It’s probably easier to explain the birds and the bees to a four-year-old than it is to explain where stories come from. While there are far fewer body parts involved, the answer isn’t simple at all because each writer has a different method, and each story comes from a different place.
Recently departed Ray Bradbury was extremely methodical in his approach to developing stories. He would brainstorm words, just a straight up free association of words, but in that jumble a story would emerge. And for a week, he would craft that story, a verb here, an adjective there. Once that story was completed, he went back to a blank sheet of paper and would brainstorm another list of words. It was through this process that stories like Fahrenheit 451 came into this world.
In his book about the creative process, From Where You Dream, author Robert Olen Butler speaks about stories coming to us as we emerge from our dreams into waking, that moment when you straddle two worlds, real life and the dream land. It is in this moment that our minds are most receptive to the gifts of creativity, that like children, it’s OK to play make-believe because our adult minds are still at rest.
More authors than I can count rely on the “what-if” scenario for story development. It’s a beautiful question that is the genesis of so many great stories. What if a young boy wizard is the chosen one? What if synthetic blood allowed vampires to “come out of the coffin”? What if a man could travel through time, but only his life time?
What do I believe? Well, my theory about where stories come from is a little more woo-woo. I believe they already exist, floating somewhere in the cosmos waiting for the right author to pull them down at the right time. When that author is fully entranced in the fictive dream, she is no longer in control of the story, but serves as a conduit for it to come into existence.
All it takes is one thought to trigger that story to fall into our heads, like a falling star getting caught by our gravitational pull. For Phoenix, it was a off-the-cuff joke made by a corporate attorney at the company I worked for at the time to set off the avalanche. My next story, the one rumbling around in my head with three hastily written chapters, came from a snippet of an interview by a Grammy-winning singer that formed two broken characters each trying to find their voice.
Why is it that these two instances spawned stories and not the thousand of other interactions or comments that pass me by every day? Maybe those stories were already forming deep within my gray matter, or they were floating in the creative cosmos and all it took was a question or sentence to invite them into my life.
Inspiration will probably always remain a mystery. Which is quite OK with me. I appreciate my Muse for the gifts she gives me when she does, and I don’t feel the need to chase her down and tie her to a chair.
Tell me, where do your stories come from?