Bright Shoots of Everlastingness: Essays on Faith and the American Wild, by Paul J. Willis (A Review)
Summer Reading (Quick Hits)

Where Stories Live


"There's something delicious about writing the first words of a story.  You can never quite tell where they'll take you.  Mine took me here."  (Beatrix Potter, in the movie, Miss Potter)

These first words spoken by Beatrix Potter in the opening scenes of the movie of her life, Miss Potter, so aptly sum up the excitement of telling a story, of not knowing the end in the beginning.  That's part of the joy of writing, the sense of discovery along the way.

I have read that some successful novelists map it all out in the beginning --- the characters, the background, the conflict or point of tension, and the resolution (conclusion).  I'm sure it works, but how boring it seems.  I haven't written a novel, yet, but I'd much prefer to begin someplace, perhaps with a character in a particular scene, and see where it goes.  You can never quite tell where they'll take you.  Characters take on a life of their own and seem to propel a story.  It's not that you never look ahead, as you must see something of what is coming in order to write, but maybe you only see the next step and not the whole life.  After all, a writer is creator, not Creator; not omniscient nor omnipotent.  And characters are free, aren't they, to be who they are?

I'm struggling with this now.  I began a story just this way several months ago.  There's Henry, and Babette, each of whom I'm following and whose lives have not yet intersected.  I stopped writing because I'm not sure I know who they are, or at least I don't sufficiently know who they are.  I have some sense that they will meet, but how, and when?  Do I just begin again, going day by day and seeing what happens?  Do I plan it out?  A little of both?

Perhaps it isn't either/or but both/and.  I think of our own lives under God's rule: "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Pr. 16:9).  Like us, characters live and have free will in their story, and yet the writer is sovereign and has a purpose that will prevail, incorporating all their plans into his one plan.  Or maybe its like Paul said, that we are to "continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:12-13).  Characters have a life of their own, and yet they are forever guided by our good purpose; all their diversions can be worked into that good purpose, in the end.

There's tension in any writing.  That's where stories live.  I just want to get to the point where I can say Mine took me here.