Where does the spark of a story originate? Walking down the street trimmed with frosted pine swags, hearing the distant hum of a children’s choir and a mother berating her teenage son for wanting to spend Christmas day at the house of his girlfriend, her voice drips with disdain. A scene both festive and a bit heart-wrenching. I often find myself drawn to this kind of imagery, beauty in a place contrasted with hurtful humans. No matter how idyllic the setting is, if people are there, some will demand other’s obedience or display a kind of selfishness that soon ruins the idyll.
What makes a story unforgettable? It has to reveal a struggle hidden deep in you. Your personal connection with a particular kind of conflict that allows you to pour in the energy, and emotion needed to draw the interest of other people. That doesn’t mean the story has to be about you. But, it does have to be about what you hold dear. This idea is the germ of the story.
However, producing the story requires so much more, including the discipline needed to take that idea and express it in characters as they develop. It requires the ability to play with events in the plot as challenges arise, until the pacing flows. It requires ingenuity in resolving the conflict. This kind of creative work, known as elaboration, is the most difficult and time consuming part of writing.
If you follow instructions and tick boxes when constructing a story, you will write a story that resembles ones that have been written before without the investment of your heart or stretching your ability to the breaking point by creating a vision that you have not yet seen. You can learn from instruction on writing, but at some point, you have to diverge from that to make a story compelling because it is your own.
Try this exercise. Keep a notebook with you the entire day. Whenever something intrigues you, an image, an event, or conversation, record them. If toting the notebook is a bit too much you can record these on a phone as I do. (Just make sure you are not connected to the internet so that you can shut down the drain of social media). If there is too much distraction in your world to write your thoughts, go to a dark room, with only enough light to write. It helps to observe not only what is going on in your vision, but also what is going on in your mind. At the end of the day review your writing and see which parts seem to draw you in while reading. Those are the themes and techniques that you can use to make your fiction come alive.