Monday, April 2, 2012

Story: plotted or caught?

Is inspiration for story something you can plan?  Or is it left to an elect few who just happen on the right idea at the right time?  I think it can be both, but today I'm going to share some ideas I've had about stories and how writers get them.

Growing up, I had an active imagination.  One of my favorite things to do on summer break was roaming the desert hills behind my aunt's house in Arizona.  The stark landscape and great company made for many hours of interesting narration.  We combined cowboys and Indians with fairy tales and the result:  Indian Princesses--who sometimes got rescued from the evil rival tribes by handsome cowboys.  We always fought over who was the prettiest princess, but anyone who wanted to be one could join the fun.

My Native American heritage might not be immediately apparent in my freckled skin and green eyes, but it lives in my heart.  Back then, I really had no idea that my cousins and I were telling our own stories.  In fact, when I hit my teenage years, I was quite sure I didn't have an ounce of creativity within me.  I've always loved a good story, but where does story come from?

I'm convinced anyone can catch a story.  That's what happened to me a couple of years ago--after my school years were over and any idea of writing had long since been forgotten.  I tried to write a novel once, with one of my aunts, about one of my ancestors that happened to have an amazingly romantic story.  Neither one of us could get past the first few pages.  We lacked direction, but I think more than anything, it wasn't time to tell that story, or we weren't supposed to be the ones to do it.

The first glimmer I had of my first novel, Five, came while driving home from work one day.  The image of a little pixie named Fexlie bounded full force into my mind.  She was vivid and demanding, and I had no idea what to do with her.  She proceeded to show me a girl who was getting ready to run away from home.  That's when I met Rayla.  After that, more characters emerged.  Slowly at first, but then one day, I had something I never thought I would.  A story.  One that sounded pretty amazing to me, but what was I supposed to do with it? 

I eventually tried to give this story to a good friend of mine that had shared her lifelong dream of becoming a writer.  Being the friend that she is, she told me that if I had a story, I needed to write it.

I went home that night wondering how I was going to write this book I had in my head because I couldn't simply let the story die.  I also wondered what I had done to get this story when my friend had tried her whole life to be a writer.  She had begun novels but had never been able to get very far.

I started thinking about what I had been doing, and one thing stood out above the rest.  I had been reading more than I ever had.  I had a book in my hand at every spare moment I could find.  I found myself questioning plot and wishing the author had taken the story in a different direction.  I also would tell myself the ending I wanted.

I now think this was the major catalyst to my catching Rayla's story.  You see, I think there is an invisible river of story that floats over us.  I also believe that story waits to be caught for the time it is needed.

I've been blown away lately with the recurrent themes I have seen in books, movies, and even TV that mirror the themes in my own writing.  The Elemental Enmity series has many themes, but at the base, Rayla Tate's story is about freedom.  Choice linked with consequence is another strong theme.  I didn't set out to write a story about these things, but that's what I've been doing.  The more the story progresses the underlying messages become clearer in my mind.

Coincidence?  Maybe, but I don't think so.  I believe truth exists and needs to be shared.  Writing is one way to do this.  I've been greatly blessed to have been given such a fun story to tell.   When I first started writing the Elemental Enmity Series, I worried about the future.  What was I going to do once Rayla's story was told.  Not long after that, several other characters have come knocking on my mind, but those will have to wait until I finish this series.

Now that I have opened the connection between me and the river, I can't imagine a time when I won't be dipping into that river to catch another story.  The river is stocked full with them and if you have a desire to catch one of your own, I encourage you to keep reading and thinking about the stories you have read.  One day you might find a character that won't let you go.  If that happens, shake his hand and invite him in because, I'm telling you from experience.  There is nothing more fun than telling an exciting story that feels real.

What experiences have you had with story, writing and/or reading?  I'd love to hear them.

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