Uncle Orson's Writing Class
January 29, 1999
I have a problem. Well, I guess it's not that big of a problem, but it
sure is annoying. I can't seem to finish the stories I start. I have this problem
with both short stories (but more often with) long stories. Do you have any
-- Submitted by Anonymous
All that means is that you're starting them before you've invented them
thoroughly enough. You have one idea, and you start, but that one idea is not
enough to resonate deeply within you, so you can't find your way to closure
because you haven't really opened.
What usually works for me is to take two idea-sources and combine them.
As with a metaphor, the tension between the two ideas leads to interesting
possibilities. It's a way of drawing surprising answers out of your unconscious
For instance, with my story Hart's Hope, I began with a city map with
intriguing (to me) street names; the idea was that depending which gate you
enter through, you find a completely different city inside. I also had a
completely unrelated idea of a magic system in which blood is what gives you
power; living blood more than old blood, blood of higher animals more than
lower, and the most power from the blood of your own child. These ideas had
nothing to do with each other. But I put them together. I also threw in an idea
I had been trying to develop separately, of siamese twins born joined at the face,
one staring straight in at her sister, the other looking partly away, so that when
they were separated, the one was completely blind and "faceless," the other only
half-blind and half-faced. When I put them into Hart's Hope, I made them one
of the three deities of that world (the others being "God" and "The Hart" -- the
siamese twins were the "Sweet Sisters").
This has been true of story after story -- it doesn't come to life until I
combine an idea with another, separately generated idea. Not all ideas can work
together, but some of the combinations can be quite productive.
Then, the questions are better, the dilemmas more provocative, and you
reach far deeper inside yourself. The closure, when it comes, is satisfying. Voila.
The ending. Ending problems are almost always solved by fixing the opening.