Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finders Keepers

In my writing hero Stephen King's memoir/manual On Writing, he discusses his belief that stories are found, not made. He compares a story to a fossil in the ground, and as writers we are the archaeologists responsible for digging them up. We have our writer's toolbox to help us accomplish the project: big chunky jackhammers of plot and theme to break the bones out of the ground, and tiny brushes and picks of detail and diction, which you can use to uncover the delicate parts of whatever the fossil used to be.

I love this concept. It appeals to the part of my imagination which loves secrets and mystery. It also explains a large part of the Zone which so entrances me when I fall into it. I'm not composing, I'm finding, I'm digging something up for everyone to see. The story's already there, it's just my job to remove as much of the crud and crap caked around it as I can, so I can show it off to who might be interested. The Universe (or God, or whatever you prefer) sends us these objects, because it knows we as artists will listen and take care of them. It's our job in the grand scheme of things.

In the same vein, I also believe that if you don't take advantage of a story you've found, someone else will. Stories are in limited access, and they all need to be told. If you're not willing to write your story, someone else will. Do you think there's only one person who's thought of a love triangle between a teenage girl, a vampire, and a werewolf? Of course not... but Stephanie Meyer was the person who plucked it out of the ether and transcribed it to the best of her ability, so well that she captured the hearts and imaginations of squealing tween girls all over the world.

(Oh God... I did it... I used a Twilight reference in my blog. Grudgingly, but yes, it's still there. OK, someone can come to SC to put me out of my misery now.)

So. Back to the entry, right? *shakes it off* Once you conceive of a story, once it's pulled out of the ether and been formed (at least partially) in your mind, you're responsible for it. You're the caretaker. You're the midwife, charged with birthing it into the world. If you don't... someone else will. But it's our charge as artists and writers to DO it. Even if we only create it for ourselves. We have to. It's what we're born for.

So... about that story, set in the South, about a desperate man who needs to talk to his dead wife? And how he goes to talk to the local "witchy woman" to see if she can help him get in touch with the other side? And how the witch isn't really a witch, but is being influenced by powers darker than she'd ever imagined? Not to mention the man's latently telepathic brother-in-law, and how he's struggling with trying not to fall in love with his dead sister's best friend? Uh, yeah, that's mine. I found it. I claim it.

Finders keepers.



Hi ,I wish I could write poems that comes from ideas, I tend to write life expereiences poems, I have written a few what I call "Fantasy poems" but find back I go to my life and family.
"Dancing Queen" which I submitted for "D" in the challenge was a rare fantasy one. I love the way you can come up with a story line.
Since joining other bloggers I have learned so much more and I would like to thank you for unknowingly giving me tips.
Take care.

Talli Roland said...

No! No Twilight! :)

There are so many stories in the world, and most of them have been told before. I love your phrase that we are the midwife, the custodian of the story.

(And yes, if you come to London, we're on for a visit to Daunt!)

Kierah Jane Reilly said...

You said it so well. It reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's speech at a TED conference talking about how stories seek you out and if you aren't ready to receive it, then it'll find somebody else to write it. Of course, she tells it more brilliantly than I can summarize it.

Anne Gallagher said...

Hey count me in for that trip to Daunt.

And it's so true, if you don't write that story someone else will. I see it all the time in historical romance. They've all been told before (which is what one of the agents who rejected me said) you have to find your way of telling it so it's different, fresh, new.

Steel Magnolia said...

Astutely, B, you identify a fundamental plank of writing and metaphorically bring in the archeology gods. Indeed! We must grab the story as it hovers ever so slightly above the earth, dust it off, shape it, own it and run with it ... or someone else will. I learn much from you re nailing the elusive story to the page!

Sugar said...

wow! That is so inspiring! Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

I love this. It is true that there are only so many stories (or at least themes of stories) in the world. Most of my writing seems to be personal experience, and there is definitely only one me! I was captivated by the imagery of being the caretaker and midwife of the story. Inspiring post!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Won't touch your story!
However, I am willing to come to SC and end your misery for mentioning THAT series in your blog.

Christine Danek said...

This is a great post. you are right there are only so many stories so you must jump when the inspiration hits you.
Thanks for this!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Stephen King is my writing hero too. Here's why:

He wrote Misery, the best book on the planet in its genre. Or out of it for that matter.

He keeps writing even though he is richer than Oprah.

He kept writing when he was hit by a car and in constant pain.

He wrote On Writing, to share his story with the rest of us who might be tacking rejection slips on a wall and thus giving us hope.

Sorry, what was your question?

Mason Canyon said...

Okay, I'm hooked - what happens next in your story. Thought provoking post.

