Mommy, Where Do Stories Come From?

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.

Where stories come from?

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?

About Kimberly Packard

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. She began visiting her spot on the shelves at libraries and bookstores at a young age, gazing between the Os and the Qs. Kimberly received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and has worked in public relations and communications for nearly 20 years. When she isn’t writing, she can be found rollerblading, doing a poor imitation of yoga or curled up with a book. She resides in North Texas with her husband Colby, Oliver the cat and a 75-pound lap dog named Charlie. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors.
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23 Responses to Mommy, Where Do Stories Come From?

  1. Adam S says:

    It’s funny, I always felt the same way. You use the term “conduit” and I use the “antennae”. I always felt like the idea was out there somewhere floating around in space — I didn’t create it — I was only receptive and patient enough to receive it and record it. That’s probably the reason I have a hard time taking compliments — it’s not my work!

  2. Great post! I can so relate to this! I don’t know where my inspirations come from; I only know that a germ of an idea gets me to sit down to write, and then the story takes over. In last year’s NaNo challenge, I sat down to write a story that’s been nagging at me for more than 20 years. Once I began to write, the characters took on a life of their own and I felt I had no control over what they said or did. I was absolutely shocked when one of my characters was shot; I had no idea that would happen. I, too, feel I am merely the conduit for the characters to tell the story they want to tell. I used to think that was weird but have since found out that other writers feel the same way. I have never been able to work from an outline of any sort; it’s too confining.

    • Thank you, Ruth! I’m a total pantster, too, but every now and then I have to journal out some story points. There’s something about writing with a pen and paper that helps if I ever get stuck. Isn’t it the coolest feeling in the world when the story takes over?

  3. Reblogged this on I really just pretend to know stuff and commented:
    It really seems to be a matter of believing when it comes to those things. And it’s not like only one POV can inhabit a writer. As an anthropologist, I see a lot of stories from an educational POV; many stories contain heroes and villains, who are identified by their actions and attributes, while their identities are defined by the setting and the plot. Take Amanda and Josh in your Phoenix, at least what I’ve seen up to now: Josh was actively deceiving his staff in order to create a financial smokescreen and steal money from private retirement investments, Amanda thought she was on the right track, but when the sh*t hits the fan and Josh takes off, she is ridden with guilt over the crimes she helped him commit (unbeknowenst to her), ruining many people’s lives. The educational part is where we have a financial crisis, where we identified the 1% as greedy sons of b*tches, and the story helps us understand why people act the way they do in the new situation; it is an explanation, very much like the analogy of said birds and bees. Our need to explain things is an overwhelming instinct, and lacking the proper methods and tools, humans made up stories to explain the forces of nature, which in turn formed the basis of religion. Before I ramble on…

    Ah yes, multiple POV’s. The urge to explain things is only part of the story. You might also argue that it is the other way around. We like to tell stories, to play, and we just take stuff that has hapened recently because it is fresh in our minds, or far back/ahead in time that we can romantisize. In the end, I think it comes from our nature, our ability to phantasize. I think I’d rather try the birds and bees thing now, that’s easier.

    • Hi NicoLite! Thank you so much for the reblog. Yes, I think it’s from having that highly evolved ability to communicate … which leads for us overachievers to over-communicating. Writing is our way to make sense of the senseless. To inhabit another’s mind and body and walk in his or her shoes.

  4. It really seems to be a matter of believing when it comes to those things. And it’s not like only one POV can inhabit a writer. As an anthropologist, I see a lot of stories from an educational POV; many stories contain heroes and villains, who are identified by their actions and attributes, while their identities are defined by the setting and the plot. Take Amanda and Josh in your Phoenix, at least what I’ve seen up to now: Josh was actively deceiving his staff in order to create a financial smokescreen and steal money from private retirement investments, Amanda thought she was on the right track, but when the sh*t hits the fan and Josh takes off, she is ridden with guilt over the crimes she helped him commit (unbeknowenst to her), ruining many people’s lives. reblogged to http://flusenkopp.wordpress.com/category/the-regular-stuff/

  5. Emma McCoy says:

    Great post. I’ve been contemplating the question of where stories come from for a while now. Recently I tried some free associative writing so it’s wild that you wrote this at a time when I was writing in an uninhibited way. I agree that a thought for a story can be triggered in what seems liked random ways.

  6. adsimons says:

    My three year old asked me the same thing just last week. I told her stories were gifts from Muse and moon and if she closed her eyes and listened hard enough, they would whisper to her fantastic tales.

  7. Pat says:

    Stories come from everywhere and I love your thought that they are hanging around, waiting for someone to pick them up. Certainly feels that way sometimes.
    Sometimes mine arrive fully formed, tied into neat packages. Sometimes they have to wait around to hear another prompt before they get themselves sorted out.
    I’ve never had to answer this question from a child, but I love the thought that the child would ask it. Well done that little person.

  8. Dave Higgins says:

    The idea of ideas floating around in another realm has resurfaced across the world repeatedly: Plato, the Akashic Records, Jung. One of my friends is firmly of the belief he merely transcribes the story. I am not certain if it is the unconscious or something outside.

    • Hi Dave! I’d agree with your friend. When I am fully into the fictive dream of writing, I feel like I’m just the conduit. There are times I’ll look back at something a little while later and have no recollection of writing it at all.

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