’ lives and realize something about the world: in this case, how profoundly people are affected by a capitalistic approach to “correctional facilities”–something we may never have thought about before.

The writers on this show don’t have to have a character stand up and give a speech about the immorality of profiting from others’ misfortune–that would be so obnoxious–they simply show these peoples’ lives and you get it. The characters’ lives could be portrayed a million different ways, but the way the story is told, using a particular viewpoint, you get the story from the angle they intend. You are influenced to understand the world from a certain perspective, because of the perspective used to tell the story. This is the power of stories. And, memoir ghostwrtiing clients and potential clients–this is the reason why you don’t need to insert an essay or speech into your story to make your point. And, this is why your unique story and viewpoint is interesting to people, even if you’re not famous or highly accomplished. Orange is the New Black illustrates how a story about failure can be just as hard hitting to the reader (or watcher) as a story about success.

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