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How Great Stories Are Made: Robert Owen Butler

Pulitzer Prize Winner Robert Owen Butler on How Great Stories Are Made

How great stories are made: “[Here are] the keys to the kingdom … I have come to believe there’s a unified field theory of yearning.”

Pulitzer Prize Winner Robert Owen Butler on How Great Stories Are Made

“I’m going to give you the keys to the kingdom, and you better forget this as soon as I tell you if you’re an aspiring writer. I have come to believe – and it’s not even in my writing craft book From Where You Dream – that there’s a unified field theory of yearning. I think that if you dig deep enough into almost all great literature, you’re going to find a single expressible yearning, and the danger is that you turn this into an idea and then write a book to try to put that in, and you fail. But it’s the thing you intuit, the thing you feel into your characters.

I think that if you dig deeply enough, the yearning at the center of great literature is I yearn for the self. I yearn for an identity. I yearn for a place in the universe. That’s the great thing, the great ‘Who the hell am I?’ which we ask ourselves every day. All the things we seem on the surface to be concerned about in this day and age especially — our race, our gender, our sexual preference, our politics, our religion, you name it — those things provide us with an answer to that question. WHO AM I?

I am black. I am white. I am Muslim. I am Christian. I am an atheist. I am a Republican. I am a Democrat. I am whatever Trump is.

Poor Donald, tweeting at 3 in the morning. He’s in desperate search of that answer. We all are. [T]hat’s from Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary to Huck Finn to Holden Caulfield, you name it. It’s ‘I yearn for a self.'”

~ Robert Owen Butler about how great stories are made; interview with Ryan G. Van Cleave, The Writer, May 2017

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