2013: The Best Stories Are True

January 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

The end of each year is always marked by a roundup or ranking of the year’s most memorable stories. 2013 was no exception. For example, CNN.com ran a poll on the top 10 news stories of 2013 which were then ranked by CNN.com readers:

  1. NEW POPE
  2. BOSTON MARATHON ATTACKS
  3. MANDELA DIES
  4. EDWARD SNOWDEN LEAKS NSA
  5. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
  6. OBAMACARE ROLLOUT DEBACLE
  7. PHILIPPINES TYPHOON
  8. SYRIA CIVIL WAR
  9. CLEVELAND KIDNAPPINGS
  10. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

All of these stories showed up on other news websites, perhaps ranked differently, but there was remarkable consistency nationally and internationally on how we will remember the year 2013. Pope Francis, the Boston Marathon, and the conflict in Syria dominated the top of most lists.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 2.46.50 PMMany of these stories will soon be, or are already, the subject of non-fiction books, and some of these stories could be retold with such excellence as to be considered for the Samuel Johnson Prize. This prize is an award given annually for the best writing in current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. This prize, named for the 18th Century English author Samuel Johnson is associated with the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and awards author(s) of any nationality “whose work is published in the UK in English.” The most striking quality of the Samuel Johnson Prize is its motto that “All the best stories are true.”

There is truth in fiction as well. For example, even 2013’s most outlandish film Sharknado, has a degree of truth. The film detailed a supernatural phenomenon where thousands of sharks, scooped from their watery environment, twisted into another force of nature. The film generated waves of chatter on social media sites, so much so that the website Deepseanews.com speculated about the film’s implausibilities and calculated the physics of tornados holding great white sharks aloft. Researchers concluded in a post titled “Recipe for a Sharknado” that, “Winds in the most intense tornadoes are strong enough to keep a shark airborne.” Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Physics suggests how.

The year 2013 provided many true stories that also lend themselves to possible re-tellings. The following three true stories of 2013 get my votes as the best potential candidates for future re-tellings, either as fiction or non-fiction:

1. NY TimesDiscovery of Art Looted by the Nazis:
The upcoming film The Monuments Men (February 2014,) where “a World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves,” is a timely example of the storytelling potential about looted art. This past November, Bavarian authorities arrested an art dealer in his  Munich apartment uncovering a horde of art stolen during WWII. The recovered 1,500 works by Pablo Picasso, Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marc Chagall, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustave Courbet, Auguste Renoir and Canaletto are estimated to be worth $1.4 billion. Since the discovery was made public, there are suspicions as to when authorities first knew about the stockpile. The intrigue abounds in this latest episode of Nazi treachery that continues to today.

2.Amazon.com:  Commercial Delivery using Drones:
While today’s science fiction writers may scoff at so pedestrian an example of technology, delivery drones could be fictionalized as key characters, featured perhaps in dystopian literature. While Hedwig, Harry Potter’s delivery owl, was a fantasy, a writer may consider that the possibility for pet drones has potential. The CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, demonstrated that drones could be used for delivery purposes, in 30 minutes or less, and what better audience in a consumer culture motivated by immediate gratification than an audience of young adults? Storytelling or story-commercials…or both?

3. NYTimes: Richard III Rediscovered
My favorite story this year was the discovery of the bones of Britain’s medieval monarch, Richard III, paved over in a parking lot. He had been killed in 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last king of England killed on a battlefield. This archaeological find, also dubbed the “King in a Car Park” in the video from the British Channel 4, put an end to the search for remains of the former king of York. A shorter version of the discovery is available from the University of Leicester:

Richard III had been characterized as a brutal tyrant by Shakespeare in the historical play Richard III, but an organization known as the Richard III Society  has tried to clear his reputation. The remains found so ingloriously buried were identified by his hunchback and the bones that bore the scars of the battle that killed him, including eight wounds on his skull.

Richard IIIThe subject of Richard III has already been fictionalized by the great writer Josephine Tey in her 1951 detective story The Daughter of Time. In this novel, she directly confronted Richard III’s sordid reputation in an attempt to clear him of any misdeeds. This latest archeological find is also ripe with storytelling possibilities.

In the end, though, how we will remember 2013 will be through the stories that we created ourselves. We will remember the births, deaths, accomplishments, failures, celebrations, and losses we experienced over the past 365 days of 2013. We will remember because we have, individually and collectively, made the stories of 2013, and the best stories are true.

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