Sunday, November 17, 2013

Re-Mixing Life

Something writers are frequently asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” The simple answer is, “anywhere and everywhere.” It’s more complex than that, but really, story ideas find the writer, not the other way around.

Life presents stories that are ready-made for telling. You simply must be aware of the world around you. How you re-tell a story is what makes the difference. I have written before about my own way of finding and telling a story. It begins with an observation or experience in which I am a participant or on-looker. I might read or hear a story about someone I may know or not, but what they do, or are thought to have done, or are planning to do will unlock something in my imagination or maybe even a similar story filed in wherever those things go in the mind. A new event or more information about an old one, for instance, can generate a whole new story about a person or event or place. Filling in the missing pieces (because I’m not privy to the full story, or because there are missing pieces no one knows), is where retelling becomes creative.

At the beginning of works of fiction is something called the “disclaimer.” It appears before the title page, and is designed to separate fact from fiction. It’s that line that reads “Any similarity to events or to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” There are other ways it can be said, such as "Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." Some are more creative or artful than others, but in all cases the meaning is clear: the writer either doesn’t know or isn’t telling everything. What makes that phrase work, it seems to me, is that there is no story, no life, no event that is so unique that it has no previous or possible mirror. Whatever is written has been written before, taken place before, will happen again in real life. There are parallels in all lives.

Of course you may have heard the bones of a story or even read something in a newspaper or non-fiction book that triggers your creative side. It happens to me all the time, which has led me to conclude that the we all have a part of the brain that is always observing, storing, expanding information that it receives from normal channels. Even when the writer is participating in the event, there is a part that is thinking about how to convert it into a story. Being aware of that is part of what makes me a writer. We are all storytellers, you know. Sharing (and embellishing) events by retelling is part of what makes us human.

It is simply life re-mixed.

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