Never Ending Story

Did you ever, as a kid, see the movie Never Ending Story? I may not remember it correctly, I saw it so long ago, but here’s how it rises in my memory. Bullies chase a boy. He whips open a door, rips up the stairs, gasping. Finds himself in an old bookstore. His tormenters pound by. Breathing heavily, he picks up a large ornate gilded book, its title in old calligraphy: Never-Ending Story. He turns the page. A big furry happy monster-dog bounds across the page. At this moment something interesting happens – the page shimmers. The movie backdrop shimmers. The creature steps out of the story, the boy steps in, climbs on its back and off they fly, the boy entering the story. Living it. It becomes his story.

I saw this movie when my now-grown-up kids were 2 and 5. I had just started writing. I was panicking about getting a story done for my next class, and so I plopped my two preschoolers in front of the TV to watch this video (yes, it was videos back then) on the recommendation of the Blockbuster (yes, Blockbuster existed then) clerk. My office had French doors open to the family room. I kept looking up. Watching for a moment. Two minutes. First thing I knew I had pushed my work aside and was on the floor, snuggled between my kids, immersed in the movie along with them. Because I’d had this eureka moment. That’s what I, as a writer, would have to do to hold my reader. Make her forget she is lying on the couch, should be doing her Physics homework, make her want to shut off that computer game. Get her to pick up my book, turn the page, step into the story. Live it. Create a movie rolling in my reader’s head.

How to do this? Clark Blaise says, “Readers who want to write should forget what they’re taught about themes and plot and all the rest. Stories aren’t written that way. We don’t want the simple writing of adventure. We want adventure in our way of writing.” And where do we find this adventure? In language. We do it with sharp specific attention to language – its sounds, its rhythms, the resonance carefully chosen words and images create, speaking between the lines. Listen. There’s Ben Marcus reminding us, “The terrible secret of stories is that they are made entirely of language.”  There’s George Saunders proclaiming, “The litmus test is language.” And Annie Dillard nudging us to  “Remember the spirit of a work is in its relation to language.  We don’t understand the pleasure that a painting or music brings us through rules. The effect of the artist is in how far these rules can be stretched, altered, reinterpreted, changed, broken.”

Terrifying. Exhilarating. Let’s do it!