Universal Bones


In a speech accepting his Nobel Prize in the Stockholm City Hall, on December 10, 1950, William Faulkner said of that day’s writers, “…(they have) forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, (that) alone can make good writing…” He said it was the only subject worth the sweat and agony of writing. He went on to explain that a writer must remember “…the basest of all things is to be afraid…” and the old universal truths are “…love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” If a writer doesn’t keep these truths, then “He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars.”

I guess this is a good example of why Faulkner won the Nobel Prize. Not only because he could write like that, but because he could think like that!

I agree and believe every story worth reading or writing is ultimately a story about love. Some kind of love. At its core, to write a great story, the bones of the story must be made of and for and about some kind of love. Love of country, love of family, love of a child, for an animal, for oneself, or for another, or the lack of love, the longing for love, and truly… it’s the absence of love that creates all of the problems in the world. Don’t forget about the love of money, the love of life, murder for love, jealousy, envy, greed, anger, fear… all are emotions that stem from or the lack of love. So, essentially, figure out the simple love story of your book and make sure THAT story is always at the core. Don’t forget to stay true to that simple idea. Achieving that love, or losing that love… almost losing that love…IS the problem your story must solve.

We need look no further than the Bible for the ultimate love story. There we see a love that sacrifices for the good of the whole. That Christ-like figure is seen in so many great stories: Jim Casey in the Grapes of Wrath, Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, John Coffee in The Green Mile, Superman, Harry Potter, John Connor in The Terminator, and this list goes on and on. You can’t have great sacrifice, without great love. And sacrifice is the ultimate show of love.

8 thoughts on “Universal Bones

  1. This is so very true, Gina. It’s love beyond romance or even parent-for-child. It’s caring deeply about something. Something positive. Something that matters and makes a difference somehow to someone. Without that, there’s no heart in the conflict, no stakes that matter. Great post.

  2. “figure out the simple love story of your book and make sure THAT story is always at the core”—I love that. A simple but useful guideline for all aspects of story creation: plot, characterization, etc.

  3. lucy adkins says:

    Gina, this is a beautiful and important blog– reminding us as writers that getting in touch with our humanity is not only a great joy but a great responsibility, and will result in our best writing. We are capable of much, but oftentimes do not stretch to get there. I know I need to do a lot of stretching…and thank you for the reminder that writing is ultimately about love. Truly a wonderful and inspiring blog. Thank you.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Not that many people read my blog, but I really appreciate those of you who do. I still enjoy doing it because I know it stretches my writing muscles.

  4. Awesome post, Gina. It’s so true when you think about it…every story breaks down to that one theme. Thanks for the reminder, because it holds true in life. Life should be a love story between us and God, trying to sacrifice and do His will so that we can have our happily ever after eventually.

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