If you don’t have a story to tell, you don’t have a book to write or a book that anyone reads.


Those of us who spend our lives re-arranging fragmented words on a blank page that was blank only until we chose to fill it up often forget what we are and, more importantly, what we do.

“What do you do?” we are asked.

“I’m a writer,” we say.


“I’m a novelist.”


“I write books.”

If that is the case, then we live drab, dull, uninviting, and unimportant lives.

We fail to recognize what we really do.

We forget who we really are.

We’re not novelista, although we may write novels.

We’re not book writers, although we may produce books.

We are storytellers, plain and simple.

And if we aren’t, we should be.

Nicholas Sparks may not have said it first, but he said it best: Every great love starts with a great story.

A boy is in love.

A girl is in love.

We don’t care until we understand what roads they had to travel, what obstacles they had to overcome, and what struggles they had to endure in order to meet by chance instead of merely pass each other by on a dark and lonely night.

pixars-rules-of-storytelling-finishI leave others to produce great literature.

I have no interest in writing great epics.

Style is important.

So is the rhythm and poetry of the language.

And we strive to find a distinctive voice that is our own.

But, in the end, only the story counts.

As Laurie H. Hutzler wrote: “Storytellers are the most powerful people on earth. They might not be the best-paid ­– but they are the most powerful. Storytellers have the power to move the human heart – and there is not greater power on earth.”

A decade or so ago, Time Magazine published an article that said, and I paraphrase, the reason why the South has produced so many great writers is that Southerners don’t grow up carrying on conversations. Southerners sit around on the front porches of their homes in the shank of the evening and tell stories.”

I tell you a story about my pig.

You tell me a story about your pig.

And we think we’ve had a damn fine conversation.

No one preaches.

No one pontificates.

A story drives home the point that no one forgets. As Philip Pullman wrote: “After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

And so we do.

Nicholas Sparks said: Every great love starts with a great story.

He’s right, but only half right.

Every great love also ends with a great story.

And when our time on earth is over, the only real gift we have to leave for those who follow are our stories.

A few we live.

The rest we write.

Wicked Little Lies Amazon coverPlease click the book cover to learn more about my novels on Amazon.

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  • David L Atkinson

    Great blog Caleb and so accurate. I am as guilty as many of us of saying that I write. It could be a throw back to the idea that to be a writer you have to be published by the conventional route which of course is not the case. Evelyn Waugh’s grand daughter, herself a writer, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning and said much the same as you but added that ‘if you are trying to be better than Shakespeare that is silly’. She was echoing your blog saying that if you have a story to tell then tell it.

    • Thanks, David. In conversation, we may not think our little stories are very important, but they are the ones people don’t forget. No one cares about my opinions, but if I have a story to tell, they will hang around and listen.

  • I not only love to write but I love to see stories in people’s eyes; Life that is not written on a page but a story none the less. It’s an honor to catch a few and write them down. Thanks Caleb for what you do – inspire

    • Everyone lives a great story. Everyone has a great story. Everyone is a great story. It’s up to us to listen long enough to find out what it is. The best stories come from those who no one knows.

  • I so agree, Caleb! Great post!

  • I don’t believe at bed time any child has ever turned to her father and said, “Daddy, can you tell me the five rules for a good life.”

  • I went for a check up with a new doctor, and during our meeting pleasantries, she asked me, “So, you are self employed? What do you do?” I paused, unsure what to say, until I sheepishly said, “I’m a Writer.” She then asked me what I write, and that one stumped me. Boy my elevator pitch needs work! It’s so varied, I could only list some of my works, and refer her to websites and blogs. It was a wake-up call, and your beginning to this story says it all! Your ending does as well, and you are so right. Every love starts and ends with a story. I only hope I get time to write all of them down that are in my heart and head.
    Thanks for a wonderful read, again, Caleb!

    • When you tell the doctor you are a storyteller, he or she may look a little strange. But that’s all right. Storytellers are what we are, and we should be proud of it. If it takes 300 pages to tell the story, that’s fine. If it can be told in a blog or a short story, that’s fine, too. I had jury duty yesterday. On the form, it asked: Occupation. I wrote down storyteller. I wasn’t selected. Some clients and some lawyers just don’t want their stories told, I guess.

      • Lawyers and clients certainly don’t want you to tell the story, Caleb. They only want the story told according to the loopholes they are able to find in the law. That is a good story in itself.

  • Thank you, simply, thank you. I needed this.

    • It’s all about the story. Tell it as simply as possible and pack as much emotion as possible.

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