1. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How do you find your stories?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mckk, Jun 4, 2013.

    Have you ever really wanted to write about something, but you don't know where the story is, and you feel so much about the topic that you can't pin it down enough to make anything of it? What did you do? How did you "dig" that story out?

    So I'm not speaking of "finding your story" in terms of inspiration per se, but more like finding a story like a sculptor "finds" his sculpture in his block of stone. I have the stone (or rather a very dense cloud), but I can't see any shape in it. How did you get past that and find your story?
     
  2. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't entirely know what you mean. My stories always seem to leap out of the stone at me.

    However, they do take some refining, and that's a continual process of thinking, jotting down ideas, drafting, revising, drafting, and so on until it's as sculpted as can be. You smooth your story's angles and chip away at rough edges through the drafting/redrafting process. It also helps to keep track of your ideas in a separate notebook so you can see and follow your own thought processes. That way you don't get tangled up in a writer's spaghetti junction, or can escape with your thoughts intact if you do.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    To be sure I understand, you have a theme and you are looking for its vehicle, the what happens and to whom?
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Essentially, yes, I have a theme, and I want to spin it into a story, but the problem is, I feel so much about this theme that I'm not sure where to start or how to focus it. I'm not an amateur writer if that's what you're thinking - I have no problems planning and plotting normally. But in this case, I feel really lost somehow and just wanted to hear how other people work through it - in the hope of finding some method that would help me lock the theme down into a discernible journey. I don't normally write something that's deliberately and directly about something close to me. Usually I just try to come up with a good story - eg. I usually start with the story, then everything else. In this case, I'm trying to start with a theme and I'm finding it hard.

    If you wanted to know, I'd really love to write a story on cultural identity - you see, way too broad. Half of my life was used up dealing with a cultural identity crisis (and now that I've more or less dealt with it, I'm now contemplating the same problem for my future children) - this is why it interests me and why I feel so much about it, and have so many thoughts about it, that I'm just not seeing what I could do with it.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Fascinating! And it hits close to home for me. :) I didn't take you for an amateur; my question arose because of another discussion elsewhere in the forum as regards theme and what the word even means, blah, blah, blah... LOL :)

    The search for cultural identity.... Here's my real-life what happens and to whom. Feel free to take parts of it or all of it in your inspiration process: I'm Puerto Rican. I was raised in the U.S., but not in one of the 'latino biodomes' like New York or Chicago or Kissimmee. I was raised away from aunties and uncles and cousins and Spanish television. I lived out in gringo-space without a spacesuit. I am as American as American gets, yet I was always the little Puerto Rican guy. Never one of us, always one of them. 37 years later I moved to Puerto Rico. I had no idea just how not-Puerto Rican I was until I moved here. It's six years later and I still feel every bit the stranger in a strange land. Worse, here my face and name say one thing, but when I open my mouth or interact with people, a very different message is conveyed and this often leads to confusion and the undeniable feeling from others that they feel hoodwinked, as if I had sold myself as this, when in fact I am that.

    I could go on for days as regards the things I don't understand here, the human interaction that makes no sense to me, the manner of using a language which I understand perfectly, yet don't seem to apply in the way people expect.

    There is no patch of soil where I can stand and say, "I am from here," and have those around me agree.
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I start by exploring where I can go with the idea, lets say it's drunk driving. ( wrote this before I noticed your
    theme )

    I pick the general age group of the mc as this will help narrow the setting. ( Ya and under
    will have a minimum of school scenes and family settings. A grown up's living situation
    is more flexible.) When I've got a general feel for the age group, I start to run down setting possibilities
    deciding what will work best with my theme/idea. I brainstorm on a piece of paper trying to eliminite all the things
    that are expected or cliche - bars, clubs, block parties, A A.

    As I'm brainstorming I decide on the sex of my character - man or woman.
    This will help with the setting as you're now putting a man or a woman in the
    setting.

    Then I decide on how does the man or woman relate to the idea - if it's drunk driving some
    action must cause it. Is my MC the drunk driver, or is she a survivor of a
    drunk driver, or is her husband/lover/friend/relative a drunk driver or maybe they
    survived a drunk driver.

    Suddenly identities start to take shape and form once you get a handle on
    where you want to take this. Say I picked Ya fiction fiction, a female
    lead, say she's the dunk driver. She hit and runs' a young boy who dies.
    Setting - family home of course but I'm going to tweak it. A foster home.
    What's the usual response of someone who has done something like this;
    remorse guilt, horror. I'll go the opposite route - she's blaiming others
    for her actions; she's tough, and hardened. What if she's a foster child and ironically
    winds up in the family of the boy she hit.

