Being able to relate to a story is important for writers and readers alike. We’ll start reading a book in hopes that the story will be intriguing and that it will hold our attention. While we want those things, what we really want is to be able to relate to a character or a situation. If we can connect to the character, then we can connect to the character’s plight. And if we can connect to those two things, then we will care about what is happening to the character and we won’t want to put the book down.
As a storyteller, the goal is to find that connection. I call this the Common Thread. This is when the writer and the reader can relate to the same thing, there is a common thread between them that links them through the story.
The Common Thread starts with the character, building him/her, making him/her either sympathetic enough to love or evil enough to hate. It’s not easy, but with the right amount of back story, emotion and trials it can be done.
When I sit to write a story I do so to create a character I like (or don’t like, depending on the topic). I give that character flawed traits on purpose. I give that person thoughts and feelings that I believe are real and that people can relate to. Relating to the character equals the common thread. I try not to say, ‘he felt sick.’ Instead, I try to tell you how he feels—the cool of the skin from sweating, the aching of joints from a fever, the itchy nose from a cold, the sore ribs and throat and chest from vomiting. If the character has a broken bone, it’s a sharp, instant, to the core feeling that ‘he broke his leg’ just doesn’t quite tell the story.
But feelings, both physical and emotional, aren’t the only things that make a story or what solely connects the character to the reader. The character has to have an obstacle to overcome or to fail trying. There is always an obstacle. Always.
If you’ve read any amount of my work, then you know there are some common themes: Abuse, both physical and emotional, childhood, homelessness, broken people and solitary souls. These are all subjects that most of us, if not all of us can relate to. These are, in many ways, our common threads.
I’d like to touch on this for a minute in relation to Cory’s Way, my novel. If you’ve read it, then you know there are several themes throughout. But I want to touch on just one of them for now: bullying.
When I was a kid—pre age of ten—I had a problem with a couple of bullies. Those two boys were brothers, one of which was a bigger guy and one of which wasn’t so big. Still, they were mean and roamed the Mill Village like they owned the neighborhood. All the other kids, myself included, were terrified of them. They were bad by themselves, but together, they were a nightmare.
My brother and I had to run from them on more than one occasion. Other times…well, I learned how to fight much like Cory did against Alan and Jeffery in Cory’s Way. The kids in the Mill Village were more than happy when the brothers’ moved away. It was a great time, one that was very short lived. You see, once one bully moves on, another one tends to come in and take his/her place. The Mill Village was no different. One of the boys that had been bullied by the brothers decided he was next in line to rule the roost. Though he didn’t use his fist, he used his words, and words can be so much worse when the right ones are spoken to the right people. His abuse was more mental than anything else. We learned how to deal with him, but only after time. Ignore him and he’ll go away. And that’s what happened.
It doesn’t always happen that way.
Fast forward a couple of years to my freshman year in High School. Yeah, you guessed it: another bully. What was I? A bully magnet? Sure, I was small, but by then, I had become tired of folks who thought they could push me around. And one of the class bullies had taunted me throughout the year. I was in an English class where I didn’t fit in and it seemed the teacher didn’t like me. And the bully was one of the IN crowd and so nothing much was done to stop him. At least, nothing much was done until I had had enough.
It was only one shove (by him) and one punch (by me) and several stunned tears (by him), but it was enough to get the message across: I was not going to be bullied by anyone.
Life is not always that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I had to endure a lot from the bully and his friends before I finally got to the point where I had had enough. But a lot of times it doesn’t end with someone standing up for themselves. There is the revenge factor you have to be aware of, especially in today’s world. When I was a kid, if you got in a fight, the dispute was over when the fight was over. There wasn’t anyone going home to get a gun because they were angrier than they were before the fight. You fought. You either won or lost. End of issue.
Being bullied is a terrible feeling. You feel trapped. You feel like at any moment your tormentor could jump from behind a building and beat you down. Sometimes you feel ashamed for not standing up against the bully or bullies because you are afraid to get hurt, or you are afraid they will do something that will be worse than a beat down, but so embarrassing you would feel you can’t show your face in public ever again. Sometimes you feel ashamed to speak up, to tell an adult or a friend because you are worried they might think you are weak, or that they may call you names (which, in its own right is kind of bullying, isn’t it?).
Being bullied is paralyzing. Did you get that? Let me say it again: Being bullied is paralyzing. And once you get paralyzed with that fear, the bully will know and then it tends to escalate.
In Cory’s Way, the main character, ahem, Cory, is bullied by the Burnette Brothers. He constantly looks over his shoulder, constantly hides when he can, and when his mom says she will take care of things, then Cory begs her not to. Yes, this is what bullying does to someone.
One of the Common Threads in Cory’s Way that connects you, the reader, to Cory, the character, is bullying. It’s one of those things that makes Cory’s story so endearing. How does he deal with these boys? Does he stand up to them or does he run away? Does he get beat up or does he do the beating? Does he take care of it himself or tell an adult and let him/her handle things? How would you handle it?
Common Threads are the links that connect readers to characters. Every time you connect to a character think about the common threads between you and that character. What you find may surprise you. Everyone—and, yes, I do mean EVERYONE—has either been bullied or done the bullying or known someone from either extreme.
One more thing: If you are being bullied or if you know someone who is, please, let someone know. You don’t have to face this alone. You don’t have to fear the bully/bullies. You don’t have to be ashamed that someone will find out and they will think less of you. You don’t have to hide it. Bullies rely on you to do nothing. Tell someone. A parent. A guidance counselor. Your best friend. Anyone. You don’t have to face it alone.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…