And the Big “M” – Mystery by Beth Camp

Note from Kait: Thank you, Beth for pulling a Twofer on inspiration this round!!!


Little Johnny was too excited to sit still. Today, Miss Jones was going to teach the class how to write.

“Now, children,” she began. “Don’t be intimidated. When you write your story, remember to include four key elements: Religion, romance, and royalty – and the big “M” – mystery!”

The children seated in tidy rows, bent their heads over their pens and papers, and began to write.

Within a very short minute, little Johnny’s hand shot into the air.

“Are you finished already, Johnny?” asked Mrs. Jones.

“Yes, Miss Jones.”

“Do you have all four of the elements – religion, romance, royalty, and the big “M” – mystery?”

“Yes, Miss Jones, I checked.”

“Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class.”

Little Johnny straightened up and read, “Holy Moses,” said the princess. “Pregnant again. I wonder who did it.”

I do love this story, for humor invites us to be entertained by the unexpected.

The reality for most writers, though, is far different than Johnny’s experience. Inspiration may result in many words on the page, or a sudden flash of insight about our characters, but most of us spend many hundreds of hours planning, plotting, drafting, and editing to hone our stories – in addition to that pure joy of writing that brings our stories and our characters to life.

Like the teacher in the story, we can number the elements of our craft that lead to good writing. The big mystery, though, remains exactly that question: What is good writing?

For how do we include those hidden themes or motifs that underlie a story, that leave us feeling satisfied or inspired by our hero? I’m not talking about those stories that seem to circle around death or pick at infidelity as if it were a scab, but those stories that leave us wanting more, that teach us something about being human, and that may provoke us to be better people – and perhaps remember the author.

I read somewhere that each author explores one theme that rings through every story he or she writes. Last night, we were sitting around with family we hadn’t seen in a very long time, and the question came up, “What is your favorite song?” Immediately I thought of the main aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. If I were to choose a song that personifies the theme that’s closest to my heart, I would choose this larger-than-life, soaring melody, sung at the moment of greatest loss and sacrifice. For we do struggle to survive, hopefully with grace and dignity. Do my stories revolve around this theme? As I write, I can only hope.

When little Johnny writes his next story, he may decide to move away from his teacher’s formula. He may well ask: What is my purpose in writing this story? What do I hope to achieve? What do I want the reader to take away from the experience of reading my stories? I’m not so sure we can control or number these mysterious elements of good storytelling. We can refine our writing. Hire outside editors. What is at the very essence of our stories, though, is ours alone.

May what you write inspire you!


Beth Camp

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