What’s behind every story? You know, aside from the hero / heroine, key players, tertiary characters, props, details that constitute the story world and plethora of movement as the story and characters move—what’s really behind the fabric of a story?
Why do events and circumstances happen the way they do? Why do certain characters react in specific ways despite all logic? Why do some details reign in our attention compared to others? How do characters—mere words on a page—become voices in our heads?
I thought about this several weeks ago when we had both our bedrooms remodeled. What started off as fully-functioning-but-old bathrooms took a hit one day as a demolition crew of six began the job. Sledgehammers and sharp metal tools tore into the surface and countertops. The crew chipped into tiles, mirrors, shower boxes, ripped out cabinets and tubs and eight hours later left us with four walls and a floor.
I gaped at the skeleton of what used to be a bathroom—now a dysfunctional space in the house. I walked on the plywood now strengthened with a layer of Duroc. I ran my hand along portions of the wall once hidden behind cabinets and mirrors. I marveled at areas of my home that had existed all along but never in view. Areas of wall, flooring and studs (vertical wooden beams that run behind the drywall) that held the bathroom in place but never appeared to exist. And now because all the décor, fixtures, faucets and mirrors were gone, I saw a foundation that had been holding this room in place since its birth.
So too with storytelling there are layers, many layers that run deep and in synch with the beauty on the surface. The foundation of a story will survive without all the décor and sparkling countertops but not the other way round. Never. How do I know?
When I developed the Winds of Fire series, I had a story that rushed like the wind, whipping my pen across the paper of its own accord. I had no control over the story or what the characters did ‘on stage’. I let them play out the scene and wrote. Just wrote. The story wrote itself. Literally, it did. I just held the pen. Over the course of several years I rewrote, revised, rewrote and revised books 1 and 2 and couldn’t understand how one scene (the spark of my adventure) turned into 2 whole books (with more ahead). Through the process of rewriting and years of learning the craft to writing good fiction I learned layers in story and also how to peel them away.
First the surface—Tile.
Then the second layer of Mud (that holds tile to Duroc).
Followed by Duroc.
I peeled away again until I hit the foundation. Plywood.
I saw the theme in each book. I saw how the theme transitioned smoothly from one book to another. I dug deep to develop premises and synopses to hold each book and the series together. I questioned why I wrote the story in the first place and why, after 4 books—yes, four!—the story is still not over. With a crew of 1, I chipped and tore away at all the reasons I could come up with. However, none of the rationale rung true. The words sounded like a barrage of excuses. I had to dig deeper.
And I did.
What I discovered is that stories were not something you conjure and set sail with a sniffle and farewell. My stories were extensions of deep emotions. My stories were possible solutions to problems I was still trying to solve. They were attempts to rip out the false fabric society weaves. What was I expecting to find? Gold? Diamonds? That would be nice. Would they solve the problem?
I continued to chip away. I rewrote. Revised. Rinse. Repeat. I found I had written these stories to unearth a truth. I was in search of a nugget. An anchor. Something—anything—to help me make sense of my surroundings. I wrote in the hope of finding one person whom this story could possibly empower and save.
Can you guess who that person was?