    I've gone from a broad idea to a possible story.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I had to smile when I read your post - I get exactly what you mean. I haven't been back to live in Hong Kong, but I have travelled back for holiday, and I feel... out of place. The fact that I look Chinese makes it worse - it tells people I am something I am not, and people expect me to be something I am not, and all I want to do is tell them loud and clear, "No, I'm not like you!"

    But at the same time, there's a longing to be like them.

    I wanted to tell a white person, "I'm like you!" Only I wasn't.

    I was similar to you - I was born in Hong Kong and then we emigrated when I was 8. I stopped all Chinese education, and all my friends were English. English TV, English church, English school, English books, English everything. I mean, sure there were some exposure to Chinese TV and language and I still had my old comic books in Chinese, but it's like my development in the Chinese side froze. I'm as excited about a cartoon I saw as a 7-year-old as I used to be, but when I mention the cartoon to anyone else who knows it, they widen their eyes and say, "Wow, that's ages ago." It's like all my memories are still sharp and clear and they were just frozen.

    Plenty of my friends considered me to be "English", and I felt English, and then I would get into situations where all my English friends are talking about a comedian, a children's show, a song, and I'd be at a complete loss. I knew different things - things nobody was interested in. I wanted so badly to be English that I even said to myself I'd never teach my children Cantonese, I hated it. I hated it so much.

    I've come to embrace my Chinese side again, and am actually rather proud of Cantonese and my heritage. But at the same time, I know nothing of Chinese culture and history. I'm still not really Chinese. I feel like a wannabe - wannabe-Chinese, wannabe-English. It's only now in the Czech Republic I'm coming to terms with it because, finally, my cultural identity doesn't matter - I'm still foreign :D somehow, it's liberating. I don't have to pretend I'm one of them, I don't have to feel bad for being out of place, I don't have to care whether I'm Chinese or English.

    And yet, today is the Tiannamen Square commemoration, and I find myself being proud of Hong-Kongers for holding the vigil. But guess what, I didn't even know today was the date til I saw it on Facebook. I find myself wishing I was really a Hong-Konger and yet I wouldn't give up what I have on my English side for anything.

    So... what do you do with all of this? It's complicated, right? What sort of story could I construct with these emotions, these experiences that are all out of place, snatches here and there, in such a specific context, and so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that even I cannot fully express, or express succinctly?

    Do you ever wish you hadn't emigrated? Or wish to move back to the US?

    For me, in England a lot of people would consider me to be English (or rather, British) - but my problem lies in the fact that there's no name I can call myself that I feel fully fits me. When people call me English, I feel sad that I'm not Chinese. When people call me Chinese, I feel like they're discriminating against me. In Hong Kong, they would call me "white-washed" and snigger behind my back that I'm not really Chinese, and somehow there's this "shame" around it - like you ought to be ashamed that you're not Chinese when you're not supposed to be.

    And my Chinese friends who're not nasty like that - they are very very shocked to discover I can even read Chinese :rolleyes:
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Peachalulu - thanks for the structure - that's actually quite a good formula. Think it'll be helpful even for the future! I've never structured it this way :D
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would be lying if I said there weren't days I wish I could be back in the States where things make sense to me, where I could speak English, a language over which I have better mastery than the average born and raised "American". There are days when I would happily deal with the suspicious looks of others who see my latinoness through discriminatory filters, and even those who are being discriminatory, though not in a mean spirited way. People in the U.S. expect me to be an excellent dancer and maker of delicious Hispanic food. The truth is I have two left feet and if there is any food I make well, it's Thai cousine! :) I guess it would be a little like people expecting you to have been born a kungfu master or a naturally gifted violinist. There's nothing wrong with being either, but to expect you to be those things because of your race is another matter entirely.

    If nothing else, I hope I have served to show you that your theme has an audience, it is valid and has a place in the paradigm of the human condition. People like you and I span the globe. I would read your story with gusto. And perhaps therein lies your vehicle. You. The story of you. What you have already told me in these few lines has intrigued and moved me.
     
  10. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a suggestion for you. Call yourself a human being. Call yourself a writer.

    Let the idiots who feel the need for a label worry over the rest of it. YOU know who you are. That's all that really matters.

