[P]art of me dies inside when a student whose story has been critiqued responds to the workshop by saying, “You can’t object to the _________ scene. It really happened! I was there!” The writer is giving preference to the facts of an experience, the so-called literal truth, rather than fiction’s narrative and emotional integrity. Conceived this way, the writer’s story is relegated to an inferior and insurmountable station; it can neither compete with nor live without the ur-experience. Such a writer’s sole ambition is for the characters and events to represent other and superior—i.e., actual—characters and events. Meaning, the written story has never been what mattered most. Meaning, the reader is intended to care less about the characters and more about whoever inspired them, and the actions in a story serve to ensure that we track their provenance and regard that material as truer. Meaning, the story is engineered—and expected—to be about something. And aboutness is all but terminal in fiction.
Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things.
Stories aren’t about actions. Stories are, unto themselves, actions.