The Heart of a Story

Saturday, January 18, 2014
Where do your stories come from?

I always enjoy reading interviews with authors regarding where they get the inspiration for their books, particularly fiction. If you look hard enough, you can spot a seed of where that original idea bloomed. You might even find a correlation between something in the author’s life or history that inspired their fictional work.

Yesterday, I came across an article about the late V.C. Andrews, author of the Flowers in the Attic series. I never knew Andrews had been crippled by rheumatoid arthritis at a fairly young age and confined to a wheelchair. I also didn’t know that Andrews lived most of her life with her mother in a large, Victorian house. With those new facts, I could easily see where a fictional story about siblings locked away in the attic of a grand old house most likely came from.

For me, I have yet to write a novel that didn’t include some personal element from my life. In my middle-grade novel, it’s the setting, both a physical place and a time period I'm particularly fond of as well as the two main female characters. Through writing those pages and the scenes within, I recreated situations very similar to things I had gone through as a 10-year-old, and worked to resolve them in ways I never could in real life.

In my YA, the story is set in the place where I spent my formative years, but the aspect of the novel that resonated the most with me was the theme of depression and isolation, two very personal issues I have struggled with throughout the years. Through the main character’s voice, I felt like I finally had the chance to say things I’ve never been able to say to anyone else before, to vent out the frustration of not always having someone there to listen when I needed it the most. I think it added a deeper layer to the story, and to the character development of the book, but it was cathartic at the same time. It was so cathartic I haven’t been able to pick up the draft for revisions since I finished it.

Have you ever written something that poured out of you so freely and openly that it scared you? That it made you feel like you were exposed for all the world to see, even though it was a work of fiction? I found this interesting passage in the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg:

Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of the beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we are done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something that is real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.

Yes. Where do your stories come from? What do you do when the words that are pouring out of you become a little too real? Do you pull back or keep going?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who blogs at Renee’s Pages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--This hit home. It hit home to my heart.

The manuscript I'm working on is a story about five writers (my writing critique group, a group of five fierce women) and for over a year, it had as its opening something humorous and snarky...'cause I almost always lead with my funny bone.

But a few months ago I determined (with some help, of course) that my story lacked a meaty thread--a thread that would make it matter to the reader. And so I completely revamped the beginning...and am inserting bits and pieces.

And through my story, I'm sharing some sorrow and loss that I've only share with a few--and it's cloaked as "fiction."

I look forward to reading your book when it's finished and when it's published. (Notice, Renee--I said "when" and not "if." :)

Margo Dill said...

Renee: I have heard before that everyone's first novel is a little autobiographical--even fantasy writers. :) A piece of them/experiences/personality is in the book somehow. I would say this has to be true. WE are usually inspired by something we've read, heard or experienced and it finds it's way into our words. It is also hard at times to write when something is close to you. There are still subjects I cannot seem to write about because my voice comes through as being false--I'm too close .. .still. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself with us through this blog post and making us think about these things!

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Glad to hear you can relate! I wish I had more humor-writing abilities, but my writing always seems to take a turn toward the dark before the light. I can't wait to hear how your story turns out with the added layer and read it one day soon! It's always so hard to "dig deeper," isn't it?

Margo--I think you are so right about everyone's first novel having autobiographical aspects. Maybe one day I'll be able to write something that's purely fiction, but it will probably be awhile!

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