I think the question I’m asked the most is ‘how do you write a book?’
And what that question is really asking–and sometimes the asker can articulate this and sometimes the asker cannot–is how do you turn an idea into a story?
I believe, and this is not meant to dissuade anyone, that you can teach good writing, but you cannot teach storytelling. Someone either knows and wants to tell stories, or someone does not know and want to tell stories.
But sometimes, someone wants to tell a story but gets hung up on the how of telling a story. And I want to explore that a little bit in blog posts this week.
Let’s rewind a bit and tackle this one part at a time.
Where do Ideas come from?
Ideas can come from anywhere.
I read an article about the last house on this barrier island and how the island, because it was mostly sand and silt and lacked any bedrock, eroded away. One by one, the houses fell into the sea until there was only one house left. A man bought the island, what was left of it anyways, and spent his life savings trying to rebuild it and save it, but each storm destroyed his efforts. Eventually, the very last house fell into the sea a few years ago. I read this, and instantly, I thought about a family who refused to leave the last house on the island. Or girls, a house full of ghost girls, but the reader should be unclear about whether they’re real or ghosts. Or a girl who wouldn’t leave the house and when the mainlanders tried to make her, she threw herself into the sea instead.
These are all the things my brain grasped for when I read that article. These are not stories. These are just ideas. These are first lines. Premises.
A story is a journey, and that comes from asking a question.
The girl who would not leave the last house on the island and when they said to choose life or the sea, she stayed with the house until it fell into the sea. The story lies in the why. Not in the what, but in the why. Why did she stay? Why did she choose the sea? Why did they want to save her? Why did they care?
That is the story. That’s what you’re looking for.
How did you think of all of that just because you read one article about a house that no longer exists?
You used to think like this. You used to invent stories that were wild and creative. You were told “That can’t happen” and “No, tell us what really happened” and you stopped telling those stories. Start to tell stories to yourself like you are a child again. Not in an infantilizing way, because even children know when they are being infantilized.
When you hear something interesting, imagine it in a different world. What if that last house on the island…what if that was Windsor Castle? What happened to England and the royal family if Windsor Castle is the sinking house on the island? Get wild. Get creative. There is not a stupid idea. You will come up with twelve ideas you discard for every one idea you write down and keep, and that’s okay. That’s how creativity works.
Let yourself daydream. I believe firmly in the power of daydreaming and writers and artists of all strokes will tell you that their ideas come to them in the shower, or while walking their dog, or while driving. Somewhere where their mind drifts a bit. Where they are less distracted by the chaotic nature of our daily lives.
Keep a list of ideas you think of. Not all of them will be great. That’s not what you’re trying to do here. What you’re doing is training yourself to open your mind to story ideas and inspiration. Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about learning to ask the right questions!
If you have questions now, please leave them in the comments (moderated, so they may take time to show up!) or send me an email via my contact form. Let me know if you want me to answer privately or if I can answer publicly!
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