Telling a story isn’t simple. You can blandly say: Paul was a poor migrant living in Oklahoma.
And that has no effect on you. Nothing.
Famous and well-told works of writing follow through with back story. It’s main focus is supported with small details that bring its characters and setting to life. It’s more than to just say something–writers must show it. They must use and create evidence to do that–whether it be evidence of non-fiction or fiction.
John Steinbeck proves this in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. It is an aftermath story portraying the product of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. While his struggling main characters of the Joad family are people of fiction, there is truth behind these characters. They are Okie migrants who share similar motivations and mindsets for survival and do whatever it takes to find their place of recovery.
Keith Windshuttle’s essay about Steinbeck’s myth of the Okies supports his method of storytelling. Windshuttle compares Steinbeck’s version of the Okies to James N. Gregory’s historical study, American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California. In Steinbeck’s book, the Joads left for California because of “a yellow handbill Pa Joad found saying there were good wages and plenty of work in California.” They and all migrants were forced to helplessly move one location to the next.
On the other hand, Gregory argues “that the real migrants were much better informed than this,” having more direct information and relatives in their period of difficulty. From his two surveys in the Sacramento Valley and Kern City, “majority of migrants said relatives or friends had been instrumental in their decision to relocate.”
Whether or not Steinbeck or Gregory give better depictions of the Okies–it does not matter. These two authors tell two different stories. Grapes of Wrath–fiction tale with fiction characters but relatable tale of struggle and determination. American Exodus–non-fiction study from actual sources with focus on factual experiences of struggle and determination. Writing is an endless path of possibilities. It can stretch in different paths but branch from a common goal. That’s what makes it appealing and new for readers. That’s what gives us a reason to turn the pages and start something new.