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What's this about?

What started out as a personal art project has turned into a collaborative endeavor. The premise is simple: write an exactly 1000 word long story as pertaining to or inspired by an original image. The vision is to share stories that are worth telling through visual art and language. Join in or enjoy!



A Story Worth Telling

Rembrandt -  Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee

Rembrandt - Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee (image rights in the public domain)

From childhood to the end of life, stories have an intriguing capacity to captivate both those who hear and we who tell them. Stories move us, encourage us, admonish us, connect us, define us, and speak for us; they have a profound yet subtle effect, and as such, they carry influence. Whether through words or the visual arts, storytellers are the spokespeople for humanity. For the Exactly1000Words project, stories worth telling are told with depth beyond the obvious, and engage the beholder while simultaneously providing the opportunity for hope.

American novelist Tony Earley summarized that all stories are fundamentally about two things: the Thing and the Other Thing. The Thing is the obvious content - the plot, the characters, the story arc, and what happens. The Other Thing, more abstractly, is our worldview explained through the way we tell our stories – it's what we're really saying. The stories we tell are less their contents and more how we go about those contents, in the same way that a meal is less its individual ingredients and more what you make with them.

With this distinction, it is easier to see the difference between the craft of telling stories and the art of communicating. Fundamentally, what makes a story worth telling pertains less to the skill of expressing the Thing – although this is very important – but instead is influenced more by the way we choose to tell our stories. For example, two stories can be about the same issues, the same time period or culture, even the same characters and narrative arc, but it is how the story is told that affects the underlying message conveyed; alignment with one character over another – or the sympathy our audience has with a cause or issue – is all directly related to the way we imply the Other Thing.

What is written between the lines or painted between brush strokes is far more interesting and compelling than what is accomplished within the lines or strokes themselves. We must think beyond the plot points and visual elements toward deeper meaning by connecting them with wisdom and insight into the complex nature of life. By wielding metaphor, theme and imagery, we can have what happens in a narrative speak to something deeper, something common between us and the rest of humanity, and use the story to provide a shared experience to connect those who behold our work. The conceptual and symbolic capacity of humanity is profound, and creating in such a way as to tap into this strengthens our stories and expands our reach. Stories well told should beg for further inspection and thought, and should stick with the beholder. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “a good story should be the tip of an iceberg”.

Furthermore, we must engage the audience in our stories. The intent should be less to convey our point of view, and more to connect with our viewers. A story has the potential to be a mirror in which people can see an aspect of themselves or how they wish themselves to be. Our service as artists and authors is to lend expressions that others could borrow – to express well what many have trouble voicing. Whether unsettling or familiar, our words and images can break through the noise to be internalized – that they might become more than merely 'someone else's story'.

Having established this connection with our audience, the crucial element of delivering hope becomes more compelling. Hope speaks to an inherent significance, and it resides in the realm of the Other Thing; hope is found in the unspoken sense we express between our words and brush strokes. All stories fall along a continuum of purpose: from hopeful, to aimless, to bleak. Aimless stories lack direction, and have little to give to the audience besides a shrug. Bleak stories are disheartening – even dangerous – spreading the bitter embrace of hopelessness. In contrast, stories providing hope leave room for redemption.

This goes deeper: it is impossible to separate artists from their art – as with clay, our fingerprints are left indelibly on our work. We create what we know, and because creating is often a form of catharsis, we are tempted to exalt it as an unassailable means of self-expression. If we are hopeless, our work trends towards hopelessness; if we are aimless, our stories tend to wander; however, if we are full of hope, our creations reflect redemption. Therefore, because we do not create in a vacuum, we as creatives have a responsibility not to indulge ourselves but to serve with our gifting: after all, our stories aren't only for us – they're for our audience too. We serve by enduring life alongside our audience, but with eloquence to wrap expression around the unutterable, and lend our encouragement or exhortation to aid in one's own search for significance.

Hope can look very different from one person to the next. Redemption does not necessitate resolution, nor does it exclude happy endings; hope can be overtly stated, or it can be absent in the work but hidden in the story that unfolds in the minds of our audience over time. Redemption can provide rest or it can be a call to arms; it can be an oasis from pain, or it can be encouragement to keep on going. Our color palette consists of the dark and dismal as well as the beautiful and bright, saving each color for its proper moment. Furthermore, real hope speaks to something not nearly so simple as mere positive emotion – something that survives the onslaught of turmoil. Hope should take the form best suited to the story.

Whether we create for the sake of creating, or for an audience, our stories carry an influence. Whatever medium we choose, it is our privilege to be inspired, and our honor to bear the weight of serving humanity with our art. If this vision resonates, please join in, and entrust here your stories worth telling.

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Each submission should consist of:
1. an original image (or one you have permission to use, i.e. in the public domain)
2. paired to an exactly 1000 word short story (1000 words in the body - doesn't include title or author credits).
3. It should convey depth beyond the obvious,
4. engage with the audience,
5. while simultaneously providing the opportunity for hope.

Send submissions to submit@exactly1000words.com.
(By submitting, you say you have the rights to or permission for the work submitted, and that you allow me to publish it under the Creative Commons license expressed in the footer of this page.)