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The Story of a Story

Monday, 15 March 2010

Stories, as we know, have to have an arc. Or, if not an arc, some similar shape. They even teach this in primary school these days, which I think is fantastic. But still, it's the basic tenet of storytelling that there needs to be a progression, a movement, a transformation. I was struck, recently, that the process of writing a story is the same. There is an arc to what the writer goes through as well as to the story that results. A story to the story. A story which, in fact, is pretty much a love story ...

For me it goes something like this. First there is the thrill, the rush of a new idea. It's often unexpected and can strike at any time. Often inconveniently. But it's generally a glorious experience, love at first sight. It's like peering through a tiny crack in a wall and glimpsing a whole new, sparkling room through there. For a time, you find it hard to think about much else. You're fascinated by its shape, its quirks, the things it says to you.

Once the initial rush is over, reality starts to set in. You start drafting and redrafting and discover the story's flaws and irritations. You hit some stumbling blocks that may or may not be insurmountable. There are still moments of wonder and discovery, but you may also fall out of love with the idea before seeing it through to the end. It may turn out to be just be a brief infatuation or it may grow into a grand love that requires novels to be written. Or it may be a brief dalliance : a short story you write when you're supposed to be working on something else.

If the passion is for real there is a certain amount of hum-drum, day-to-day mundanity to come to terms with. There's a need for commitment. You have to work at writing and rewriting and, occasionally, remind yourself why you loved the idea so much in the first place. And if you stick with it, you probably end up with something rather different from your original vision. Reality and dreams never quite coincide. Still, it will probably be better, deeper, more resonant than originally intended.

It can be quite a ride and sometimes you wonder if it's worth it. But when things work out it's wonderful. You emerge from the whole process changed, more experienced and hopefully content. Like the protagonist of the story itself, you, the writer, have learned things, undergone a transformation. I don't think you could ever write the same story twice. Having written it once you'd inevitably do it differently a second time around.

Once the story is complete you just have to hope that others - readers - will see in it what you saw. Or see something that works for them anyway. But, of course, whether they do is a whole different story ...


  1. ...which reminds me, I must, must read your story on my kindle thingy!

    I'm so behind at the mo...!!!


    Take care

  2. Old Kitty,

    Don't worry, I'm not checking up!


  3. Writing is so different from other arts, too, because we must have readers or the process isn't complete.

  4. That's a very interesting point you make about how what you have at the end of the process can be very different from what you thought you had at the beginning. Happens to me all the time :-)

  5. KarenG,

    Fair point. There are those who say that readers write books aren't there? In their heads as they read ...


I'd love to know what you think.