Where do stories come from?

GPS and high-speed computers can’t pinpoint where they originate.  Radar, sonar, Ouija board and ultrasound are all useless indicators. Yet stories come from somewhere and those of us who write feel it when a story quickens.  Heart trips over itself, breath pauses, and inspiration shatters preconceptions.  A story has arrived!

Do stories bubble up out of the shared jumble of archetypes from our cave days?  Do they come from an external Muse?  Do they leak like static from parallel universes?

I don’t know. Perhaps where a story comes from matters less than the fact that it comes at all.  Under the sheer improbability that any given story exists, the question of First Cause is almost trivial.

As a reader, a tale comes to me as an already revealed whole, but that is not the case when I write.  I hear of writers who come up with outlines, who know what a story is before the story has been written. That is not how it happens for me. I do not plan the stories I write to be as they are any more than a mother ‘plans’ her children to be as they are.  Each story is an act of nature, a noumenal birth.  Unlike mothers of flesh and blood, I am less creator than conduit; what is to be written passes through me, but is in some very basic sense not of me.

When a story chooses me, it comes from multiple avenues at once.  The universe conspires to bring me into contact with the inspirations that will prepare me for the story that is traveling from those unknowable elsewheres. When the right pair of contradictory ideas come together in one lucid moment, I become an open conduit for the expression of the story.

At that instant, I can’t see the entire plot arc or even begin to understand how to fit those contradictions together into some cohesive whole. Everything becomes a possible revelation of the story’s truth. Novels, movies, snippets of overheard conversation, dreams, music, even the moon and sun themselves can be oracles. Revelation and prophecy are anything except convenient. There’s an element of the trickster to stories. They like to play but, like any wild animal, stories can be dangerous. It is not an easy path to be a writer. I am not even certain it is a choice, or at least not the writer’s choice.

Even now, a story travels.  It will come unto us like religion, like grace, like the purest dharma.  It chooses us, and we are humbled.


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