Sparked by Words

The Road Best Traveled

A book is not a concrete highway going straight to purgatory. Plenty of people are trying to get there fast but who needs to be reminded? It’s not a rambling road with divergent tracks in multiple planes going nowhere. Well, maybe scatterfall stories are that chaotic, but I haven’t written one of those since I was six. Eventually we want the story to end, well or ill, but first to travel in spellbinding fashion.

A book is more a path in some order of forward movement across stepping stones of events. How I lay those stones is endemic to my tale and my writing style. How you traverse the stones is influenced by your willingness to step where the path is tricky or unpersuasive. Did I convince you that you’re safe and the stones are worth crossing? A lot of metaphor here, yet reading a book is as much a leap of faith as writing one is, and there is no bigger metaphor for life than that. (Perhaps, you say, and you might be right.)

I can’t write every single detail and neither would you want to read them, no matter that you as reader may still have questions at the very last word. Knowing when to stop, when I’ve said everything germane, when the plot has run its course, and the characters have learned everything or nothing is my decision as a writer. Readers begin their opportunity to interact the moment my book is in print. (That’s another story!)

This may sound like an authoritarian mandate but it’s really more a question I’m asking myself. My newest work in progress is based loosely on stories my parents told me about their childhoods. In order to protect their dignity and privacy, in order to protect myself from angry relatives, all names in the book have been changed.

As I began to write I had immediate questions. Like, whoa there, the dates don’t align, how could that be true? Or, hey dad, can you provide a few more details so the story has more gravitas? Or, mom, are you telling me this actually happened? Really? Do either of you know of a few juicy incidents that might make someone stop in their tracks and sob – or scream – or run? Because that’s the stuff stories are made of and I could use a little help here. Everyone just got quiet. Hmm – secrets?

In my case I’m at an impasse. My father has passed and my mother has advanced Alzheimer’s, so there are no answers forthcoming from the folks who told me the original stories. Perhaps held back those most controversial or unflattering – read interesting moments. Cousins know a few details but not enough to fill the gaps.

So I’m doing what writers do – making stuff up. Emerging from the inchoate racket in my head is a story of a different sort than what I’d originally intended. Not memoir, not creative non-fiction, barely recognizable as lives related to my family, the story is entirely fabricated. And that’s OK. A good yarn is what I wanted to tell.  Gather around the fire, and let me begin. Once there was a young boy and a young girl who…

We’ve all stood there at the fork in the road, wondering if a unicorn waits at the end of one path, a treasure chest at the other. We’ve all wondered what if? What if I’d taken the other road, would my life be better? If I’d asked more questions of the right people when they could be answered, would I know enough to write a better story, a more exciting one? If I had never tried to base this story on any semblance of my parents’ lives but chosen to create entirely fictional characters?

The unknown is all I have. It’s all any writer has. It doesn’t really matter which road I take. It matters the adventures I invent, the people who confront and resolve their crises, what truths I expose along the way, and how riveting a story I write.

So here I go, right foot first, left foot next, each leading until it is the one that follows. You, dear reader, will have to fill in some of the blanks along the way (Hey, writer, you missed the butterfly with seven wings) but I certainly hope to lure you down a merry, magnificent, mysterious path. We’ll only know if it was the best choice when you come to the end and declare what a fabulous journey onto the unknown path it was.

Or don’t. Because the other one might have been just as good or even better – had I written it instead.

(Thank you, Robert Frost, for the reminder.)

 

 

Painting Road Leading to the Lake by Paul Cezanne

 

 

 

Comments on: "The Road Best Traveled" (27)

  1. I love the way you weave your non-fiction posts. It read like an old tale. Okay enough about that.

    Timeline appears to be part of the challenge. Out of curiosity I ask, do you outline? That may be the best way to tackle the timeline issues.

    Best of luck with your project, I am sure we will get some updates,

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    • The article is about the challenges every writer faces when constructing a story. Each event has a number of possible outcomes and the one we choose will lead to other events and possible outcomes.

      I think a long time about a story before I write, sometimes for years. I begin with a file called “notes,” a bunch of rambling entries about the characters, the essential premise, problems and provocations encountered along the course of the story, and possible sub-plots.

      Eventually the notes morph into the story so I open another file and begin to write. I really don’t have problems with my basic story line by then. In fact, I write the ending long before I get there and have found that the ending written maybe a year earlier needs very little change. So it isn’t really pantsing because I’ve planned and projected every major character and event, but it’s more organic than some writers like.

      I dislike writing outlines so much that I would even say I hate them. Never did them in school either, except after my paper was completed, and then I constructed an outline based on what I’d written. Andrew, I think you’d have to call me rebel. And thank you for your compliment about the way I write.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Really what you’re doing is drawing reasonable conclusions from facts, connecting the dots, extrapolating. You aren’t writing nonfic so you’re allowed to do this. You might even choose to so it’s a more exciting story.

