Collecting stories…a term I am using to define half of my job, my passion, of writing. Fifty percent of writing is being a collector of tales, a collector of words, ideas, people, places, things, societies, etc. It’s storing all those things inside your head and then pulling them out and weaving them together one-by-one in your own way and your own words. Quite a beautiful notion, isn’t it?
For a very long time I’ve been uber-focused on the two different ideas I have for fiction series. The first and most consuming project is a fantasy story I’m looking to tell over the span of about ten books. I’ve completed one so far and am a little ways into the next. The second project is a shorter series that is sort of a thriller, inspired by the plights of child-soldiers and the thought of how they would be used in western society. For most of my short writing career these two projects have been my focus and my goal, and I think that is all good and fine. It’s good to have goal and focus, especially in writing.
However, I think that in my “uber-focus” I’ve neglected that other fifty percent piece; the importance of collecting stories. Instead, I’d allowed myself to be content with a collection of two, and ideas that flowed into me only flowed into those two stories rather than out into other things, into their own worlds and characters. A side effect of this is the bloating of my two main projects. They simply cannot sustain every notion and concept that pops into my head. No one story ever could.
But another and I believe much more harmful side effect of this lack of collecting is that I have foregone so many opportunities for other stories. For creating other places and spaces and characters. I’ve missed out on years of crafting other things, too busy over-molding what I already had.
Luckily for me, that’s shifted a lot the past year or so. I’ve been bombarded with a wide array of new and exciting ideas for novels, novellas, short stories and even poetry, something I never dabbled in before, and my inspiration is absolutely everywhere.
Don’t believe me? I can give you tons of examples. Just tonight I was listening to my 82 year old grandmother and her brother and his wife discussing various aspects of their lives and of the people they knew growing up. In that hour, two hour long conversation dozens of colorful characters were shoved in my face. From a chronic alcoholic father who hated people who drank, to a kindly rich woman without daughters of her own who fawned over my dirt-poor, farm-raised grandma and her sisters. From even those two people alone, my brain was flowing with story possibilities.
Last night I was hanging out with two of my oldest friends. We were looking up the definitions of our names to get a full translation. Mine being Emily Diane Mundell, basically meant ‘diligent goddess of a small Scottish town.’ It reminded me of the Painted Lady episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and from that my story signal was flashing bright.
I had a dream the other night in which my boyfriend had grown up to become a sociopath who enjoyed tormenting people with bombs (yes, I have weird dreams). In the dream I was very upset and trying to get him to repent and change his ways. It brought on me the inspiration for a story called “Faithless”. A novel set in an alternate sort of universe in which a nation is torn into strife by a resistance movement which is battling the nationalist army. A female army soldier, Saagar Remus, finds herself sitting down to question one of their prisoners of war, only to realize he is the husband she forsook when he became part of the Resistance. After my dream I was keen to explore how love would work without trust, and the story was born.
I could offer many, many more examples, for me, inspiration is in the very air I breathe. I’d just forgotten to tap into it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the point I would like to make. If you are a writer, you are a story collector, and it is your job to observe the world, comb it over, for all these little things that might make a good story. It is a grand task, but a wonderful one. Never forget that fifty percent of writing. It might just be the most important percentage…