Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mommy, where do stories come from?

First off, in my entry from Friday, May 23, I mention a meme I came across but could not find again. I finally remembered what exactly I was Googling when I found it the first time and have at long last recovered the link: As someone who as a child/young adult used to entertain herself with making up titles and TV guide-type blurbs for imaginary movies (sometimes even going so far as to sketch accompanying movie posters), this is far more addicting than you might imagine. If you share any personality traits with me whatsoever (and you know who you are), do not follow this link unless you have some piddling-away time to spare.

"Where do your story ideas come from?" is a theme often discussed amongst writers (and sometimes just when we're talking to ourselves). Quite honestly, I don't really know any more than anyone else does, but I've gotten to know myself well enough to recognize the points of inspiration that lead me down a path to a particular story. It's interesting to me to take a finished story and look back at the sparks that marked its beginning and see how far the long and winding road has taken it from start to finish. I've been thinking about documenting some of my thought processes on previous stories in this blog, in part because I am an overanalyzing freak but also because I often find that making myself look at how I worked through previous stories helps me struggle through my current work. It reminds me that every story I've ever finished was also once just a few scribbles on paper, just like the ones that are as-yet unfinished.

Flash fiction is pretty easy to track. Being shorter--although by no means less craft-intensive--means the distance covered from start to finish is shorter, and the tighter boundaries leave less room for an excess of ideas. Motionless Wings came in part from one very vivid visual image. My husband and I were driving the four hour stretch of interstate between our home in Indiana and central Illinois, where our assorted family members live. It was a windy day in early spring, and we passed a small pond. A trick of the wind plus our movement plus the flight direction of the birds flying over the pond made it appear that a handful of small birds were simply frozen, completely motionless, in the air over the pond. Not a terribly unusual sight, but at the time I'd been keeping a small notebook to jot down writerly ideas in hopes that someday I would learn how to write stories. Said notebook was open on my lap, so I jotted a quick note: "roadside pond, motionless birds" or something to that effect.

It was five years later before I used that note, as I searched for a visual to sum up my struggles with and sometimes victories over depression for one of a series of flash fictions I was writing to hone my writing skills. I wrestled with that tiny piece of semi-fiction for a long time, even after I had the visual of the motionless wings in place, trying to find just the right nuances to capture the dreadful, trapped feeling of depression while also instilling that quiet spark of hope and determination that carries you through if you can find it and cling to it. It wasn't the first story I'd finished, but it was my first sale. It paid $5 plus self esteem. I also took it as a sign that even though it was more than a little unsettling to put something of myself into a story, it is that kind of honesty that makes even fiction ring true. Most of my other stories are far less auto-biographical, but there are pieces of me layered in each of them somewhere.

No comments: