Sondra Radvanovsky as Aida at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Last night I took my two older kids to see a performance of Verdi’s opera Aida at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It’s part of their education, I tell myself. I grew up going to the opera, and I grew to love it eventually, but I also remember that as a teenager I got rather impatient with the slow action and the stories that take three hours to tell. So, during the first intermission, I mentioned to my daughter that really, it’s not about the story, because the story is rather simplistic and can be summed up a like a fairy tale. Says she, “Mom, any great story can be summed up like a fairy tale, in a few sentences.” Wise words from a 16-year-old.

It’s certainly true of Aida: Nubian princess Aida, enslaved to Egyptian princess Amneris, is in love with Egyptian war hero Radames who is chosen to go into battle against her father, the King of Nubia. Amneris wants Radames for herself, but he’s in love with Aida. Do you need to know more? All the conflict and tragedy is right there even though there are more twists to the plot.

This got me thinking – any book, any story, if it’s any good, can be boiled down to a few sentences. Right? Isn’t that a great way to test if you’ve got that narrative focus? If you’re able to capture that central conflict? Especially in memoir where you have to tease your focus out of the plethora of happenings that is your life?