Friday, August 23, 2013

Light my fire

Whenever I'm asked to discuss how I came to write a particular story, I often have nothing worthwhile to say. So, when I read another writer's long, involved treatise about the creation of a story, I want to shout, "Bullshit!"

I suspect the bulk of those treatises are after-the-fact justifications written to appease readers who don't know any better or written as some sort of delusional marketing attempt. I can't recall story creation ever involving that much angst.

So, where do stories come from?

Let's call it a story spark. Some potentially insignificant thing sparks a story and, like a fire, the story grows from the kindling surrounding it.

For example, the spark might be an editor asking for a mystery set in Times Square, a call for submissions requesting ghost stories involving coal mining, or a magazine's regular use of holiday-themed women's stories.

Sometimes the spark catches fire immediately and I sit down to write. Sometimes it burns like an ember for several days before catching fire. Either way the story grows from that spark in the same way a fire grows: it engulfs the flammable story material around it.

My flammable story material comes from all I have done and all I have read and all I have studied, and it has piled up awaiting a story spark to ignite it. But I don't usually construct the story fire as I would a campfire.

Because my story fires are more like wildfires than campfires, I am often unable to discuss how I wrote any particular story. I just wrote it.

All the material was there waiting for a spark. When the spark came, so did the story.


Graham Powell said...

Years ago, I had an idea for a couple of characters and a motive for an Agatha Christie-type whodunit. I put it aside and didn't think much about it any more.

Years later, I was reading a whodunit - I think it was Philip MacDonald's THE RASP - and I got an idea for how to open my Christie book. I sat down and wrote the first 800 words. Now I'm maybe a couple thousand words from finishing the first draft.

So yeah, you never can tell where you're going to get an idea.

Michael Bracken said...

Sometimes you have to wait for the kindling to accumulate before that spark will start a fire.

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Graham.