Urban Legends or The Lord of the Rings?
Why do some stories stay with us and some don’t? Why does one story fail to survive the wrath of time whereas another one written in the same period achieves immortality?
The answer is — Simple and Profound.
Looking at the stories that have stood the test of time, we see a pattern emerging. Most of the stories are simple and profound at the same time. Simple, in terms of usage of language. Profound, in terms of the message the story intends to convey. Everyone knows the Hare and the Tortoise Story. But very few people know how old the story is or who wrote it. Yet the story bends time to its will. Why ?
The story having an elementary vocabulary level, makes reproducing it easy. Each retelling of the tale is reinforcing of the tale in our minds. More the reinforcing, longer it is to stay with us. Why would we want to retell a tale about a race between a hare and a tortoise ? Because the story contains a profound message. A message we think is important for would around us to know. If the message is profound enough, it will soon find a group of “messengers.” If you tell a story to 50 people and even when only one of those 50 tells it to another 50, the story has reached 101 people with only 3 messengers.
Thus, the checklist for a story to achieve immortality through retelling is –
- Profound Message
It is but obvious to consider those stories that are complex and have reached a wide acceptance. Many of you would bring complex movies like Fight Club, Inception or Matrix or books like Harry Potter Series, A Song of Ice and Fire or Lord of the Rings. Point considered. There are stories that have complex and convoluted structure (wait, did I hear ‘levels’ of dreams?) and often times the message, though profound, is not easily comprehensible (Wait, what does the ring really do?). To that I have a point.
My “analysis” takes into consideration only those stories that are easy to ‘retell’, not ‘recommend.’ Rarely, have I ever seen anyone retelling Harry Potter Series to his/her friend. Although I’ve heard countless people retelling conspiracy theories, urban legends, horror stories and evangelical sermons. Simple language usage and a message profound enough to form a dedicated group of messengers, achieve these two and your story is bound to outlive you and possibly your future generations.
Therefore, adapting a story-telling structure, simple or complex, depends largely on how you want your story to become immortal. Do you want people to recommend or retell. The Blue Pill or The Red Pill. The choice is yours.