    (btw: I tried calling myself once. I think I hung up on me! :~)
     
  11. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    You should read Jhumpa Lahiri. Cultural identity is the common theme that binds the short stories in "Interpreter of Maladies". Cultural identity is a broad theme, but Lahiri tackles it using the most ordinary (seemingly) characters and their small world. What Wreybies and you confess here, the small details of your experiences, actually reminds me of her stories.

    In her novel "Namesake" all her characters, the father, the mother, and the son all struggles with their cultural identities, but in different ways. So, I am thinking what you had experienced will be different from what your daughters will experience, and when they do come face to face with the issue, they might find solace in the fact that you have overcome it. I think I am ranting, sorry. :)
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It took me 13 years, 7 since I started seriously trying, to find the way to tell one of my stories. But that was a massive one, deeply meaningful to my life and painful. For smaller stories, if you cut all the bs, and get ridiculously honest with yourself, why you want to tell the story, and find yourself in it, you'll have a good idea where to start.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wreybies - haha yes, there're still those who ask if my parents own a takeaway/restaurant (that's what a lot of Chinese people do in England), if I'm a maths whizz, and if I know kung-fu. I don't take offence usually - as you say, you can tell they're not trying to be mean, they're just ignorant. But I agree with what you say about simply expecting you to be something because of your race - it sorta makes you feel, I dunno, like you wanna smile and sigh quietly? Like, you know they're sweet and really lovely, but you're just a little surprised at how... simple they come across at that moment. Like they haven't really seen the world, don't really know all the complexities of life. I'm glad to hear you'd read my book with gusto :D Something about the enthusiasm soothes me. I guess I'm glad to hear that perhaps I do have a story to tell, because sometimes I feel like I don't really have anything to tell, and no one would be interested anyway. Unless you're from a mixed heritage or are an immigrant, or have travelled far and wide, it's unlikely that people would understand I feel.

    Wordsmith - thank you for your kind words! Yeah, I'm working on not calling myself any names - it's getting better :) Sounds like you had a similar experiences? Are you from a mixed background too?

    Killbill - oooh that would be very helpful, thank you very much! I've never heard of him. Will check him out :D

    Jazzabel - I have no idea why I want to tell the story, or why it matters so much to me. Growing up, I just felt like I was the only one who knew what was going on - and indeed, I was really the only immigrant amongst my friends. I had a couple of Asian friends but in England, the Asian minority were often born and raised in England with really, really strong ties to the Asian community, so a little different from me. I was thinking about it last night, what you said, and I guess I keep looking for someone's story who's similar to mine, to see if they felt the same things I did, to see if they understand, to see if they ever found "home" and how they got there. That's almost always my first question: "Do you feel more like X or Y?" I've stopped asking, because I've come to know that the answer is usually, "I don't know" or "Both". I've come to see they all have the same questions, but nobody seems to have found the answer. And sometimes I wonder if they have peace. Those are good questions you asked, thank you :)
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Mindmap!

    This is how it works with me: my hubby and I write together, and themes and story often intertwine in our planning. Let's say we want to write about women in a male occupied job. We have the woman character, and she has to have a job. What job interests us? Law enforcement. Okay, what is our genre of preference? Sci-fi or fantasy. What do we want to say about sci-fi? Well, space-stuff is cool. A woman law enforcer in space. Okay, let's plot, hm, space is dark.. dark stuff happens there... gangs, no, let's call 'em pirates 'cause we don't take ourselves too seriously. The pirates have a plan.. evil plan... the woman has to stop it! Will she, won't she? And is it really the pirates who are behind it? *strokes my no-beard thoughtfully*

    Now, you want to write about cultural identity. Pick a character. Let's say we write a woman. The woman returns to her home country after years and years away to do thing x. What interests you? Meeting a dying relative? Finding a childhoold crush? Settling an old score (revenge is best served cold)? Finding herself (bildungsroman?)? Pick some interesting goal, no matter how small, doesn't have to be her saving the world. Mindmap the things you want to say about cultural identities. Beauty standards? Language trouble? A great source of humor, by the way. Maybe she misunderstands someone which sends her on the adventure in question. Then you need conflict. Maybe the "Natives" won't accept her, they make fun of her silly Western habits, call her Mrs. McDonald or something.

    Sometimes stories and plots can be found in poems and songs. Listen to the music tied to the culture(s) you want to discuss. Maybe read mythologies of the culture?

    Just my two cents. Sorry if I got a bit rambly.
     
  15. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    I look in my medicine cabinet, there are a LOT hiding up there. if not there, sometime the liquor cabinet.
     
