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Find the story
Just how do we find the story?
Have you ever wondered how writers come up with their stories? Perhaps this is something only other writers think of, but I have often wondered where the story comes from. How did they think of the plot and characters? Could I ever come up with a story like that? The answer is Yes, I can.
The truth is the story is all around us. It is in who we are and what we do every day. It is in the decisions we make every moment. Do I take the bus or a taxi? Do I argue with my friend or say I'm sorry? Do I feel sick today or not? Do I think he loves me? Do I have confidence in myself? Every moment of every day we are faced with choices and decisions. What we do is where the story lies.
Now some may scoff and reply that there is no story found in the decision to eat cereal or eggs for breakfast, but that is not true. The fact that I had Mallow Oats this morning means I bought the box from the store, they bought it from the cereal company, the cereal company employed the worker who made the cereal, the worker earned enough money to set aside for her sons college education. The worker's son went to college and became a doctor. There lies the story. But we continue on: the doctor worked in a hospital in a small town where I happened to be taken during an emergency and there he saved my life.
Just by a simple decision to eat cereal instead of eggs, I have created a story. Now even I laugh at the premise of the story, but look around you. Look at the people. Don't just see people, see individuals. Each of those individuals make choices that affect their lives, that could even affect your life.
Now pick one person: old, young, happy, sad, it doesn't matter. Take that one person and find out who they are and why they are the way they are. Discover the things that make them alive in your eyes. It could be anything. It could be a childhood memory they share or a dream they experienced. When you do you will find a part of you invested in that person. You will find a friend.
And when you discover this friend you will have found the story.
Now that you've found the story, what next?
So you've discovered a new friend and you are even in the process of discovering their story, what do you do with it?
On the surface someone's story is interesting, but probably not interesting enough to catch lots of attention. So those of us who are searching for the story dig deeper. We find the private ache, the deepest hunger, the pain or joy that has created the person before us. Sometimes it takes days, months, even years to discover just what drives this person to be who they are, but when you do find it, you will have discovered a story that is well worth your time and effort.
I recently wrote a series of novels following a character from the future. This young woman goes through trials and tribulations that I wouldn't wish on my cruelest enemy. (Authors are really good at torturing characters.) When I finished I had a great story, but then after a few rounds of edits I started thinking about the characters that affected this young woman. Who are the people in her life? How did they come to the place where they are and can affect my character so much? And voila, I have another story. It's crazy how it works.
I think about all the times I've read series of books and then there are other series that stem from the first series and so on and so forth. Now I understand better just how easy it is to find the story. There is ALWAYS more to know about a character. There is ALWAYS more to know about their past. We as readers and writers will always want to dig deeper to learn more about these fascinating people we either create or write about.
The deeper we dig, the more story there is to find.
Characteristics can define characters
What could possibly be so exciting about a girl with green eyes?
Well if those green eyes are a key symbol of a seeress then it is very exciting. Don't be afraid to pick a characteristic that defines your character. Characteristics can be anything from visible things like eye color or hair color, or they can be attributes that the person has. Someone who is always honest in everything they say can be challenged in a world where you have to lie to survive. That attribute or characteristic can define your story. This character who can't lie will have to find numerous ways to tell the truth without telling the truth. (I'm so totally going write a book about this.) See, another story will soon come into life.
The attributes of a character can be as different as the day is long. Sometimes the badness of your antagonist is what truly defines him/her; or the goodness of your protagonist makes them untouchable; or the color of their hair will affect everything they do in their life. Just remember, that perfect people aren't very interesting. If your character is too perfect then no one can relate to them. So once again we dig. Dig for that one flaw that could ultimately be the undoing of your character. Make this flaw and integral part of your character's attributes that perhaps his/her whole life revolves around it.
Remember, a character's attributes can define them at so many levels that you can't even comprehend just how deeply they go.
There is a story everywhere we look. It is in every life, no matter how seemingly meaningless. Sometimes we have to search for the story, but it is always there. So if you want to understand how a writer came up with their story, or even how to come up with your own, look at the people around you.
Set down your smart phones, computers, and tablets and talk with the person sitting next to you on the train or bus. Ask your family how their day was and even if anything interesting happened to them. There will always be a story to be told. Some will make us cry, some laugh, and some angry. (Heck if you can capture all the emotions in one story, you're doing awesome.) But the more we tell the stories, the more we will learn about ourselves.
And remember, sometimes when we search for the story in someone else we find the story within ourselves and that can be the best story of all.