The second story featured a young woman (early 40s) who, in three years, has hiked solo 10-thousand miles. Starting in Siberia, walking, hauling a custom-made trailer and more than 150 pounds of gear, Sarah Marquis survived her journey despite weather, terrain, disease, hunger, thirst and threats to her life by assailants ranging from wild animals to Mongolian horsemen.
Two stories that a writer could have invented, but didn’t need to. I mention that because I’ve often been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” A perfectly natural question from those who don’t write or tell stories, I think. If I were not doing what I do, I wouldn’t know where to look for ideas, I suppose. The truth is, of course, that life, the world around you, the events of the day, provide all the garden a writer needs to grow a story from seed.
Fiction writing is much like gardening or farming, you see. An idea, a word, a passing thought, a scene witnessed or experienced can be the starting point for any storyteller to create a tale worth telling. Writers (at least this one) are explorers of a kind, you see. We find a beginning, an idea or event or act, and from that we look at what led to the act, what the act was, and the consequences. Sometimes it is as simple as retailing the beginning, the middle and the end with the embellishments a writer may add. Story ideas are often buried in someone else’s history or experience that leads the writer to look for creative explanations, motives, even outcomes.
Years ago I added to my library a small, almost pamphlet-sized book outlining 101 basic plots. The author had written the book from the perspective of a screenwriter (for silent films, I should point out). The idea of basic themes or plots (the ancient Greeks recognized only 7) applies to any fiction writing. What changes is the voice or point of view of the teller, the writer. What makes it work, what makes any story work, is either the true-to-life plot, or the skill of the writer in getting the reader to apply what is called “suspension of disbelief.” It is often written as “willing suspension of disbelief,” but willing or unwilling, the reader must participate in such an act. If the storyline is so true to life that the suspension is unnecessary, so much the better.
All of this might seem off the track (trail) I began with hikers climbing a volcano or trekking alone across a vast continent, an ocean and yet another continent. It isn’t, though. What struck me about both stories were two things: the magnitude of tests we can invent for ourselves, and the depth and breadth of strength we can find within ourselves when we need to, or really want to. It is what life is made of, and what makes life at all interesting and challenging.
If you think you have a story to tell, know that it has been told before, has been around for perhaps as long as campfires and wooly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers. That shouldn’t stop you from telling the story in your own way, your own voice. You might not tell it better than anyone else, or you might find a perspective that is new and unusual.
We all have stories to tell.