As many writers will tell you, the first rule of being a good writer is to read, and read, and read some more.
But I like to think it goes beyond that. You can’t simply read like any other reader; you have to read like a writer. You have to take apart what you read and figure out what works and what doesn’t and why. You have to take what you’ve learned, and you have to apply it to your own writing.
I also think it goes beyond stories written in books. There are stories in every medium imaginable. There are stories in movies, TV shows, songs, and art. But it goes beyond that, too. The truth is there are stories pretty much everywhere you look.
In Toren the Teller’s Tale, young Toren learns that every person, every object, and even forces like the wind have their own unique stories. If she can read a thing’s complete story, that thing becomes a part of her. She can control it, but only if that thing wants to be controlled. And when she fully knows a thing’s story, she can retell it in a single word that brings that thing to life. This is her unique magic, the magic of the storyteller.
While Toren the Teller’s Tale is an epic fantasy, there’s a part of it that’s, well, not a fantasy at all. The truth is that every person and every object does have a story. You have to crack it open like an egg, take it apart and figure it out to discover the story hidden within.
Just pick up any object, the object closest to you. Who made that? Where did it come from? How did it get to you? Who were the people who affected or were affected by its journey? And isn’t it interesting to think that someone at the start of its journey in some small way affected you at this stage of its journey? You’re connected to each other through this object. You’re connected to every person along its path. And that’s just one object. Look around you. How many people affected or were affected by the objects just in your immediate vicinity? And role did they play in that object’s story?
But it’s even more than that. Because every person, every object, holds millions of possible stories. How could this object have arrived here? Where could it have gone instead? And what could happen to it in the future? How would that affect the people involved? The potential stories are infinite. And if you believe the Many Worlds theory of quantum physics, what’s even crazier is that they could all be true, somewhere out in our amazing universe.
In his autobiographical book, Rewrites: A Memoir, playwright Neil Simon says (I’m paraphrasing), “Writer’s block isn’t when a writer has no ideas; it’s when a writer has so many ideas and doesn’t trust himself to choose the right one.”
With so many stories around us all the time, that truly is a dilemma. How do you choose the right one?
I like improv’s answer. There is no right and no wrong choice. There’s just a choice, and you have to make it or let the audience make it for you. Whatever the choice is, you have to commit to it 100%. I guess you could say the only wrong choice is not choosing or not committing to what’s been chosen.
I see dozens of stories around me every day, and I throw almost all of them out.
It’s not because I haven’t committed to a choice. It’s because I am already 100% committed to choices I’ve already made, stories I have thought out in my mind or outlined on paper but haven’t had time to turn into fully formed manuscripts. Like the persona in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I “have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep.”
But the stories are there, inside my head. Don’t ask me what I’m thinking. You probably don’t want to know.
I once sat with a guy near a bonfire and watched the ashes float in the hot air above the flames. He leaned in and said, “You’re a writer. I bet you’re thinking something about the poetic beauty of the fire.” I smiled and nodded, although what I was really thinking was “Wouldn’t it be funny if some prehistoric caveman who was obsessed with flight saw those ashes and thought he could fly if he could somehow sew or glue the ashes together? And after a few failed attempts, it might occur to him that it had something to do with the fire. He’d wonder if he could fly if he could just somehow throw himself on the fire at just the right angle. Maybe he could test that theory by tossing a friend over it. Hey, maybe that’s what gave J.M. Barrie the idea for pixie dust!”
See? There's a reason why I don't tell the stories I don't tell and focus instead on the ones I do.
Speaking of which, I should get back to those stories. The second book in the Legend of Gilbert the Fixer, here I come!