    Having said that, I relate to your need to keep the facts in place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This newest story has proven to be my most problematic, I think because I tried at first to hew close to the stories my parents told me about when they were young. I finally realized that not only were so many stories probably untrue, they really didn’t construct a story. I started it again, this time with more forceful antagonists, and the newer version is working out better – IMHO.

      I keep a file called “background” for each book. It lists dates and locations of every major event and character so I don’t get mixed up. The background file for this particular book is extensive and includes a synopsis for every intended chapter. This is where I went back and made significant changes, then moved on to rewrite the book.

      I make lots of choices as I write. I think we all do, and many are intentionally unexpected. That’s what makes a story interesting to read. If readers can figure out everything from the first chapter, they have no need to continue.
      Now there’s an idea – try a book of only first chapters. LOL.

      Actually, the Choose Your Own Adventure series for kids is based on that idea, that readers can construct their own story from a single beginning. And kids do love them.

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  3. Sharon, your post is captivating and by describing in such a vivid way it reads already like a story. Your story, how to find the hidden facts. The secrets never told.

    It was quite eerie for me as I just finished a poem on exactly this subject; Titled “Secrets”
    Might post it tomorrow but feel amazed at how I have gone round thinking of just what you talk about.
    You fill in the blanks with the inspiration of an authour.
    Will be fascinating to see where you go and I will not mind walking over stones.
    Miriam

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  4. The sentence: “So I’m doing what writers do – making stuff up” stopped me in my tracks. I think it’s not just what writers do, it’s what we all do . . . create narratives of our lives and other people’s lives that may have sprinklings of facts but are ultimately pure fiction. The fiction based on incomplete memory, left-over emotions, wishes, dreams, longings and fears.

    Writers just admit to the fiction – the rest of us think it’s fact.

    P.S. I HATE outlines too! My brain refuses to travel in a linear pattern. It’s a good brain so I let it have its way with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The unknown is all I have. It’s all any writer has.”—I like that sentiment. It’s very true. We either create something from where there was nothing before, or, we fill in the holes of the events that did take place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the quality of fiction, isn’t it – to build a world from disparate bits and pieces.

      BTW, I really like your recent post about taking baby steps to improve our lives, and I bookmarked the page. It’s so much easier to be successful when we take on small, manageable changes one at a time.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jenna Barwin said:

    You make some great points, Sharon, and made me think. When I consider buying a book from an unknown author, I’m more cautious than I used to be. I’m more careful about who I let in my head and whether I want to walk on the path they’ve built, even for a little time. And after reading your blogs, I’m very interested in reading your story. You go, girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Shari, reading a book is indeed a leap of faith and I always open one with a sense of anticipation, hoping that it will reach in and tug at my heart, my soul, draw me into another world, let me follow on the journey of discovery. By filling in the blanks of your parents stories, by embellishing, creating possible events you create new truths, new magic moments and who knows, your extrapolation might even hit the mark of real events! The aim is to keep to the spirit of the people-you knew them well, and with the names changed I think this is a good plan. Good luck with your writing. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Annika. I find I am trying to remain true to their spirit and not worry too much about details. I’ve also been mining the time period for historical bits I can add that will lend authenticity to the work. Thanks for your wonderful comments about filling in the blanks.

      BTW, The Storyteller Speaks finally arrived yesterday. I’ve got a few other books I have to read first (book clubs) but then I’m looking forward to following your journey.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. The other day my sister accused me of embellishing family history (especially the parts about her) when I reminisce. I was actually shocked. My mother agreed with her. They weren’t mad, just stating a point. I seriously had no idea what they were talking about. it just goes to show that memory is a mysterious thing. 🙂

    Your posts are so great. Love them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm, I’ve made my job easier than yours. Anything I write about my family will not include anything about my siblings. But I think if you ask five witnesses about the same event you’re going to get at least five descriptions, all five being as much suspect as truthful.

      Thank you for that last statement, Adrienne. Keeps me going. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really like the metaphors you’ve used in this post, Sharon. Reading a new book is definitely a leap of faith, and writing one even more so. And I think you’ve found the perfect solution for lack for more detailed information from your parents. Making up stuff is exactly what we all do, either conscious or unconscious. We build our different worlds, show different faces to different people – we’re making up stuff. 😊
    Happy writing!

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  10. What I like is when the character takes over the direction and leads you down a path you hadn’t thought to go. You can’t do it in memoir but I am finding more and more in the little flashes that the character takes over. I can’t imagine what it would be like to write a novel which you knew was written by your character. I have no doubt Sharon that your WIP will fill those gaps in the story very credibly. I have been reading a bit on memory and it would appear that this is what we do with all memory. We don’t remember it in full detail but our mind makes up the story from what it knows was the most likely scenario. I look forward to reading your work when it stops being a WIP.

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