What, you didn't think I'd finish Eternal that quickly, did you? Hopefully I'll have a review ready by Friday, but luckily, I've still got guest columns to share! Today's comes courtesy of Thanqol, an author whose stories I've reviewed on this blog more than once. Also, an Australian; don't ask me why, but this blog seems to have attracted a fair number of Aussies, if the analytics tool is to be trusted. Click below to see what he has to say about the roots of, and fundamental inspirations for, stories of all stripes.
It's possible to write stories which aren't personal. You can write a story with a war even if you've never held a sword. You can write a story about thieves even if you've never so much as shoplifted. You can write a story about love based on the kind of magical love you see on television and read in books. Most stories are based off this kind of thing; they're regurgitated images stolen from the collective mass of popular culture. Even very good stories have many pieces which the author fabricated from pure cloth or from cultural stereotypes. In a lot of ways, this is necessary; the gaps have to be filled in and to write fiction of any kind you have to create, imagine or draw from archetypes or mass symbols.
But there are some stories with no original ideas at all.
You can tell which ones these are. They're the stories you don't remember. They're the stories you can't bring yourself to feel passionate about. They're the played out, cliché cash ins, the stories done for the fame and glory, and the stories which are misguided tributes to better stories. This is a problem that is usually quite dire in fanfiction, and it's quite difficult to get around. The point of fanfiction is to write a story which is a loving tribute, but what is the value of an echo? Most damningly, these stories lack any sort of passion - and writing is about passion. All culture is about passion. Music, art, books, the best pieces are all about big emotions - not necessarily loud emotions, but big ones.
In our own lives, in our own petty experiences, we find those passions. Just because the surroundings are mundane doesn't mean the passion isn't real. The snarl of hate at someone who cuts you off in traffic, a perfectly ordinary romance between two perfectly ordinary people, the serenity of a walk in the sun - those moments can be adapted, studied, applied, and some of that genuine emotion will bleed through. Some stories are screams trapped in paper, ciphered and coded so the scream unwraps in the reader's mind even if they're unaware of it on the pages.
Not everything has to be experienced directly. There are two alternatives: dreams and obsession. Dreams distort the line between sensation and emotion and can provide you with the clearest, sharpest, most ineffable images you'll ever experience. Obsession, deep and vital, turning over and arguing a thought so long that it becomes real.
You can always tell where those personal, powerful moments are, and if you read a story closely with an eye out you'll spot them. They're the scenes which get just a little more love, the images that are just a little brighter and more intense than others, the moments that stand out. Even characters, conversations, or the voice used behind a piece can be an intensely personal thing with echoes of some greater story told in the past. Those images stay with us, an echo of someone else's passion - but we've always got to be careful when echoing them on that we miss the same depth of that experience.
The best stories are stories where, by the end, you feel like you understand the author better. Like you've come to know her as a close, intimate friend. It's like stepping into a scene from somebody's life, so close that your self is obliterated and you see what they see, you feel what they feel. This, more than anything else, is true communication, a level of union so perfect you feel like you're sharing the same mind with the author. Almost like telepathy. Sometimes you have to write sixteen thousand words to communicate a single emotion, to communicate it in the depth that it deserves, to take that communication from "I feel sad" to showing someone exactly what it's like to feel your sadness. That, more than anything else, is what I strive for in my writing and why I read stories.
Think about the vague, drifting voice used in Tales, or the drug haze that consumes Lil'Pip in Fallout Equestria. Consider the awakening of Tiffany in Wee Free Men, the utter collapse in Heaven's Net is Wide, the moment at the end of Brokeback Mountain where Ennis whispers, "Jack, I swear..."
Those are moments that came from the world. Those are moments purely from the author's experience. Those are the moments that make stories great.
If you're going to write a story, remember to include those moments in it. The moments that are yours, not the moments you think we want to hear. Tell us the story of your life.
It's the only story that matters.
It's simply amazing how vast the difference is between a story which the author has personally invested in, and one in which he or she hasn't. Present and future authors, remember to never be afraid of writing your story: even if it's an ill-constructed and indecipherable morass, a gem in the rough is always preferable to a well-polished turd.