I am struck by a thought out of nowhere—perhaps prompted by a dream or an overheard conversation. It feels like fire. What a great story that would make! But my memory is unreliable. So I note it down on whatever is at hand: mobile phone, napkin, cigarette packet, takeaway menu, anything. The idea is like a hot sun, it burns and glows. I want to write a story. I want to be that sun, and look down on the world and illuminate it.
But when I read back on the idea it’s no longer the same. Something has changed. It seems ridiculous now. Insects don’t time travel, people don’t miraculously age within minutes or magically appear from nowhere, animals can’t talk, dreams don’t play backwards.
Disappointed, I bury the idea. But ideas are like bulbs, they relish the dark, they are hardy, they withstand the ravages of the cold.
A few days later I wake to find the bulb has grown tubers and rhizomes in my sleep. It has offshoots of other ideas. It has become a living thing that refuses to be buried. But it still looks ridiculous.
Then I realise the idea hasn’t changed—I have. I have stopped believing in magic, in faraway lands, magical beasts, monsters, witches, and aliens. Being an adult has killed my capacity to wonder like a child. All those years struggling to hold down jobs, tax returns, dying slowly in rows of traffic, photocopying my life away in office blocks, falling in and out of love, all the sadness and loss has severed my connection to the colourful, funpacked land of curiosity and magic.
We are tellers of stories. Stories are born from magic and dark places—fairy tales and myths have their hearts in the dark. And to create stories full of wonder again we need to retrace our steps through those darks woods, and relocate that place of childhood.
I have a few ideas for stories at the moment that constantly fluctuate between these two states—between the cold, uninspiring ‘thinking’ of adulthood, and the magical, unending land of childhood ‘wonder’. Some of them come from conversations with my six-year-old son (children are a great inspiration), others from dreams, or from freewriting.
I need to remind myself constantly that stories are not just about plot, character arcs, subtext, or exploration of ideas. First and foremost they are about wonder and awe. Sense is an adult construct we use to bring meaning to the world. But in childhood, the world is born without meaning. And that’s why it’s so dark, frightening, funny, and wonderful at the same time.
It doesn’t matter what genre you write, telling a story should feel like stepping into a new world where everything is infused with wonder from the stars above to the dirt below. All senses should sparkle. Ask questions. Take nothing for granted. Hold your cup as if I’ve never held it before, feel its cold smoothness on your fingers; drink your coffee as you write like I’ve never tasted it before. Learn from children. Find magic in the mundane, and we might just be alright.
Image credit: Anthony DELANOIX via Unsplash