Where Stories Come From

Are you looking at that image and thinking it’s rather ugly?

You object, “Purple is not the color of life. It’s not even the color of blood.”

I agree: It’s an ugly picture.

And that’s where a lot of stories come from: they come from ugliness.

A seed will begin in a crack, very often in a place that’s not very pretty.

Stories do too.

Perhaps that seed is hoping to find a better place when its first root starts pushing downward. Why down? Something in its genetic heritage says that’s the direction to go for nutrients… if you can go that way. And if it finds soft soil, it extends, but if it discovers a rock, it goes around, then tries down again. The root forks and each tendril explores, diverts, reaches deeper, and forks again.

Real life is like that. It twists and bends, seeking and avoiding. Instinctively, we know what’s life-promoting and what’s not.

Ever see a baby transferred from Mom to someone inappropriate? The baby cries. It knows.

Life prospers in directions the environment allows, or turns from the impenetrable, the poisoned, the cruel.

But stories are not seeds. They are not real life. Stories are contrived, manufactured, bent and twisted like a bonsai tree that’s been pruned and shaped, then watched as it tries to grow, and cut back again and again.

It is the story-tellers job to build something that will hold a reader’s attention.

Story-tellers start from twisted, secret lives that stop the reader: perhaps its a profusion of leaves fluttering in the breeze, sturdy limbs on which a small child may climb and dream, or something with a solid trunk to support the whole endeavor.

But more likely, it will be something hideous and terrifying, something that would make Stephen King giggle and squirm.

Ultimately, it is the ugly, dirt-encrusted roots that make compelling stories.

It’s not pretty where stories come from.

And that is where the writer must live.

In that tangle of snake-like purple roots.


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