Everything has a story in it. The writer’s work is discovering the story and re-telling it to others. It probably started around a primitive hearth before a cave or a more crude shelter. As is the nature of people, some were better than others, some told stories in ways that were memorable and maybe even a bit more dramatic than the real event. The better the drama, the greater demand for the story to be repeated. So creative writing probably had its beginning in that form.
For most of us who write I suppose the same rules apply: we listen, we watch, we interpret and, if we are creating fiction, we make enough changes to disguise the original events. That lets us tell the story to a wider audience. What we are really doing, of course, is sharing our history and the way we live.
For me, for a long time, observing my own life, and the life of people I know, generated story after story. Sometimes the stories even got written and shared. Over time that process has slowed down, making me wonder if I had lost the ability to find the story in everyday life. Not to worry: it still happens. Just not as frequently. And as always, when a new story begins to tell itself in my mind, it may not turn out to be one I care about repeating.
Just the other night a chance meeting with a friend when we were shopping in another town, brought me to the door of another life to explore. I listened as my friend recounted something he had observed, people whom we both knew doing something we hadn’t known about. And then we parted and went our separate ways. As so often happens, the elements of the story came back to me as we were making the long drive home. Characters asserted themselves, lining up to introduce their own parts in the story. As I met them and the tale developed, aspects of their lives were revealed, and speculation on my part found them doing things that perhaps they did, but most likely were what the writer decided were part of a bigger or better or more exciting story. By the time I was back in the house and we were settling in our chairs to read for a few hours before bed, I had to reach for my chairside notebook and lay out the plot, the characters and the possible arc the story will cover.
I won’t share details of the story until I have written it and decided that it is worth sharing. It will be a story of suspense I think, and I believe I know who the main players are. I even know how the story will end (at least for now). This is the exciting part of writing, for me: seeing a storyline start, grow and become a tale to tell. Much of what happens next is hard work, often grinding hard, but it is what makes writing pull me and push me and keep on working. In a quiet way, a manner that suits me best, I create lives and stories about those lives, much of it remaining known only to me. Much of what I “discover” may not appear in the final story, but it contributes to the creation of a character or event the reader can believe. Discovering motive and action on the part of a created character is exciting. Seeing imagined events and responses, detailing the things that cause a character to act (or not), is the part of the creative process I find most exciting and rewarding. Writing the final story is often an anticlimax because by the time I type “The End,” I’ve known what it will be long enough to not be surprised. Oh, yes – the ending can be a surprise, even to the writer, but that doesn’t happen very often.
Sometimes the “back story” is more interesting than the tale itself.