Finding the Path to a Good Story

trailblaze path
A story starts with a glimpse, a possibility. It calls me to wander in and explore

The stories I yearn to tell have to do with intriguing, sensitive characters, in an alternative history or futuristic setting. When I deal with the future it seems my ideas concern post-eco-apocalyptic settings.

I don’t tend to dwell much on religion, which is interesting, because I am myself a religious person. It’s a question worth asking myself, why I don’t involve divinity and / or faith in the stories that I tell. Maybe because it’s too close to home and I am afraid that I might fail the whole truth of which I know merely a little. To quote Stranger in a Strange Land – “I am but an egg”.

Most of my ideas stem from a vision or a dream. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to drop one word and a whole world of possibilities unfolds in my mind.

Which is a blessing but also a challenge.

A blessing, because I get those “free” ideas in my sleep, or I bank upon ideas I had envisioned and played around with in the past. A challenge, because visions or dreams do not necessarily make up a logical or interesting plot; so while they do serve as an entry ticket into wonderland, I often find that I must reroute myself and sacrifice in revision the path which I had already carved out with much effort. Sometimes I find out what a story is not, what a story should not be, only by painstakingly walking the wrong path first. And most of the time, because I’m in such a rush to birth that story out (I am allowing myself to use that metaphor, though I want to slap in the face male writers who do so), I will try to keep going on that path of bore or ridicule before I finally admit that I should be doing something else, really.

The issue with having been a railway writer for so long is that having little increments of time to write, and sometimes going on long (forced) breaks between sessions, together with a brain which keeps going on and inventing more stuff -characters and settings and what not – without writing them down, is that my stories seemed to get bloated and overstimulated, unfocused. Either that, or I would start on one track in December and find myself in July telling a completely different tale employing a completely different element (oh! It’s not fantasy! It’s actually alternative history!). Then I would have to go back and re write. More likely, I would get depressed and anxious.

Yet I have to start out as a panster, I have to start out with just a vision lighting my way, because that is what draws my interest, my curiosity of “what comes up next”. But over time I have adopted some planner strategies to egg me on, to ask the right questions which will lead me (hopefully!) in the right way. Look at it as a trailblazer, who with some experience, has garnered some tricks or knowledge of what signs to look for in a promising new trail. Will that rock be a steady foothold? If I cut this tree or reshape it, would the path be easier? Am I missing a good lookout spot if I don’t go up that mountain? Are those scratching marks on the tree bark the signs of a bear?

I still need to carve out the road for myself, write my own map. But I have better tools and a better sense of what would constitute a good tale.

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