Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where do stories come from?

There used to be a theory, back in the days of horse-driven carriages, Queen Victoria, and the British Empire, that horse-hair turned into earthworms when it rained. There was lots of horse-hair everywhere. Then it would rain, and the horse-hair would be gone, but earthworms would be everywhere. Therefore rain turned horse-hair into earthworms. Simple.

I often thought that coming up with stories was a bit like this. You have a bunch of horse-hair ideas, something magical happens, and you end up with wriggling little earthworm stories. But last night I had a different thought about the writing process.

It was about 3am ... I'd been awake for an hour because my youngest child was hungry, and had let his mother know this by crying. I was drifting back to sleep, since I don't have the working parts to partake in the feeding process, when my eldest child starting crying.

In the ensuing scramble out of bed, and related actions that followed a fly buzzed past my head. I swatted at the pesky fly, but it dodged and flew off to a different part of the house. That was when I had my thought.

Stories are like flies.

They start with a dead, decaying corpse of an idea. Something half-imagined once upon a time, or half-remembered. An idea that never grew up, but just choked on its own inconsistencies and went belly-up. Then the maggots move in.

The maggots take then dead idea and turn it into a wriggling mass of new strands of thought. By the time they are finished the original idea is mostly gone, perhaps only a skeletal remnant remains, but the story has taken flight as a swarm of flies, off to infect other dead and decaying thoughts with more maggots.

I'm lucky in that I have large amounts of maggots in my head at the moment, and all I have to do is help them grow up to be flies. It all reminds me of one of my favourite songs, Maggot Brain by Funkadelic, "I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe, and I was not offended." Even typing that I just had to air guitar some of that song.

Here's hoping some of my little flies get published someday soon.

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