Digging deep and mining the richest seam of all……

Lately, I’ve been pondering on just where the best inspiration for stories comes from. As a writer, my job is to move and affect the reader in some deep way, so that every single word I write has to carry the weight of resonances. Additionally, every word also has to be sharply honed and edged, so that it flies true and hits the target every time.

The question is, how do I go about finding that particular idea that will enable me to do that. Do I search through newspapers and magazines or watch the nightly TV news? Certainly many of the news items, mostly the ones about war and famine, or the ones detailing the effects of tragedies, aim directly for the heart and mind, often pulling strongly at our emotions, so yes, it is a good source. Or do I constantly observe everything around me, scrutinising the way the people around me behave and act in any given situation? That certainly helps in making the characters peopling your stories become that much more believable, enabling the reader to empathise much more clearly and stronger, but ultimately it doesn’t give you the meat of the story.

Maybe I should do some research on what, for instance, could be the most frightening thing to happen to anybody. Go and read what science has to say on the matter. The trouble with that, however, is that people find some things scarier than others, and everybody is afraid of something different. Yes, there are general phobias for instance, the ones that seem to be more universal than others, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or, ones that I come across quite often, belonephobia (extreme fear of needles) and trypanophobia (fear of injections). Or let’s try writing something about ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), that’ll get them squirming! The problem with those sorts of terrors is that, to get the best effect, a good requirement is that the person reading it suffers from whatever phobia your plot happens to revolve around. (I have a mild case of pteromehanophobia, quite a common one itself – want to know what it is? Google it  =) ).

Good, affecting stories can indeed be written by means of the above-listed agencies. But, for sheer raw power and searing effect, the best inspiration (and motivation) is from within that part of yourself that you keep hidden, the one you have consigned to the deepest, darkest part of your psyche. The one that you hope never sees the light of day, or that you never encounter in real-life. They comprise your own, very much substantially-felt fears. They are your darkest secrets. They are the memories of the most frightening moment of your life – the point at which, perhaps, your very life hung in the balance. And all of those fears/memories/phobias/ have been etched irrevocably into your mind.

This is where, if you mine that particular seam, the power of your stories will ultimately derive. You can read as much as you like about someone who has undergone the same experiences. You may even talk to those very same people in the flesh and witness them reliving the terror of those life-changing moments. However, if the story comes from deep within you because you have experienced it yourself, then that’s where the power comes from. And that’s because it’s authentic, not imagined.

However, it needn’t only be danger and primal fears where the power resides or the means to provide that literary spark in creating a moving tale. This was brought home to me when talking to my good friend Sharon Ring, fellow reviewer and editor at Beyond Fiction, last night. During our chat, I dragged up a memory from years back that has the seedlings of a powerful story within it. I won’t go into too much detail here, simply because I want to bottle up that power contained in the memory and its inherent potential so that, when it eventually spills onto the page, the emotional impact is at maximum. However, I will go so far as to say that it concerns my family history. In particular, there was one act of my late grandfather’s that has never been explained, as a direct consequence of which a black hole has been created in the annals of our family. The act caused some upset at the time, to put it mildly, but the ripples it has caused to the present generation (specifically my brother and I) can still be felt today. The loss has been immense and, for me in particular, has caused a great deal of sadness (and more than a little consternation to my wife). Certainly I feel a great void when I think about it; on top of that I can feel the restlessness of the ghosts that were spawned in its wake. In which case, it needs to be exorcised and laid to rest.

And this is where the power of my story will come from – springing from that deep well of loss and sorrow that my grandfather caused all those years ago, however inadvertently or otherwise,  just before he died in 1990. Even more tragically, for the living at least, is that lack of an explanation. For whatever reason he did what he did, he took it to his long home with him. And of course, although I don’t wish to speculate emptily on why it happened, nevertheless numerous questions have arisen over the years, begging for answers. More than likely they will never be forthcoming.

It would be fair to say that therein lies their power for storytelling, There’s always the chance that the real explanation is extremely prosaic, in other words he simply thought it was a good idea at the time or that it was the effects of old age catching up to him. However, not knowing the truth has given me a large canvas on which to paint a picture, and the possibilities are huge. Liz (my wife) and I have decided that one day, when we are finally settled in our new home in Scotland, we will research my family tree thoroughly, just to see whether there are any skeletons hiding in the closet somewhere, any deeply dark secrets that were hushed up. There ARE other mysteries surrounding my family, certainly, which I may yet exploit for stories. At any rate, once I have written the present story and found it a home, I will divulge exactly what happened. But for now, I will simply utilise the threads of the mysteries and darkness surrounding the episode to weave together a tale of sadness, solitude and yearning. Fingers crossed, I am up to the writing of it – this is one that most definitely needs telling.

The story is simply called The Ghost of Me.

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One Response to “Digging deep and mining the richest seam of all……”

  1. Hi, Simon. Nice, brave, true post. You’re exactly right, I believe, about where stories get their true power. I especially like what you say about how not having the answers is what really gets the storytelling machine revved up. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” so they say, the same way a writer’s brain (and writer’s heart) can’t abide those blind spots in the memory—those blind spots are the canvass we work on (or the blank sheet, or screen—put your own artsy metaphor here..!)

    Good luck with your story. It sounds like a good one, and here’s wishing you much pleasure and satisfaction in the writing of it.

    And have a good weekend!

    David

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