Where Do Stories Come From?

The stork, right? Oh, wait, I’m getting confused–the stork is for babies. With stories, it’s a muse, or some other mysterious Something Out There. And while I joke about my muse or a great cosmic ocean of stories that trickle or flood into the minds and out of the pens of the writers they choose, my most successful stories certainly were not born of classroom assignments or formulas.

Sometimes a fictional situation or character takes me by surprise. This usually happens when I’ve had some form of artistic stimulation. For instance, while listening to a particularly moving song, a scene might pop into my head, not just begging but demanding to be transcribed. Then I’m left with the problem of building the story that goes with it.

There are other times that an event in my life so moves me that I must write to resolve or discover my own feelings about that situation. My story “Stranded” at Smashwords.com is a good example. Many readers think it doesn’t resolve, but what I’ve discovered is that the people who have the most difficult time with it believe a story isn’t finished if all the loose ends aren’t tied in pretty little bows. “What happens?” they ask. And I want to say that that’s not the point. Believe me, I’ve tried to change the ending or write a sequel. But every time I attempted to put a pat ending on it, it rang false. I decided to let the story be true to itself, even if it ticked off certain of my audience. And, in my opinion, some stories should stay that way.

There are other writers out there who have tried to answer questions for readers, and they often ruin a good story for me. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre are two stories that, as far as I am concerned, should stand alone. Yet other authors wrote sequels (Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, respectively) that turned the original stories upside down. I guess while they make for interesting discussion, I wish I’d never read them.

So if some stories seem so incomplete or displeasing that other people find it necessary to “finish” them, why are they told to begin with? I don’t think storytelling has as much to do with finding out whodunit or the good guy defeating the bad guy as exploring the issues and truths that stimulated the stories’ authors to write. There are far fewer stories that dig and claw with bloodied fingernails for the truth than those that are written for publishing’s sake. These latter writers I call hacks, and they cheapen publishing for those of us who agonize over cutting scenes that we toiled over for weeks. They write to make a buck, not out of passion or soul-searching need. I would argue that, if there is a muse out there, he or she is not welcome by these people. Why? Because if writers open themselves to being ambushed by stories, they have to do difficult things, think uncomfortable thoughts, and face dark moments within themselves in order to tell the stories that need to be told. Plus, it is never easy writing something you don’t want to write but, nevertheless, must. J.K. Rowling wept when she killed Sirius Black, but he had to die, otherwise she could not have finished Harry’s tale.

The reason I know that “Stranded” is done is because of the satisfaction I felt when I last revised it. I resolved my own feelings about the issues behind my story, and it serves its particular purpose. If someone, someday feels compelled to write more about my characters, I only hope that it is because the story has found the right person to pick up the thread, rather than someone trying to tie up loose ends that should have remained untied.

One thought on “Where Do Stories Come From?

  1. […] the sequel that they feel answers the questions you intentionally left. (I touched on this in a post late in […]

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