What are stories made of? Kites and strings and dragonfly wings. Snakes and snails and puppydog tails. Daydreams, nightmares. Hopes and scares. There’s a lot written on how to write, but where does what you write come from?
It comes from a thousand things you’ve forgotten, from the passions you had when you were five and fifteen and twenty-five, from the stories that captured your imagination and the heroes you identified with, from your hobbies and even from hated assignments you were once forced to suffer through. Anything you’ve ever cared enough about to love or hate is writing material. Injustices that make you seethe are fair game. So are triumphs that make you want to crow. So are all those things that excite and move you but you know nothing about so you’ll have to do some research.
Writing what you know is far too limited. Writing to discover has an infinite horizon. But don’t forget what you know, all the deep truths that come from your lifetime of experience. I know there are monsters under the bed and that creatures can come through mirrors at midnight. Don’t pester me with logic and flashlights. Monsters disappear when you shine lights on them. I know there are endless worlds populated with strange things, and that a whole universe lives in a drop of water. I know the sky can fall and just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse you’ll discover how much imagination you lack. I know there aren’t always happy endings but it’s not over until it’s over, and every day is another day to write another chapter of your life story. I know heroes are resourceful and determined. I know evil exists from the banal to the monstrous. I know the human capacity for generosity and achievement is miraculous and we don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit.
What do you know? What do you fear? What do you wish, hope, dream, imagine? What horrible or beautiful thing fascinates you? What makes you laugh? What makes you pull the covers over your head? What do you wish you understood or knew more about? What do you wish you could unlearn and forget?
Stories can be structured with all kinds of neat tricks, but the raw stuff of stories is messy as hell. Don’t try to tidy it up. Don’t write the safe story anybody else could think of, the obvious choice anybody could see coming a mile away. Don’t write comfortable and smug stories that couldn’t scare anybody or move anybody to tears or laughter. Write what’s real and true to you. That’s what stories are made of.