Unknown said...

EXCELLENT post! Stories -- ideas -- are real, living things. They have energy and exist in the real world. Writing is nothing more than channeling. And you are so right, get your idea on paper because a) if you don't, someone else will, and because b) ideas lose energy as they sit, like vitamins and minerals in a vegetable. Get them down before their self life ages, because they can wilt over time.

Lisa said...

Great post. Although not a writer myself, it's interesting to see into the mind of one and gain some understanding of how a book comes into being. I'm learning a lot from the many writers participating in the A to Z challenge.

Ella said...

I'm from Maine, I was dared on Halloween to go to his house. I was
college aged, I did spooky and foggy, he has a wrought iron fence around his refuge with black
wrought iron spiders. I will never forget that night! I'm intrigued by your story, I think I have a couple in me. Keep at it...I want to read it! Great post~

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the concept of pulling stories out of the ether. Nice image.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Great analogy!
Hey, I'll be in Greenville SC next Wednesday - do you still need someone to put you out of your misery? LOL

Laura S. said...

It's true many stories have been told already, but no one sees the world like you do or interprets an experience like you do, so that makes every retold story unique. And you're right about someone else writing your story if you don't. Definitely something to remember!

I've only read three of Stephen King's books: The Eyes of the Dragon (one of my all-time favorite books), The Green Mile (excellent), and On Writing (also excellent). I'm too much of a baby to read any of his other books! I'm sure they're brilliant, but scary books and movies freak me out for life, haha!

Hart Johnson said...

How interesting! I love a lot of his work, but my stories are NOT buried in there (and how creepy to think of the things HE'S been buried with all this time *shivers). I am a puzzle master, pulling together things that never started there... my skill is that I am scrappy and can pull a lot of arbitrary stuff into a single story... or so I believe. I'm making stone soup... tossing something in and patiently waiting as other stuff gets tossed in and finally I've got something... (might be why I have to let my ideas stew so long before starting)

YOUR story, whether it started in there or not, sounds FABULOUS!

sarahjayne smythe said...

I love that idea. And that story sounds great. :) Go!You!

Unknown said...

I love that image, too. And there's something to be said for the idea that you don't so much create a story, but develop it from something metaphysically already there.

(Also: LOL @ Twi-reference!)

Unknown said...

This is so true the story truly does find you. I have tons of ideas locked away in a word document none have come to full force but one... one found me and finally 82,000 words later I fell in love and was able to say I completed a novel that found me!

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of truth to Stephen King's statement. Stories are found all around us. One can look at people they've known in their life and begin to piece together quirks and nuances of a character's personality.

Stephen Tremp

Lola Sharp said...

Another great post, B!

And you forgot to mention the peach trees!

Rae said...

I have started writing many stories. But I fail at page 2. I love to write, but I just don't feel I have a story that can survive past the length of a blog post!
Any suggestions?

Sophia said...

While I like the metaphor of writers as archeologists, I want to disagree with the idea that stories are found rather than made. In the same vein as the idea of a muse it seems to have a lot of connotations that don't sit well with me. For instance, the way a 'writer' (notice the quotation marks) can blame the fickleness of their muse for never having actually finished anything. It negates the idea that the writer has a role in producing the story beyond the process of putting words on the page. It takes away the responsibilty of noticing the world around you, trying to fit different images and ideas together to make one large coherent story. So I guess I would agree up to a point and say that writers are archeologists but that the bones of the story, the ideas, are to be found scattered in the ether and it's the archeologist-cum-writer's job to put it all together in a new way to make an original skeleton/story.

I haven't read On Writing - it's on my to-read list - so I could be wrong in my interpretation. In any case, I found your blog through the A to Z Blog Challenge and I'm glad I did. Having read the auditory excerpt of your book and from the hints you've mentioned elsewhere, I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I'd love the chance to read more. And I can't give a higher compliment than that to a fellow writer.
- Sophia.

B. Miller said...

Thank you, everybody, for these wonderful comments. (I'd also like to thank some of you for the offers to put me out of my misery, ha!!) Y'all never cease to impress and amaze me. Hart, I really enjoy reading the contrast between your creative process and mine! Rae, I think I will turn your question into a blog post tomorrow or Saturday, I just need to figure out how to use "H" or "I", hahaha! And Sophia - I really like that interpretation! I believe you have to be responsible to your Muse and your connection to the ether - if you don't take care of them, they'll wither.

Also, THANKS to everybody who expressed interest in my novel. You guys really know how to brighten my day. :D

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog - it was great to see you there, and I've loved my visit to yours. I'll be back soon!