Here’s a column I saw recently in a small-town Maine newspaper. Have you ever seen anything so depressing?
I’ve never seen anything like this. It went on quite a bit longer. Each paragraph saddened me more deeply.
Sorry to ruin your day, but it ruined mine. I couldn’t resist sharing the pain.
On the positive side, each of those items is a story prompt. A sad story.
People ask me what I’m up to. I tell them I’m working on my next book. (Check out my first book here.) The next obvious question is, “What’s it about?” That’s when I lower the boom and give them the most feared answer in all of writing:
It’s a story about my grandmother.
No one wants to hear this sentence because no one wants to hear about anyone else’s grandmother. (This is also true of grandfathers, but they tend to get the short shrift in this respect.) Chances are your grandmother’s story wasn’t even interesting to your grandfather. Yet it seems as if everyone who has ever written a story has written about something amazing that happened to their grandmothers.
A further problem is that “what happened to your grandmother” isn’t a story. It’s a situation. And there’s a big difference. A situation is fine for a news article but not for a novel. It’s a long journey from a situation, as interesting as it might be, to a story.
But it can be a good journey, a fascinating journey, even a fun journey. That’s the journey I’m on now. I’m turning an amazing you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up situation drawn from my grandmother’s life into a story that I hope is a journey my readers will want to take with me.
It’s a novel, so 99% of the content will be from my imagination. The other 1% is the situation – the grain of sand that I hope to build a pearl around. Or if you prefer a cooler metaphor on these sultry summer days, the speck of dust around which will grow an intricate and beautiful snowflake.
For that reason, I must go now. The journey awaits.