We often notice how many things come in threes and how often seeing and noticing a thing (car make, idea, book) leads us to seeing it again soon.
I’ve often thought that where we focus our attention seems to enhance whatever it is we’re looking at and thinking about. So it is that whenever we begin to casually think about a story idea, we find ourselves stumbling over the ideas for scenes that will enhance the plot and characters that will be memorable after readers get to the last line.
Passion seems to fuel an interesting synchronicity throughout the research as well. One thing leads to another thing which leads to marvels that truly fit the story that we weren’t even looking for. The Internet and its links plays into this unfolding scavenger hunt for relevant facts, prospective locations, and the little details that can make or break a story.
Recently, a writer friend of mine told me about a call for submissions from an upcoming anthology of ghost stories about a city many miles away from there I live. The publisher wanted new paranormal stories that fit the city and its attractions and culture or new takes on legends and haunted places.
My first thought was to dismiss the idea out of hand. There was no way could fly or drive to that city and soak up its ambiance and turn my impressions into a story. But, if you’ll pardon the pun, the idea haunted me. An Internet search turned up a few ghostly legends that might possibly be brought forward into a current-day story. One legend kept drawing me into the facts and suppositions people had about it at the time it happened over a hundred years ago.
I kept saying I was just dabbling with the idea because, really, the anthology seemed best suited to people who lived in the city and who knew it well. Okay, maybe I could use Google’s maps and street view to see what the place looked like. Hmm, spooky. Then I stumbled across an author who’d written a book about the incident and who had been inside the house where it happened.
Oops, I just got hooked into submitting something. I have no idea whether the publisher will like it.* Either way, I had a good time watching characters, real-life facts, ghostly musings and plot ideas unfold before my eyes as though they had a mind of their own. Did the ghost herself lead me into her lair? Naah, stuff like that doesn’t happen. But the synchronicity behind the things an author becomes interested in is typical.
Another author recently said that whenever we choose to involve ourselves in a story, the universe aligns itself with us to help us tell the tale. I like that idea, and I find it works best if I don’t begin my dabbling with either an outline or a preliminary list of prospective characters.
These approaches may or may not be helpful later, but if they’re used too soon, they tend to restrict the incoming flow of information. How? Because the outline tends to limit the synchronicity to that which you include in the outline, leaving out the better ideas a writer could have used if s/he hadn’t made arbitrary decisions before the universe showed him what was possible.
I love discovering stories while I’m writing them.
Update: That story, “Patience, I Presume,” was accepted for publication in the Rocking Horse Publishing anthology Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories.
This post, written last summer, is from the Magic Moments blog archive. Before I remove that blog from WordPress, I wanted to share a few of the entries.