What is “humanity” in a story?

In literally one of the three creative writing classes I paid attention to this term, one caught me the most. I snaked up the side of the rows, inconspicuous in my fear of conspicuousness. I was shaky from the unbelievable words I had heard prior to heading to class; but, knowing I had two deadlines that were non negotiable, had jumped on the bus and gone to school anyway. Three heart pounding-yet eerily peaceful-hours later, I had met those goals, and there was nothing left to tether me to school. Well, going to class would raise my chance of not failing creative writing after missing previous strict deadlines, because quizzes were entirely dependent on classes, but, stretched thin from all that I had just done, I yearned to go home. Looming in the future was also my two hour volunteer shift with obliviously occupied children. Go home. Although I had no intentions of losing my focus, the second I walked by Starbucks and saw they had chocolate I went and bought it and ate the whole thing. The best intentions go awry anyways. Instead of being on a total sugar high though, scarily or not, I felt a tolerance to it, and decided to attend the last hour of class anyways. What I heard concretized the feeling that I had not come in vain.

A well oiled looking student was standing self assuredly under the bright lights behind the podium. Inane words reached my ears-some macabre piece-my first reaction was derision. Using sensationalism? As if I hadn’t heard the worst this morning. Almost unfortunately, I found a seat and was forced to stay. To my annoyance, my interest was also definitely piqued. As saccharine this story was, I couldn’t help but enjoy the escapism.

Something boring was next. I forgot it. Then something macabre again. I remember that one. A cannibal story. Nasty, and not particularly original. Finally, after a slew of more uninspiring stories-I was also having trouble staying awake-a student with a distinct amble and sharply intelligent looking face stepped up. I could not place his ethnicity and somehow this bothered me because it was obvious he had written his story in relation to it. But something beyond that attached me to the continuation of his story, even after I had registered the name of his ethnicity.

And after that was when our professor said, grandly, “Writing is about showing humanity.” His sweeping arms suggested he embraced every story, but in particular, I thought it embraced the last student’s. Indeed there was a humanity in there that I struggled to expel just that morning. In it the phrase “But we don’t want to/We’re scared” was repeated, underscored by the fact that the words were spoken by grown war-weary soldiers. What was once sensational became personal as the short story wore on. Other people packed a day’s worth of action in their stories, but this student packed a lifetime and more. There was emotion in there that could survive death.

So while the other students frequently exposed vulnerability in their stories, their introductions were simply not enough to carry out through the rest of the story; they would lose momentum after the first paragraph and slip into monotonous action. Those who were more sly jolted us back awake with a final stunning sentence meant to shock. But only that one student wrote a story that confused us as to how we should feel for the main characters-pity, admiration-before gradually, after changing our minds several times, ambiguously gave us enough of a shock to seriously entertain a complex pitying/admiration. It made us think, “Did something just happen?” more than”What just happened?” In a cheaper story, the shock is obvious, showy, and there’s no question that something happened, even if there seems to be mystery shrouding how it happened. In a great story, the crisis is threaded in so inconspicuously, but so inextricably, that it makes us re examine our own life to try to understand how it could go unnoticed. Emotional depth reached through that, rather than shock, results in a more story with more “humanity”.

A story with humanity becomes a part of your life. A story that doesn’t invoke that self reflection of how the world makes sense to you is just entertainment that affects your future choice of entertainment than it does future decisions you make.


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