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Chimamanda Adichie gives a powerful testimony of the influence of stories over people. Her message is heartfelt and beautiful. I hope you’ll take the 18 minutes and 49 seconds required to watch it. Worth every second.

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As I listened to Chimamanda, I couldn’t help but think about the “single story” in regards to both the people we know and the characters we create.

In the Writing Community
I can see the danger in the single story we tell ourselves about other writers, bloggers, authors and agents. We see their online presence–those pieces they choose to share and which usually represent their “best face”–and we think we know who they are. We judge them and their efforts. We judge ourselves. Our single story of JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer would be that novel writing leads to fame and fortune. That somehow, someday our bank accounts might match up. We tend to focus on the monetary success and remain blind to the hard work–the blood, sweat and tears–that went into creating their work. We judge their efforts (good and bad) without understanding them as people.

I also see the danger in the single story we tell about publishing, often forcing each other to choose between tradition, indie or self-publishing. A “this” OR “that” rather than an AND. We only limit opportunities when we dismiss possibilities for our personal publishing path, especially when based on a single perspective.

In Our Stories
Chimamanda helped me see that single stories shape the lives of not only people, but our characters. Maybe this “aha” is just for me, but “the single story” can be a great tool for understanding our characters’ behaviors. What single story were they raised to believe? How does this effect their interaction with others? How does this effect their views about themselves? And how will it change by the end?

Janice Hardy’s Healing Wars Trilogy is an excellent example. In book one (The Shifter), Nya has a very distinct and negative cultural view of Baseer and its people. Her “single story” of that country colors everything she knows and feels. But in book two (Blue Fire), Nya discovers her fallacy–that the people of Baseer are more similar to her than different.

Chimamanda Adichie is beautiful, articulate and inspiring. I hope I can be more aware of the layers of stories that shape all of us (and our characters) into the people we are–separate and distinct.

What single story influences you? How will being aware of that story change the way you view others in the writing community and yourself? Is their value in using this approach for shaping your characters?