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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Story Seeds

You know what drives me crazy? When I read a really good chapter or ten in my critique group and the author never finishes the story. It makes me want to set something on fire.

You know what's even worse? Finding my own abandoned stories.

Each year I start a new writing folder. The folder for 2014 had 60 story ideas and a folder for short stories and fanfic (because I sometimes a girl needs to run into the embrace of her crackship that's why). Over sixty stories. Guess how many I finished last year... TWO.

The rest are sitting there with anywhere between 300 words and 60,000. Bits and pieces of worlds floating like flotsam in the wake of juggernauts that survived.  It's an ugly thing.

By most definitions this wreckage of literature counts as failure. I failed to write a book. I failed to finish a book. I failed to write more than 300 words in a book. Personally, I view these as story seeds.

Somewhere in that flotsam is a killer story idea, it just hasn't germinated yet. The story isn't ready to grow. Some key element is missing. There's story seeds hiding in my computer with outlines, some of them have endings even, but I can't seem to find the missing piece. Not yet at any rate.

THE DAY BEFORE was a story seed once upon a time. I wrote four novels and a novella between the original idea and the first draft. And another novel and two more novellas between the first draft and the last. It squatted in the back of my brain for years like a fat toad waiting for a rainy day.

And once the rain came the story slide forward; mucky, murky, full of unidentifiable yuck, and rather smelly.

Writing isn't a pretty business. There's a lot of fitful stops and starts, days spent cursing the muses for the gift of the written word, and days spent blabbling to the wall because no one else wants to listen to your infernal plot problems again. It doesn't actually get prettier than that. You dumpster dive in the muck of dreams, the squelching juices oozing out after the trash has been left to rot all summer long, and you find gold dust. Dirty, easy to miss, ignored by everyone but there.

Slowly but surely you pan the flecks of diamond dreams out of mires and build something wonderful. Oh, sure, the rough draft is going to look like a mud pie with twigs and daggers in it, but a little elbow grease, several washes through the editing rinse cycle, and eventually you will have a shimmering castle of dreams that everyone will call a book.

And then you'll walk away from the shimmering dream castle to muck about in the mire and fetid fumes once again.

People will tell you that you're crazy. People will tell you that lightning doesn't strike twice. People will kick the pretty dream tower you made and shove you face down in the dirt. And when you're down there you'll find another little story seed to tuck in your pocket.

Because you know one day you'll find just what you need to make the seed sprout and then you'll have the foundation for another shimmering dream castle.

Don't lose hope, because what I'm saying when it comes to books is what Indiana Jones said all along... I'm making this up as I go along, and that's the only way to tell a story.

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