Monday, December 12, 2011

Desperately Seeking (a) Story

As I said, I've been going through all my old stuff as I downsize from my beautiful old Mac desktop to my husband's boring old Dell. I have to do this as the screen on my beautiful old Mac desktop has developed some kind of fizzing screen-acne and if you look at it for more than three minutes you begin to speak in tongues.

And while it is a wrench to go from feeling cutting edge to ordinary in a matter of design moments (despite the real leather stripe that the Dell has on its lid - I'm guessing to give it an authentic look?), it's been a good exercise in reviewing my writing through the years.

Interesting and little depressing because it's obvious as I look through all these desperate attempts to get something down that what I lack is the ability to find a story worth telling. I have noticed writers being described recently as 'he just loves to tell a good story' or 'she's a natural story-teller'. And isn't that what novel writing is about? So what's WRONG with me???

When I was little, stories were literally pouring out of me. I was ALWAYS on my mum's beautiful big black Underwood banging something out (is that a legal sentence?). I taught myself to touch-type on that thing whilst watching M.A.S.H.

Then came doubt. I guess.

I know I HAVE a story. I know what a story IS. But I either overthink it, not think it enough or, and let's be honest this is the main culprit, it's just plain ... stupid.

This really is a stumbling block for someone who wants to write novels. Especially when I have five under my belt. Finding the story I want to tell is my Holy Grail. I know I can do it, but it's like there's a firewall midway down my head and behind that is where all the good shit is. But I just. Can't. Get. Past. The muthafucking. FIREWALL. So I drift around in 'what about?'. And 'Oh yes, and then the sister is EVIL' and 'how can I get a dog in here?' until what I'm left with is some flaccid attempt at something interesting told in a lively way.

I'm always asking writers, surreptitiously, how they get their stories and am always really disappointed when they say 'oh, from the UNIVERSE' or other such obvious solution. I'm hoping they're going to slip me an address in Soho where they REALLY find them.

And so the pressure of This Is The One-ness about novelwriting gets to me in the end and I end up spiralling into plot-hell.

For example: I once wrote a thriller/love-story set in a monkey sanctuary. The aim was to write about something I liked: well, I like a thriller and love is good and, well, I can't get me enough Monkey Sanctuaries.

The surprising amount of times the word 'fleece' came up in the first chapter kind of said it all.

And it also kind of explains why my most recent book was flat-out Chick-lit when I don't read or even LIKE Chick-Lit.

The thing is, though, is that I do get ideas all the time. I guess I just get overwhelmed by them. I get overwhelmed by the complexities of making them brilliant or, of course, failing to tell the story how it should be told. It rolls through my head in its formative phase in delicious multi-colour - fabulous tableaus of drama and passion - and then, after two chapters on my darling old Mac, it resembles a pie dropped four storeys.

So how DO you come up with a story you can write? This is now my mission.

Any tips gratefully received. Apart from it all comes from the Universe. That one I already know.

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