Sometimes it's the everyday things that lead to real storytelling.
Truth In Cliches
Here’s an overused phrase for you: art imitates life. Put a picture of someone hiking in the background, and you got yourself an Instagram post. So, it makes things awkward when I realize just how much truth is contained in the cliché. That’s the thing about clichés and overused terms, they started as something so true that everyone uses them.
As a writer, you begin to realize that this phrase is everything. What is writing? It’s taking real experiences, things you see, things you hear, things you feel in a moment, and then putting them down on paper. Storytelling is turning that real life experience into something that can connect to a reader who wasn’t there. Art, honest to God, imitating life.
Fiction takes that next step. All you have to do is live the same life you are living now, and when you experience something that strikes you, let your imagination take the situation way the hell too far. All storytelling comes down to is asking yourself, “what if…” It’s simply reality, and then sometimes dragons.
I have some unfair advantages when it comes to finding stories. I have a brutal combination of constantly, silently, judging the crap out of people while working as a retail supervisor at the same time. The possibilities are endless regarding characterization.
And that’s the trick. It’s taking simple situations and figuring out just what might be going on behind it all. Why are people the way that they are? What makes them tick? And the best part about being a fiction writer is you don’t have to be right. You are making a fiction after all. You just need to be believable. The ordinary people in the everyday situations are just the icebreakers to a story.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King compares developing a story to uncovering fossils. You don’t quite know just how much is underneath the dirt and you need to be very careful taking it out. But you have to find that first bone sticking out of the ground or right under the surface. The simple situations in life followed by that almost magical thought “what if…” could be just the thing to start your excavation.
I just published two flash fictions in the last couple of weeks, and both started from completely mundane situations.
This story was my very first attempt at flash fiction, and it ended up being just a handful of words. It was simple, as I’ve been saying. I drove home from work and pulled into a parking space at my apartment complex. There was a family grabbing groceries from their trunk and the little boy with them looked at me, smiled and waved. The parents took no notice.
Then there was the “what if…” What if they had just been fighting? What if he waved and smiled because he wasn’t used to getting a smile back? See, there’s my completely unmerited judgment of people. But the characters had something to them now. It wasn’t just mom and dad pulling groceries, it was two people that had reasons for their fight, for their lack of love. What were those reasons? There goes the imagination, taking things too far. Instead of simply coming home, a scene was set.
Here’s my retail advantage. Again, really basic situation. I have spoken about this before, actually, but it’s a perfect example of seeing something in the regular everyday situations.
I had a woman ask me for a sparkling water called Clearly Canadian. Everyone loves the stuff, apparently, and we can’t keep it in stock. There’s a huge nostalgia factor that plays a role here because it hasn’t been available for years. We didn’t have it, of course, at the time and she was utterly crushed. And her husband was of no comfort. That was it.
Then more “what ifs…” What if he just didn’t understand the importance of a memory from her childhood? What if living in that house is the biggest mistake of her life? What if…I just take things way too far when I have too much time to think about anything and everything? But without that extra layer of thought, there are two stories right here that wouldn’t have been written. Most of my articles function the same way.
Also, I’m depressing as shit, but that’s beside the point.
There’s plenty of times that I lament (never thought I would get to use that word for myself) that I have to be at work, away from what I really love to do, far too often. But if I just sat in front of my MacBook, where would the real inspiration come from?
Sure, you have to spend time writing and writing some more. You have to put in the work, the sit-down time, but you need to live too. You need to go out, even when it doesn’t seem like some grand adventure, and take in the simple moments. You don’t need to be that hiker on Instagram behind the motivational quote. It doesn’t take much when you let your imagination run wild.
So, think about things too much, people watch, and remember that you never know what will bring on the next story and what will inspire the next dragons in your mind.
You can read those two stories in my Stories section on this website. If you have any thoughts, comments, advice, or feelings about them, I absoluetly love discussing what my readers think. So leave a comment below or contact me on my Contact Page.