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Uncle Orson's Writing Class
Inventing Stories
January 29, 1999


Question

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 suggestions?

-- Submitted by Anonymous

OSC Replies:

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 mind.

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.


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