I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. Not just what to write but also how writing works, what makes it work, the things I don't like about it, and why I want to do it. One of the most powerful things in the world is a good story. Think about it. What percentage of our time do we spend on things that are made of stories? Books are the obvious answer, but there's more to it than that. America is addicted to television. What is television? Visual stories. Sitcoms, reality tv, the news, even documentaries. Most music has a story behind it, if not in the lyrics. The visual arts often tell some sort of story, if only an emotional one. When you consider the fact that sports are really the alternative to pitched battles in our culture, as well as the emotional investment that rides on each game, even I have to admit there's a story in sports. Every religion I've heard of is based on a story. Video games usually have at the very least a modicum of plot but games that have a really good story are the ones that keep me up at night, trying to figure out why things turned out the way they did, psychoanalyzing the characters, reviewing the backstory to make sure I found all the little tidbits. That's why I'm writing this, really. I've just finished KotoR 2 again. Again. And again, I find myself more than a little shocked to find myself sitting at my computer instead of flying off in the Ebon Hawk to join Revan somewhere far into the Outer Rim to fight against a Sith Empire the Jedi Council refuses to acknowledge as real.
What is it about stories? I'm convinced humanity has always told stories. As a Christian, some of my favorite daydreams involve wondering what stories of walking in the garden with God were like when Adam tried to convince his unruly children to sleep. How often did Christ teach through stories? I recently read a book dedicated to the idea of "story" as it relates to the relationship between God and His creation and it did much to fuel this thought process. The essential conclusion of the book is that stories are a part of us - because we are all part of a story.
Those of you who know me well have more than likely experienced one of those moments when I twitch or laugh or get stupidly excited for no apparent reason and try to explain it by saying something along the lines of, "Oh, I just got a really great idea for one of my characters. Where's my notebook, I have to write this down! ...Okay. Sorry, what were you saying?" I'm not even going to try and count the hands raised. Storytelling is part of who I am. Crafting a story is one of my favorite things to do. Experiencing an excellent story is a contender for my absolute favorite pastime.
Probably the most important thing in a story, for me, is the depth of the characters. I need the characters I read to be real people: living, breathing, imperfect products of their environment. If a character is going to be stupendous at something then they must have spent a huge portion of their time practicing that thing and ignoring other skills. What are their weaknesses? Do they learn from their weaknesses in the course of the story or do they only revel in their strengths? This is so important to me that I have walked away from incredible stories just to avoid a character that I think is unrealistic. (I've also walked away from incredible stories just to avoid characters that I find incredibly obnoxious. I can't bring myself to enjoy that sort of thing. There are enough obnoxious things in my life already, thanks!)
Several times in the course of my development as a writer I have done nothing more than follow a character through the course of their life. No plan whatsoever. No clearly discernible plot. I've learned a lot about myself and life in general in the process. Perhaps the most important thing I've learned is this: each life is a story, my life is a story. The only easily discernible plot in my life is me, my decisions, my choices, my beliefs and convictions. Even now I begin to discern themes in this story, but in truth the introduction has only just ended. What comes next is always the beginning.