  16. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To add to KaTrian's post, one of us usually gets a veeery basic idea for a story. For instance, that sci-fi story she mentioned: I was working in the same office with her at the time, listening to Metroid's theme song (an old 8-bit Nintendo game that takes place in space and the MC is a female character in a full armor so you can't even tell if she's male or female) by a band called Minibosses (they cover video game music). To me, the music captured the darkness and loneliness of space perfectly, so it made me want to write about that and I love the idea that the player discovers the sex of the MC only after they complete the game (fast enough, btw, otherwise you won't find out that tidbit of info), and how 99,99999 ad infinitum percent of players will think the MC is male up until then, so I figured it'd be awesome to write a female character who jaunts across space in armor and full helmet, fighting evil-doers.

    So on the next break we discussed the basic premise: space, female MC, fighting, and started working from there. We didn't have a solid plot, the world was still a big question mark, and we didin't even know our MCs that well at that point, but we started writing, and gradually the plot and the characters revealed themselves to us.

    That's how we write all our stories: we just have the bare bones of the story and start writing. Of course this is a laborious way to write because we often end up writing pure crap and then have to rewrite, "replot", make changes to our MCs etc. etc. over and over again. Presently we're on the umpteenth version, revising it once again, but now we have a really solid grasp on everything, and the story is clear to us as are the characters.

    Now, laborious sounds bad, but to us, this method is just the most fun, because there's nothing more exciting than writing a story "blind": we just sit down and see where the story takes us, where the characters take us, and they do take on a life of their own, and we end up as passengers on this exhilarating journey of discovery. My God that sounded pompous, but that's just my nature, sorry. :D

    That's definitely not the way to do it, just a way, and the one we happen to enjoy the most. We do have dozens, hundreds of planning sessions (usually we go for a walk, to the gym, wherever and just discuss the story, the characters, bounce ideas off each other etc), so it's not just writing blind, but especially in the beginning, there's lots of that: you don't know where you're headed, but you just keep going. Eventually the story and characters will reveal themselves to you.

    Happy hunting! :cool:
     
  17. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Jhumpa Lahiri is a female writer. She is a London born American of Indian origin. Without revealing too much I would say you are definitely going to identify with the son in her novel "Namesake", which is also made into a movie.
     
  18. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i tend to see mine more like the drawings i do, i start out with a basic idea, then add, and add and add, until i go back and go over, editing and changing as needed
     
  19. Dean Blake
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    Dean Blake Member

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    I usually start by just writing anything, then it all comes pouring out afterwards.

    Alternatively, if I have a gigantic idea for a book, I write down a very simply paragraph that represents what happens. Then I break that paragraph into possible chapters, and then break those chapters even further into dot points of what happens. Then you can keep looking back at those dot points and see if they are consistent with your theme.
     
  20. Michael O
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    Michael O Contributing Member

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    For me its been life, time and imagination. I've known the stories for many years and the better part of 10 years was required to get the jigsaw puzzles into one puzzle. Now, 5 years later, I think I have it and only one obstacle remains...learning how to frigging write.

    Let's see...Time, Imagination and Life (TIL?) Naa, not a good acronym.

    Life, Imagination and Time (LIT?) Eureka! I've got it! Time to get LIT!

    The grapes beckon me like a cluster of sweet red sirens so firm in body and give hint to their...Awe shit! Cheers!
     
  21. Michael O
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    Michael O Contributing Member

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    But isn't that what people on horses often do?

    Lee Marvin sang it on a horse, "I was born under a rambling star."
     
  22. A.L.Mitchell
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    A.L.Mitchell Active Member

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    I normally find an idea when I am out and about, seeing life, walking around and then a idea comes. Then I go and devlop it until it's soild and if it wasn't, then I would rethink until I'm completely happy with but sometimes it just doesn't workout the way I wanted it to go, which is when I would give up with that story. I won't write it until I'm happy with it.
     
  23. Razr
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    Razr New Member

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    I'm not sure if this will help but I usually brainstorm a few pointers that I'd like in my book & then just try to expand from there.for example,I'm currently writing a novel on vampires so I wrote the followin:
    -the birth of eric & tristan (my main characters)
    -the birth of raven & jade (my secondary characters)
    -sereneville town (the main town in my book)
    from here,I had an idea of what to write about & then now went on expanding.hope this helps
     
  24. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    My story ideas just pop into my head. Perhaps if I had a more structured way of finding ideas, I'd find better ones. Perhaps.
     
  25. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Day dreaming. That's where the stories start.
     

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