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Where Do Stories Come From?

People have often asked me how I come up with the stories that I write. This is always a puzzling question to me. The honest answer is that I don’t come up with the stories at all. The stories pop up all around me. Sometimes I try to walk my way through them, avoiding them like landmines because I don’t have time to tell another story. There are not enough hours in the day for me to finish all the writing projects that I already have, (not to mention the time it takes to find people to actually read them). What I absolutely do not need is to fall into another tale. So, I creep around them, I see them blossoming out of daily routines and conversation and I turn the other way. I do not come up with stories. The stories are there all the time, begging and pleading to be told, to be given a chance.

I manage to avoid many of them. Some of them I run through my mind and that seems to be enough. Some of them I nod to politely as I keep walking, but some of them, the tricky ones, plant a character in my mind and then I’m stuck. Once that character is in there, rattling around, sparking synapses, it is not a matter of whether I will write the story. It is more a question of how much I have to give before I can again be the master of my own mind. How much space does this character need to grow? When she grows, is she going to bring a whole world with her?

I don’t make up characters, or worlds. They spring from the collective conscious of the world into my mind already made and demand that I give them space to be. Sometimes I try to fight back. For instance, when I was writing the first novel in The Light Wielder’s series called Dimension Quy, I really wanted my female protagonist to be named Cedar. I like the name a lot, I thought that it would fit her personality and I had all of these grand metaphorical ideas about why I thought the name was ideal. Unfortunately, her name is Delilah. I don’t know why, so don’t bother to ask, but that is just it. I couldn’t change it. I tried. I wrote her as Cedar, I tried to force her to be Cedar, but every time I would let my guard down, she would pop back in as Delilah. Maybe if Delilah had been a baby when she had blossomed in my mind, maybe then I would have been able to name her, but she was not. She was an eleven year old girl and she was not the least bit interested in any of my reasons for wanting to change her name.

My characters never cease to surprise me. They like to shake up my world and challenge my suppositions, maybe they are afraid that I would get bored and desert them if they simply behaved the way that I expected them to. I used to try to plan out my stories, especially when I didn’t have enough time to write. I would jot down some about what I thought would happen and then come back to those notes when I had time to write the story. This never worked. All it meant was that I came back to those notes, (when I was tired of the character in my head pleading and cajoling me to write his story). Taking the character firmly in one part of my mind, and the story in the other, I would try to push them together. It was a lot like trying to mix oil and water. It seemed to work for a bit, they almost blended, at least until I stopped shaking the bottle. That’s pretty much how it went for me. I would plunge into a story, throw the character in and start writing frantically, only to look up and notice that my character was not doing what I thought he would and now none of the other notes that I had made any sense.

After 35 years of being an incubator for roaming characters, I do wonder if the secret to good fiction writing is to back off and let the characters tell their own stories. Resisting the urge to control a story leads to a more authentic voice. Instead of making a character do things, watching what she does and growing vicariously through her actions is possibly the writer’s duty. That and revising and revising and revising and revising and ...

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