For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finding Our Stories

'You are your stories. You are the product of all the stories you have heard and lived – and of many that you have never heard. They have shaped how you see yourself, the world, and your place in it.'
Daniel Taylor, Tell Me A Story

Since ancient times we have told stories. We sit around camp fires watching the flickering flames and exchanging tales, or curl up in bed with our books, or gather in front of a screen. We read newspapers, listen to the radio and browse the internet. We make up stories for our children, or meet friends for coffee and swap anecdotes. When we sit down at the dinner table and talk to our family, we construct stories from the events of the day, shaping our ideas into a satisfying structure with a beginning, middle and end, creating a narrative flow, an atmosphere, tensions, hooks and characters.

Stories are a natural part of us, deeply embedded in our psyche yet sometimes people tell me they have no stories to tell. For many years I had this same concern. I could write polished prose passages but I couldn't shape a story. I couldn't make characters move or events happen, I couldn't find endings, and more importantly, I couldn't find beginnings. I used to envy people who had real stories to tell, who grew up in families steeped in story, families whose lives had crossed continents, whose houses were filled with music and books and whose meals were accompanied by passionate conversation. My childhood was empty of these things. I was an adopted child, growing up in bland suburb with a family who were strict Baptists. Rabidly anti-iconic they rejected the exciting imaginative elements of religion and simply kept the rules, creating a regimented and sterile environment – without artworks, or music (aside from hymns), or dance, or even books. . .

When I discovered the library, books became both my escape from life and my way of exploring the world and myself. Then later, when I wanted to craft my own stories, I realised that the only stories I knew were from books. Where, I wondered, could I find stories in a bland suburban family like mine? But over time I began to realise that even bland suburbia was full of stories. I was full of stories. I just had to learn how to access them and to stop assuming they weren't interesting enough to share. In the end I discovered that it wasn't a lack of stories that was paralysing me, it was that there were too many stories to choose from.

'How to choose your story then?' asks Catherine Anne Jones in The Way of Story. 'Simple. Choose the one you feel emotionally connected with.' More often than not the stories we write are drawn from our own lives. These are the stories that are written with our hearts not our heads. Even when the plot is fictional, the themes are usually our own and hence we have an emotional connection with them. The short stories I have written have usually been about defining moments in my life, such as Impotence, a fiction story about the abrupt end of a childhood and the complex nature of a child's love for his mother. Or they're about small moments that symbolise something more universal, such as my non-fiction story, Passing Time which was inspired by my youngest child slipping into bed with me on a cold winter's morning and discussing the universe and time. My novels and the story or stories they contain are a blend of fiction and non-fiction, my memories handed over to a fictional character whose journey is to resolve them and/or to seek the universal within them. Sometimes these memories are replayed in my stories and sometimes they are transformed, reemerging as themes that mark and guide the lives of my characters.

We go inwards to find our stories, delving into the unconscious to find what has long been hidden; using our memory to rediscover it and our imagination to transform it. To write a story is to descend into the underworld or step into the labyrinth, with only a few clues and no guarantee of a way back out again. It is to step beyond our limitation, embarking on a journey with no known destination and often no ticket. These journeys are not always comfortable but they're generally rewarding. And in the process we feel truly alive.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

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