by Julian Keys
When I was nineteen and reading many amazing stories for the first time, I imagined that someday, I’d have a brilliant, pivotal, earth-shattering story idea. Of course, I’d spend years carefully crafting it. When finished it would be: the most important story I ever wrote.
It would leave readers in awe. That’s how I was sure it would happen. Life being what it is… it didn’t happen that way at all.
Some years back, I was chatting online with some romance readers and the topic of love stories between a suicide and the person who stops him/her came up. Such romances have always intrigued me, and I was captured by one thought of a girl on a bridge and a guy who stops her by asking her out on a date.
Of course, she would have to accept or there’d be no story, but what would that date be like? And why would anyone step back from killing themselves to go out on a date? Come to that, what made the girl suicidal in the first place? I knew she had to be serious about this. Not depressed and attempting it, but intent on doing it with this pause in plans a mere day’s reprieve. Otherwise, the story wouldn’t really mean anything.
And what about the guy? Why not grab her or try to change her mind? What appeal did she have that he’d do something so crazy? Answers came to mind and the story, as they say, wrote itself. I almost felt as if I was watching the characters go on their date, and that I was getting to know them as they got to know each other. The date was prosaic, predictable even, in how it progressed, but the twist, the circumstances behind it transformed it into something more.
I wrote up the story, felt especially proud of my double-entendre title: ‘Til Dawn, then put it out for people to read, not expecting all that much. Then I started getting feedback. Some of it was the usual: “Great story,” and “Liked it, but…” etc. However, the majority of the feedback was completely different from any I’d ever gotten before. “I was that girl on the bridge,” one said, and “I’m Cal. I’ve felt exactly like him.” It seemed I’d found some universal truth in myself that I hadn’t known was there.
And then I got responses that really stunned me: ”I’m going through a terrible time in my life; this story helped me decide to go on living…” Oh. My. Gosh. Had I done it? With this little, erotic romance? I’d written it with care and thought, yes, but not as if I was writing something that would transform lives. Yet it seemed it had transformed lives. Was this it? My earth-shattering, pivotal story?
I couldn’t say for sure. What I could say was that after seeing such comments, I totally understood what it meant to feel that one’s work had come to life and walked away. ‘Til Dawn no longer belonged to me, it belonged to all those readers seeing themselves in it. That’s when I realized what “the most important story I ever wrote” really is to a writer. It’s the story that people say is the most important story they ever read. And I… I had written one of those for at least some people out there. Much to my surprise.
I certainly hope I have more such stories in me. Though they may not start out that way, they become as life-changing to the writer as they are to readers.
Anthologies which include this story: