Having started two short stories with little thought - no, let's make that little planning - I reflected on my process as I drifted into sleep last night. I wonder how it compares to others.
I don't plan stories or even novels. It's like playing cards with myself: you have any characters?
I taught myself to provide said self with entertainment when I was young. Don't know why. I wasn't lonely or sickly. I just liked ideas. Concepts. Stories. I used clay to create machines, or parts of models to create new models, or just drew maps or other objects. Then I thought up adventures and stories around my creations. Sometimes I invented stories for friends, starting with a dream and expanding it to create more adventure.
Now, finding stories is a more structured process - or so I tell myself. In reality, I notice something and things escalate. I think about what sort of story is behind whatever I saw. Sometimes it's an idea, concept or trend, but it also starts with characters. As the thoughts about whichever thicken and deepen, more story develops. Either I then think of a beginning or an end. As those words set foot in my mind, I find the compulsion to sit down and write them in a formal story structure.
One such story emerged from seeing a Christmas tree and then singing an absurd song about the zombie tree. Zombie tree was fashioned after "O Christmas Tree". I just changed some words. As I walked and laughed to myself about it, I began thinking of a zombie story. A good deal of it had seeped into my head by the time I walked in my front door and returned to work. Recalling my thought of it after dinner a few hours later, opening lines emerged:
Heavenly missed sunshine, she thought, looking out the windows at the sun and sky. Sunshine, full moons...she missed anything involving being outside. Really. She missed all those outside activities even though she never thought of herself as an outdoor girl. Outdoor girl was a stupid phrase, like I was thinking in my head, like there's somewhere else to think. Outdoor girl made her think of someone living like an animal in the woods.
She was not quite that dire. She'd almost been, before she found the school. That'd been the First Days, like Beverly said it, capital case, to mark them as important. Beverly conveyed the letters in her tone. Heavenly thought she had the same tone now. Her mother was able to talk in tones like that, giving words upticks or changing her voice to make you think about more than what she was saying. It was a Mom trick. Dad did it, too, but Moms were more clever and subtle about it.
Did it? Used to do it? Neither were there. They didn't do anything any longer that Heavenly knew.
All that went on for several more pages, with characters, actions, plans and memories being introduced. I have an inkling how it ends, too. How to get to there remains the writing challenge.
The other story I started emerged from a telephone commercial. Digging it out of my mind, the story leaped free. First lines presented themself:
The telephone calls started the week after I saw myself across the street. I didn't look the same age. I looked a lot older but I saw myself in that splayed foot, long legged stride and bent head, with the face looking up. It was like me, hunkered down as though I - he - ducked something, waiting for it to land on him and trying to avoid it. Like me, he moved his head back and forth, always looking around. Take it all in, don't let them catch you, was what I always advertised to myself. Seem observant. Be observant.
Then he looked back. I saw the mustached, bearded face. Recognition, that's me, shocked my mind.
His scan slowed when he saw me. Cars and trucks were going by or I would have gone across the street after him. Ducking more, he sped up his pace and looked back again, then lowered his head.
As I would do, I thought, when I don't want to be seen, when I'm pretending that I don't see something.
Like the other story, it went on for several pages, and today, as I thought about it and read and edited what I wrote, more pieces emerged, and the ending's first outlines emerged, providing more direction about where I was going.
On the other hand, there are times when I think of something as a story to be told or a character searching for a tale, and as I do, I know, that's a novel. What defines the difference in my mind? How do I think of one and recognize that it's a short story and think of another and think, novel? It's one facet of myself that eludes my comprehension.
Other forms of story telling creep into my desires. I have ideas scribbled down for plays, movies and television series. Each has a different format in my mind, and I know what each is to be. It makes me wonder.
1. Are these things just passing through me? Am I creating them, realizing them, or just providing a conduit to someone else creating them?
2. Are these new stories and ideas or I am remembering things I saw or read when I was younger, which I don't remember as stories.
Both of them are intriguing ideas with elements of terror dangling from them. It's like, in the first example, how did I become a conduit? How much do the folks on the other end influence me?
In the second case, it's like, wow, I'm writing something that I read. That's sad and creepy. (It's also another interesting story idea. Boy, that can go in all kinds of crazy directions.)
I don't know. It might just be that I have an active imagination seasoned with a little innate craziness, or that, like the boy I was, I just like entertaining myself.
To close it all out, writing is often like a drive through the dark woods. It begins that way, then I'm in the woods and the world is the dark place somewhere back behind me.
All of it begins with an idea.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com