Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Making It Up -- Where Stories Come From

The Writing Process, S.R. Karfelt
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

It's a mental quilting process made up of bits and pieces from the universe. It's a dance. It's a song. Call it right or wrong. Its magic is strong.


Take a cup of personal abuse and roll it through observed tragedy, stuff it into a boy. Give him the eyes you saw in the face of a WWII veteran in a parade once. That story you glimpsed there? It's his now.

You found the first name on a headstone in a seaside cemetery in New England. You met a man with that last name in Texas once.

Your hero comes from a place you made up while driving through the desert ten years ago.

The plot will unfold as you write, but you know it will combine the slap you took to the face at eight years old and the time you fell down the stairs. It will hold the day you fell out of a moving car and taste of a whispered line in a book that once broke your heart.

As you write you'll toss in ingredients accumulated from a lifetime: The day you ran through a field of sunflowers; the first time you almost drowned; discovering an old well in the woods filled with 19th Century odds and ends; a glimpse of the man who tried to force you into his car outside the library once; that hidden snake inside the blackberry patch, its teeth on your finger.

It all goes into the mix surrounded by the yellow walls of today's world and ground up by your story processor. Little will be recognizable even to the writer. It's verbal kimchi. It's word sausage. It's the dough of a book. The largest bulk of it will be spiced, salted, and peppered by subconscious nanites that march through your being so small and fine that their origins are impossible to locate although occasionally you'll catch a familiar scent like fresh bread baking in an smelly city.

After that it's verbal Sudoku. Line up words. Rearrange sentences. Hold all the impressions from above in your brain, feel all the feels, react as your character on the page. There's blood everywhere. It's the glue.

The complicated part comes now. It's time to breathe life into it. Delete the telling, show me your story. Bring it to life. You'll need help with this bit. It's time for CPR. Your story might need surgery. It might never be able to walk into the world. Sometimes an untold story shatters into glass shards that writers walk on forever. The pain of crippled stories haunt us. They float like specters inside our minds. See me. Why can nobody see me? Make me real. I want to live.

All the glass shards, the ghosts of abandoned tales, the unfinished works choking your hard drive are compost to be recycled into more stories until one finally takes a breath and becomes real in the minds of a reader.

"Where did this come from?" they ask you, "How long does it take to write a book?" You shrug and guesstimate how long it took to type up your latest, leaving out all the months or years of edits and behind the scenes madness, but the truth is this: Story comes from everywhere, and every one of them takes a lifetime to write.

Bump if you can feel me.